Other Funding Priorities Marginalized in Stadium Discussion

Historian David Donald, who won two more Pulitzer Prizes than I will, said that when he was growing up, his fellow Mississippians would say, “Thank God for Arkansas.” Otherwise Mississippi would be the lowest-rated in every category that matters.

A decade ago, when she was running for governor, Democrat Dina Titus said Nevada shouldn’t be at the bottom of every good list and the top of every bad list. Nevadans responded by electing Republican Jim Gibbons and committing themselves to being Mississippi or Arkansas. We’ve tried.

Consider a new report in SSM Population Health, “Explaining Inequalities in Women’s Mortality Between U.S. States.” Boiling it all down, when it comes to the state with the highest mortality rate for women, we’re the worst. We’re No. 50!

Meanwhile, The New York Times, which reported on the mortality issue, ran a long piece on how Nevada competes with other states to pass laws that help wealthy Americans shield their assets here. An attorney who specializes in that area pointed out in both The New York Times and on KNPR that Nevada benefits from their spending.

That’s nothing new: In the 1930s, Nevada advertised itself as “One Sound State” because it lacked income and estate taxes, and therefore would be a great place for the wealthy to claim residence. But it begs questions: Are we taking advantage of how they boost our economy in ways that improve our quality of life, and did we ever do so?

Granting that the answers are, respectively, no and no, we should be asking those questions. Instead, the biggest question among state leaders is, do we change the law to shift $750 million in room tax money to support a stadium that Sheldon Adelson, Majestic Realty, and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, the prime movers behind this, could build themselves?

Encapsulating one of the problems with this issue, Senator Harry Reid said he’d love to see the Raiders move here, but since the money involved isn’t federal, that’s up to local officials. That’s what the first paragraph in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s story said, but the headline read, “Reid declares support for stadium, Raiders’ move to Las Vegas.” Apparently, headlines need not reflect the article below them.

The R-J’s owner, Adelson, apparently decided the $750 million figure is nonnegotiable: tax money or no stadium. Since Adelson is a major supporter of the Republican Party, and his newspaper has a history of serving interesting purposes long before his arrival, everyone from the governor to the Moapa town board can envision the headlines about themselves.

But amid the talk of spending, other issues seem to get less attention. Sheriff Joseph Lombardo mentioned law enforcement needs for a 65,000-seat stadium. Who pays? The artist’s renderings of the stadium are gorgeous, but it’s hard to see how drivers get into the parking lot and what the roads will be like before and after games. Or are we finally going to build light rail? If so, who pays?

Whatever the claims or merits, here’s an interesting parallel to consider from a marvelous book, Bad News, (William Morrow, 2005), in which longtime foreign correspondent Tom Fenton airs out the major networks for ignoring actual news. Once upon a time, both Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, longtime evening news anchors, went to their bosses and said, essentially, “I’ll give up some of my millions in salary if you’ll put the money into hiring correspondents.” The response was, “That’s not the way it works.” Told of this, their counterpart, Tom Brokaw, said, “If I got paid less, they’d bank it. They wouldn’t spend it,” or NBC would put it into a reality show.

Nevada’s spending history is no more reassuring. In 2003, Governor Kenny Guinn sued the Legislature to pass an $800 million tax hike. When the state was flush in 2005, he agreed to a $300 million rebate. Two years later, his successor took a chain saw to the budget, and the Great Recession arrived. The 2015 tax hike was designed to restore funding to pre-recession levels, which were already low.

Would a stadium and professional football ultimately benefit Nevada more than increasing funding for education and social services? Whether or not they would, those questions aren’t really being asked. It’s a safe bet the stadium money wouldn’t end up going toward those programs in a way large enough to make a significant difference, if that. To put it another way, Nevada’s funding per pupil is less than that of … Arkansas. Don’t thank God. We can thank ourselves.

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV.