For a state as sheepish about taxes as Nevada, its legislature and executive branches employed a hurry-up offense to usher in the biggest public-funding allowance ever for a U.S. stadium. Last week’s approval by the Senate and Assembly to raise the hotel room tax to provide $750 million for the venue—an amount that eclipses the pledged financial contributions of both Las Vegas Sands’ chairman/CEO Sheldon Adelson and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis—sent two messages: that the state would ram a bill through with scant vetting and inadequate debate in order to acquire an NFL team, and that for all our bellyaching about Nevada’s beleaguered education system, providing the resources to rehabilitate it is clearly low on our priority list.
A KTNV/Rasmussen poll revealed that 55 percent of voters disapproved of channeling up to $500 million in public funds toward a stadium that a mega-billionaire like Adelson could afford on his own. But our sycophantic representatives voted against that sentiment (something to remember at the polling booth, folks). Adelson sent a reported 16 lobbyists to Carson City for the special session, where we heard not from pedigreed, national economists who have studied (and routinely warned against) taxpayer-funded stadium deals, but casino magnates and lawmakers merely parroting variations of “If you build it, they will come.” Fitting that the Nevadans would ignore the academics.
To be fair, there won’t suddenly be education funds if the NFL is too squeamish to send the Raiders our way, though the anti-public-funding crowd should be fired up enough to push Carson City to discuss the issue in 2017. During the 2015 legislative session, the state budget was augmented to allow for the expansion of some important education programs. But it’s a mere drop in the Gatorade cooler, given the extent of our student, faculty and infrastructure shortcomings.
A stadium maintains our economic tunnel vision on tourism. That beast should always be fed—it’s what we do best—but in a city of 2 million, it’s become increasingly clear that being a one-trick pony isn’t enough for our city and state—or our kids—to truly thrive. This development comes as national statistics on graduation rates place Nevada third from the bottom, another low rung from which our K-12 school system struggles to ascend. Stadium pros and cons notwithstanding, if we don’t place more import on reversing our education deficiencies now, when will we?