Regent Ron Knecht: Equity in NSHE state tax funding

Some legislators and pundits claim that state funding for education and other matters is inequitable, with Clark County paying more than its fair share, even though it controls 71 percent of the legislative seats. As a Regent, I offer the following key higher education spending equity facts.

UNR vs. UNLV general plus intercollegiate athletics: In 1994-2013, University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ per-student state general tax spending, including athletics, grew much faster (55 percent ) than the University of Nevada, Reno’s (29 percent ). UNLV’s funding was cut much less in the Great Recession, and has reached effective parity with UNR’s. Taxpayer spending per student proposed by the regents and governor for 2014 for UNLV actually exceeds that for UNR. Total general and athletics 2013 state tax funding for UNLV is $132 million; for UNR, $101 million.

Intercollegiate Athletics: Taxpayer athletics funding at UNLV grew faster than any other NSHE tax-funded category, rising 493 percent to $7 million. UNR athletics increased 332 percent to $4.9 million; its growth trailed only that of UNLV athletics and UNLV other.

UNR Medical School vs. UNLV Law and Dental Schools, plus Nevada State College: State tax spending for the Law and Dental schools and NSC grew much faster than that for the Medical school, which spends one-third of its state funds in Clark County (while the others spend little outside Clark). Medical School funding was cut least in the NSHE budget in 2009-2013, except for UNLV Other, which grew 100 percent .

UNR vs. UNLV other programs: Statewide programs are small parts of total UNR and UNLV tax spending, with UNR’s $12.3 million much larger than UNLV’s $2.8 million. However, UNLV’s has grown fast and is the only NSHE state tax spending that actually grew since 2009; UNR’s was cut substantially, with Cooperative Extension cut 68 percent.

UNR vs. UNLV overall, plus NSC: Overall in 2013 for UNR, UNLV and NSC, taxpayer funds of less than $130 million will be spent in Washoe County, with more than $167 million in Clark County. However, all three institutions serve students from all over the state, so the spending in a county does not measure the benefits provided to people of that county. (Over $167 million of services go to Clark residents, and less than $130 million to Washoe residents.)

If one argues that equity means that all tax dollars generated in a county must be spent in that county, then by the same logic, all water produced in a county must remain in that county. That would be a disaster for Clark County, and it shows that the notion that all tax dollars generated in a county must be spent there (or water produced must remain there) is a matter of rhetoric, not equity.

Community Colleges: College of Southern Nevada had a much greater rate of increase in total spending than any other NSHE institution because it benefited from the greatest increase in student numbers by a huge margin. Further, the data show that all cost (funding) differences, past and present, among community colleges may reasonably be attributed to economies of scale. During the recession, Western Nevada College suffered the greatest cuts (22 percent /student); others were cut less (CSN 13 percent; Great Basin College 11 percent; and Truckee Meadows Community College 17 percent).

Changes in general fund spending for all NSHE: Per student, the lowest increase in 1994-2013 was incurred for NSHE administration (20 percent ), followed by UNR (29 percent ), CSN (38 percent ), TMCC (47 percent ), UNLV (55 percent ), WNC (57 percent ), DRI (58 percent ) and GBC (70 percent ). In sum, considering all the data, even before applying the proposed new NSHE spending formula, no case can be made of meaningful inequity in current taxpayer funding among the NSHE institutions. Hence, mitigation proposed by the regents and governor is appropriate for the cuts imposed by the new formula on some institutions, plus full funding for Cooperative Extension.

Ron Knecht of Carson City is an economist who was re-elected last November to the Board of Regents.


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