September 6, 2008

Transparency is needed in these difficult times

Stopping government waste will greatly benefit taxpayers

The Nevada Policy Research Institute is making this site available at a time of intense fiscal problems for the state. Nevada’s spending has ballooned to more than $11.5 billion, the state’s total public debt now exceeds $4.5 billion, and it will cost more than $663 million to pay that debt. The taxpayers who will have to pay this debt are facing serious economic hardships: Nevada’s poverty rate as of last year, according to U.S. Census estimates, is 9.6 percent, the state’s unemployment rate has risen higher than the national average to 5.7 percent, and its foreclosure rate is four times the national average, at one in every 118 households.

The economic problems facing Nevada taxpayers will worsen with diminishing business activity. Flights into Nevada’s largest airports have dropped nearly 20 percent for some carriers (which is especially damaging for a state economy that depends heavily on tourism and gaming), gaming activity has dropped 3.9 percent (the first drop in gaming activity since the last recession in 2002), hotel occupancy has dropped 0.9 percent, and Las Vegas’ office vacancy rate had the highest jump (3.2 percent) in the 79 markets tracked by rising to 17.3 percent. Consumers are constrained by high prices for gas and food as well as home values that have decreased 23 percent since April 2007 and currently are falling by as much as 3 percent per month. Economic problems for Nevadans compound into even greater fiscal problems for state and local budgets, as decreased wages and spending lead to decreased tax revenue. Further, Nevada’s taxpayers should not expect financial rescue from Washington, D.C., given its fiscal issues, which worsen the problem given that 24 percent, or the largest plurality of the state’s revenue, comes from the federal government.

Nevada looks even less impressive economically and socially when ranked against other states: the state is 48th in cumulative growth in per capita personal income over the last decade (with 50th being the worst), 39th in sales tax burden, 50th in ensuring child safety, 43rd in giving families enhanced ability to provide for children, and 42nd in debt service as a percent of overall tax revenue. To compare Nevada to its neighbors, New Mexico is 10th in per capita personal income and 10th in debt service as a percent of overall tax revenue, California is 15th in per capita personal income, Idaho is 3rd in debt service as a percent of overall tax revenue, Colorado is 17th in personal income and Oregon is 1st in terms of sales tax burden.

To put all of this in context, every dollar that the government wastes is a dollar that taxpayers cannot use for their own pressing problems. Thus, this site is intended to help taxpayers find out where their money is being wasted. The employee salary portion of the site will allow taxpayers to view the mismanagement of government employee overtime and the sometimes overly generous benefits government employees receive at great taxpayer expense. The government contract portion of the site will help taxpayers investigate the millions spent on superfluous items such as hacky sacks and stuffed frogs. The lobbying portion of the site will show taxpayers how much of their money is given to high powered special interests each year, including the thousands spent on gifts and entertainment related to lobbying.

At a time when state legislators are fighting over whether and how to cut spending in one important area or another, this site will assist citizens to research for themselves where they think cuts should be made, and subsequently to contact their elected legislators with their ideas. Please browse the data, use the searchable features, and contact us if you have any questions or comments.