Facts are stubborn things

Democrats have long relied on emotions to garner support from the masses, as evidenced by the myriad of bills passed with names like “Affordable Health Care for America Act,” which doesn’t make health care (or health insurance) more affordable, but does impose hundreds of taxes and fees, and allows for the government takeover of student loans and other provisions which have nothing to do with health care.

This tactic is currently going on in the state of Nevada as newly-elected Republican Governor Brian Sandoval attempts to fix a looming budget crisis. At his State of the State address in January, Gov. Sandoval announced he would be reducing the amount of funding to high education with a “less than 7% cut” from the state’s general fund. He went on to say that counting stimulus dollars from 2009-10, the net result would be a 17.66% decrease in funding for higher education.

Immediately the Democrats went to work! Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, who gave the Democrats’ response to Sandoval’s address, said the cuts to higher education would “feel like a 36% cut.” Oceguera’s math skills are just another glaring example of the poor education system in Nevada, but nevertheless, this hyperbole should not be allowed to continue.

On Thursday, January 27th, UNLV President Neal Smatresk appeared on “Face to Face” with Jon Ralston – a local political show in Nevada. Smatresk said, “Our current budget is $172 million. It would go down to $125 million. That’s a huge reduction by any measure.”

Smatresk is right! That’s a decrease of $47 million, or 27.3%!

But what is UNLV’s budget? Is it $172 million as Smatresk says?

According to the Nevada Policy Research Institute, UNLV’s total operating funds for fiscal year 2011 (which we are currently in) is $642,517,830. That’s not exactly $127 million, now is it?

In fact, a $47 million cut from $642.5 million is around 7% — not 27%, and not 36%.

Many, including the Young Democrats at UNLV, are now saying that Gov. Sandoval is cutting 29.1% from higher education in Nevada. This number is achieved if you consider the roughly $557 million higher education received from the state’s general fund in the 2009-10 biennium, compared with the $395 million it will receive in 2013.

But, if you consider that the state’s general fund only accounts for 30% of the entire Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) budget, all of these arguments fall completely flat on their face.

The total operating funds for the NSHE in FY2011 is $1,744,202,381. A cut of $162 million is roughly 9% – not 29.1%, not 27%, and not 36%.

In fact, a reduction of $162 million from the NSHE budget will still leave the system with 3.6% more money than it had in 2007, just before the economic crisis began.

Not too shabby.

So, why all the hyperbole and doomsday proclamations? Here’s your answer.

When Smatresk claimed, in his “Face to Face” interview, that UNLV had already faced $49.6 million in budget cuts over the past four years, he neglected to mention that UNLV’s total operating budget from FY2007 – FY2011 actually INCREASED 10%!

Poor guy.

The argument is now being made that tuition may need to be increased 73% to make up for these “unprecedented” cuts. That’s remarkable, because from FY2000-FY2010, tuition at UNLV went up 74%! Student fees over the same time period went up 770.8%!

The NSHE, as well as education officials like UNLV President Smatresk, have an obligation to be cheerleaders for higher education. I get that. And obviously their priority is the education of students, right?

Over the past decade, the number of administrators-per-student at UNLV has gone up 90%, while the number of instructors-per-student has gone down 6.6%. How exactly does that help educate students?

Since 2000, UNLV’s total spending has increased 140%, and per-pupil spending from 2003-2010 has increased over 18% (adjusted for inflation). Has education at UNLV improved 140%? Have the graduation rates improved 18%? The answer to both is: No.

The 4-year graduation rate at UNLV is a dismal 11%. The 8-year “Van Wilder Plan” graduation rate stands at an embarrassingly low 48%. That means more than HALF of UNLV’s 24,000 students will NEVER graduate, and we’re supposed to believe money is the problem?

So while Nevada’s Republican Governor tries to save the state hardest hit by the housing market crash and ensuing economic disaster, Democrats are once again politicizing an issue that shouldn’t be political.

Most people, Republican, Democrat or otherwise, care about education, even if we disagree on methods and policy. But twisting numbers to fit an agenda does nothing to help solve the problem. In fact, placing the blame on Gov. Sandoval prevents any focus from being put on how UNLV and the NSHE spend the money they already have.

Surely the NSHE can find a way to cut 9% out of its $1.7 billion total budget. Sure it may suck to have to renegotiate the contracts of high-paid tenured professors and non-educators, but that’s life. Maybe UNLV can’t buy the old Carl’s Jr. building for a cool million. Perhaps the brand-new 40,000-seat domed stadium will have to wait. These guys get paid the big bucks to make tough decisions. UNLV head honcho Smatresk makes $25k/year less than President Obama – and I don’t hear Obama complaining about how stressful his days are.

Ultimately, the budget cuts are a matter of simple math. The cuts are $162 million, and the total NSHE budget is $1.7 billion. Do the math. Its 9%.

$1.7 billion – $162 million = a 9% cut.


Not 17%, not 22%, not 29%, not 36%.


Neal Smatresk: “I estimate we lose a third to up to half of our whole programs if that cut actually goes through.”


Point that out, and you’re called a liar – or worse. They can spin it all they want, but it is still 9%.

Meanwhile, Nevada leads the nation in bankruptcies, foreclosures, and unemployment, and has the worst graduation rates in the nation.

The 200,000 unemployed Nevadans saw their income decrease by 100%.

The NSHE will see a 9% cut.

It’s 9%.