Emperors, educators, pregnant paupers & presidents

This is an edition of the University Scandals 96-97 series, selected installments of which were submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration. Click here to access the archive.

The emperor stood naked but no one would say so. Impeccably attired in the same expensive suit worn by every power player at the legislature, Gov. Miller delivered his last state of the state address Thursday night. The new cherrywood walls of the assembly chamber glowed with reflected genuflection at the altar of children and education. No one noticed that altars are for sacrifice.

The lip service proved profound, real programs might result. Such is the case when taxpayers put a rare surplus up for grabs. Flush with good intentions, our leaders sallied forth into the reality of a freezing cold Nevada night which whispered warnings of impending natural disaster once again.

Like his pal President Clinton, the guv glowed about 9,000 fewer welfare recipients saving some $9,000,000 - a whopping one-tenth of one percent of the state budget.

On the federal level, 93% of budget cuts made by Newt & Bill's first congress came from programs for the poor, most of whom are children and thus cannot vote. Only Sen Joe Neal (D-N. Las Vegas), groused that no one knows what's happened to the people we've thrown onto the streets. Sen. Neal complained about a device oft-used by those who cut people programs - make sure you never develop information about who got hurt.

Gov. Miller, of course, called for help from the private sector in announcing a "cradle to college" caring program. Even though he's a Clintonian, pro-corporate Republicrat, just the fact that the governor talked about some of the great New Deal people issues might do some good.

The realities remain harsh. A Nevada welfare mother must survive on $348 a month, $272 should her family reside in subsidized housing. Cash benefits, as the guv stated, are limited to two years regardless of circumstance.

So popular is bashing the poor that even Assemblywoman Jan Evans (D-Sparks-Reno), told this newspaper "welfare reform needs to continue. We've had wonderful results with the changes we made several years ago, dramatically reducing the number of people on welfare." Ms. Evans has apparently been spending too much time listening to her backlashing Rail City colleague, Sen. Maurice Washingon (R-Sparks), who accepts welfare for a dependent child while trashing others who receive it.

Ms. Evans also told Tribune reporter Andrew Putz "if welfare reform is going to succeed, there must be public-private partnerships." The Washington Post addressed that issue a few weeks ago. "It is clear from the Massachusetts experience that declining caseloads raise new questions when matched with other statistics...Only 13 percent of the 2,000 job slots set aside in private industry for former welfare recipients have been filled."

New York City has seen the sorry spectacle of low-paid custodians replaced by dollar-an-hour welfare recipients. Welcome to third world wages.

If Gov. Miller is serious about reaching out to families as Scandinavian nations do, I'm all for it. We are a fat, rich state in a fat, rich country. But the private sector shuck is reminiscent of something Newt and the boys have trumpeted: slough the responsibility off on churches and charities, another great non-government solution. Until you look at the numbers.

The U.S. has about 258,000 congregations. Each would have to increase contributions by $220,000 a year to take over the portion of the load the BillNewts want to spin off.

A generous government makes good things happen. Social Security has almost eliminated poverty among the elderly, shifting it to the young. Texas has the nation's stingiest welfare program and ranks second-highest in adolescent births. (Nevada usually rates in the top five, often winning number one.) North Dakota has the nation's most generous program and ranks lowest in teen motherhood.

Our fearless leaders always rail about making the right investment in education. University regent Shelley Berkley called last Thursday's guberna torial address "a great night for higher education in Nevada."

Why? Apparently because we'll soon have more homegrown lawyers. UNLV is going to get its long awaited law school. But the Rebel Yell, the Gomorrah South student newspaper, labors with antique computers. The rich UNLV foundation, which is supposed to raise money for students, enjoys state of the art cybernautic capacity.

The U-system maintains secret demonstration rooms to showcase how advanced it is. Alas, such learning centers are only for VIP tours, not students. The guv mentioned a new tuition trust fund proposed by state treasurer Bob Seale. Pioneered by other states, parents can contract to pay so much a month to guarantee future university tuition.

Such programs are only needed because as a society we are not doing a very good job managing tax money we put into higher education. The guv did not mention his proposal to substantially jack up tuition.

UNR students are in open rebellion about that. Late tuition payment penalties recently went from a maximum of $25 to $250! Two major audits show tremendous inflows of money but comparatively little trickling down to the kids.

"They raise tuition to get federal matching funds in order to subsidize some lower income kids," a higher education official told me, "but it doesn't work. The students never see the dollars because our university uses the money to keep expanding. They don't outreach to kids who could use the funds. Nevada has the lowest number of high schoolers going on to higher education. University chancellor Richard Jarvis said it would cost too much to find out why." (See Sen. Neal's comment, above.)

I will listen closely for legislative echoes of Gov. Miller's swan song. Will he put enough into people programs, or was he merely posturing? He talked of cutting mothers off after two years but "with a safety net for children." Does that mean the kids eat while mommy starves?

Nowhere did the guv mention goosing the gambling-industrial complex, which by next year will fall to number two taxpayer behind you and me. Our punitive, regressive sales tax will soon top the take. Gamblers will get off cheap and get a cheap, undereducated workforce they show no interest in improving.

We'll soon know whether the emperor was propagating or sacrificing the worker bees in the extreme unction of his tenure last Thursday night.

UNIVERSITY SCANDAL UPDATE: Will university regent-elect Howard Rosenberg get sworn in Thursday? Will the U-regime pull a last minute legal move to keep him from taking office? Don't bet it either way...Las Vegas regent Nancy Price posed five embarrassing questions to Chancellor Jarvis at a public hearing last week, among them: Did Jarvis ask the regents to remove his responsibility for financial affairs the same day he received and concealed the embarrassing Coopers & Lybrand audit? (Both happened last October 4.)

Why did UNR President Joe Crowley deficit spend $12,783,522 last year? (At that rate, UNR's $55,000,000 unrestricted fund, which took 100 years to accumulate, will be gone by 2000.) Jarvis' answers are due in writing right after Rosenberg is sworn in. Complete questions and the C&L audit remain available for the cost of copying at Office Depot on Plumb Lane. The legislative audit is available free by calling Gary Crews at (702) 687-6815.

DOWNSIZE THIS! The Reno Hilton's illegal firing of its experienced security guards is showing repercussions. Citilift (which transports Washoe County's elderly and disabled) has announced a subcontract with Whittlesea Taxi for late night service. The secretly inked deal breaks the contract between Teamsters Local 533 and the Regional Transportation Commission's subcontractor, ATC/Vancom. Workers worry that pulling a Hilton will come soon. Only superhuman effort avoided a regional bus strike last summer. Stay tuned.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks Tribune since 1988.
This column originally published 1/26/97.
Reprints from the beginning of the university newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
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