Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Las Vegas' Stadium Scandal in the Making

On Tuesday, Nevada’s state Senate had an opportunity to prove its mettle.  Called into a special session by Governor Brian Sandoval, the legislature is considering the question of whether to divert public funds to the tune of $750 million to fund the construction of a stadium for the Raiders.  Those public funds would comprise a plurality of the money to fund the stadium, with Las Vegas mogul Sheldon Adelson, a key mover behind the stadium and the public subsidy putting up $650 million, and the Raiders contributing $500 million.
Senators had the opportunity to vote down this subsidy for Adelson’s project.  The billionaire can afford to build the stadium on his own, and our representatives should have known better than to allow Adelson’s urban vanity project to divert badly needed public funds.
But instead, a bipartisan group of legislators, including Democratic minority leader Aaron Ford, voted for the subsidy.
I’ve only lived for a couple of years in Nevada.  But it only took a few months to realize that even in a country with broadly sociopathic politics, Nevada stands out by the extent of its commitment to advancing the desires of the few rather than the needs of the many.
Proponents of the stadium argue that the project represents important investment in infrastructure that will create jobs.
But if Nevada’s public is being asked to invest its public funds—in this case derived from room taxes—in infrastructure and development, that infrastructure and development should benefit our citizens and community.
One good option would be investment in a woefully overstretched school system, with its overcrowded classrooms and under-staffed school sites.  We have a population that is growing in size and in demographic complexity, and our schools need the infrastructure and personnel to address that reality.  New classrooms, improved sites, increased salaries for teaching and support staff, and increased capacity to offer pre-K education could all go a long way toward improving the experiences and outlook of our state’s children.
Another good option would be investment in our underfunded universities.  Higher education took a devastating body blow during the recession, and has yet to recover.  UNLV has aspirations to become a “top tier” university, but top tier universities generally flourish in states that place high value on funding universities and creating environments that attract a skilled workforce.  Investment in hiring, campus infrastructure, academic centers, the medical school, tuition reduction, salary increases, and research funding could yield big benefits for our higher education sector, and the students and communities these public institutions serve.
We could also consider investment in decrepit transit infrastructure.  Modern, reliable, efficient transit could improve the lives of commuters of all backgrounds and classes, while contributing to lowering emissions and decreasing the need for expanding road capacity, parking lots, and other features of sprawl.  If Las Vegas aspires to become a great 21st century city, state legislators should invest in light rail—to serve residents, not only tourists—and an expanded and more reliable bus network.
But “infrastructure” doesn’t simply refer to the construction of buildings or rail lines.  Our state should also invest in social infrastructure to allow people to live more secure, stable, prosperous, healthy, and rich lives.  Investment in education at all levels is crucial.  But we need to also remember that “welfare”—a dirty word for many Americans—simply refers to well-being.  Welfare states around the world are those states that put at their heart a commitment to economic and social, as well as political equality.  They ensure that all of their citizens can rest secure in knowing that they will not lack for basic needs.
There are a range of welfare mechanisms dealing with income, health, employment, insurance, housing, childcare, and leave that could be created, enhanced, or expanded.  Our country and this state have a history of repudiating the idea that we bear collective responsibility for our political decisions and investments, and consequently, for each other.  But charity is a poor and inadequate substitute for taking collective ownership of our political economy, and ensuring that it works for all Nevadans.
I can see the allure of a shiny new stadium for Las Vegas.  But when the hypothetical fans disperse and go home to their real world, we Las Vegans and Nevadans must continue to live in this one.  And so when we make collective investments, we should invest in things that benefit us widely, and that address the gaps in wealth and power that define our city and our state.
We should assist our beleaguered schools, give aid to our underfunded universities, shore up our neglected transit infrastructure, and infuse our threadbare social safety net with the investments required to make Nevada a better place.  Our legislature has real work to do.  Sheldon Adelson can build his own stadium, on his own time and with his own dime.

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