Nevada’s Hard Road Ahead

Covid-19, Black Lives Matter Present Challenges and Opportunities

Here we are, going into the second half of the epic year 2020, and Nevadans are feeling the pain.

First came the coronavirus pandemic that shut down our normal lives and the economy along with it, costing Nevadans the highest percentage of job loss, per state, in United States history.  More recently we’ve seen an eruption of anger and activism focused on the racism that seethes beneath the surface of our ostensibly civil society. 

Economic collapse and structural racism must be addressed, and Nevada is going to have to deal with them together.  Gov. Steve Sisolak has called a special session of the Legislature, which begins on July 8. Assembly and senate members have to deal with an $800 million budget deficit this year and a projected $1.3 billion shortfall next year; the governor has already proposed painful budget cuts, including deep slashes to education and health care. Tax revenue dried up when the economy shut down. Nevada has historically been vulnerable to the “boom-bust” economic cycle because of its heavy reliance on gaming and sales tax. Perhaps now is the time to revisit the state’s outdated property tax structure. But that fix must wait while we deal with our immediate situation: not enough money to pay the bills.

There has been a lot in the news about demands to “de-fund” police departments as a means of curbing police violence.  That is an unfortunate term, and for most people, it doesn’t mean completely wiping out police forces, but rather, shifting resources away from police agencies and toward social services that address the problems for which police are typically called.

A process we might better call “reallocation” sounds like it would be a simple “revenue neutral” process.  Unfortunately, that’s not true. Police agencies have been tasked with all kinds of duties that could and should be handled by other professionals, precisely because budgets for other agencies have been cut.  Over the years, legislatures throughout the country, and in Nevada as well, have found it politically convenient to under-resource mental health, housing, job training, and more. It’s politically convenient to cut such services because the main beneficiaries are the poor and people of color—those who have little or no voice in the legislative process.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists to speak for these groups.

LEAN advocate Bill Ledford will be at the Legislature’s regular session when it convenes in February 2020, but in the meantime, he and the LEAN board will keep tabs on developments at the special session. (The public can follow developments here).We will do all we can to ensure that those who have no voice are represented in very tough budget negotiations. Shifting funds from law enforcement seems to us a productive way to address the problems that hold minorities down. The police would be grateful to be “de-funded” in this way.

For us Lutheran Christians, the budget fight is not just a political exercise; this is a moral crisis we must face. The ELCA has moved forward boldly to acknowledge our collective and institutional sin of racism. For us in Nevada, accepting the prospect of higher taxes may be part of that. Reallocation of resources to promote equality must be.

Lenny Dunca, an ELCA pastor and author of the book Dear Church: A Love Letter From A Black Preacher, describes the Lutheran church as “the whitest denomination in the country.” Many white Lutherans have attended protest rallies and marches.  Many more of us have wondered what to do to help.  Pastor Duncan was recently interviewed on NPR and was asked that same question. “White denominations need to show up, share their wealth, and let people of color and street activists lead,” he said.  While tax policy or law enforcement can’t be changed overnight, those who are able can certainly donate to groups that work against bias in the justice system, that work for housing equity, for voting rights, and related causes.

LEAN will be at the Legislature to work on these issues, but we can’t do it alone. We’d love to hear from our Christian brothers and sisters on how they think Nevadans can better work together to bring about equitable social change in our state – and how LEAN can best represent them to legislators. Feel free to e-mail your thoughts, concerns and ideas to leanforjustice@gmail.com

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