Jim Rogers has never been accused of lacking chutzpah. But he may have outdone himself this time.
Rogers, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, has spent most of this year in a public (and one-sided) war of words with the state's governor, Jim Gibbons, over the impact on the state's education system of Nevada's deteriorating economy. He has sent Gibbons weekly memos criticizing his policies, laying out dire scenarios that may befall the state's colleges and schools, and not-so-occasionally insulting the governor.
But Rogers's pleas that the state take better care of its schools, colleges and students have so far gone for naught.
Which may be why Rogers, in a speech at a news conference Monday, turned his attention to another potential source of funds: the U.S. treasury.
His message is simple: Nevadans pay $4 billion a year more in taxes than the state receives in federal payments of various sorts (it ranks 47th among the states in the latter, according to Rogers). At a time when the government is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into efforts to help troubled institutions, notably Wall Street financial institutions and other banks, "It seems to me that the survival of Nevada’s citizens’ fundamental way of life is just as essential as the survival of big business pocketbooks."
Therefore, he continued, "It seems obvious that the federal government can and must help bridge the financial gap for Nevada, an enterprise that may have greater potential and be a better risk than some of the other recipients of federal funding. I am therefore asking that the federal government grant the State of Nevada $3 billion to see Nevada through these hard times."
Rogers said he does not doubt that "if the federal government steps in to help Nevada," it will be "inundated by 49 requests from every other state." But "being fiscally prudent," Rogers said, he thoughtfully suggests that the government consider helping only those states with "double digit drops in revenue. No other state in the union has seen or will see its revenues decline by a greater margin than Nevada." (An August report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggested that at least four other states would have qualified then: Arizona, California, Florida and Rhode Island.)
The chancellor said he had no doubts that any such federal aid -- " a short-term fix" -- would come with some strings attached, and that Nevada would undoubtedly have to adopt its own set of tough policy changes, including tax increases like the broad-based business tax he has championed. "I'd see them saying, 'We're going to give this to you to bridge this gap, but if you want it, you're going to have to make some changes in how you do business,' " Rogers said.
The idea may seem far-fetched, but Rogers pointed out that the state has some powerful lawmakers in its delegation, notably the Senate's Democratic leader, Sen. Harry Reid. "I have spoken with Senator Reid. I have talked with leaders of major Nevada businesses who have a lobbying presence in Washington, D.C. They have offered their full support," he said in his speech.
In an interview late Monday, Rogers clarified that in a recent telephone call with Reid, the two men "never discussed the amount of money.... I never said $3 or $3 billion," Rogers said.
"I said to him, 'I’m thinking about doing this,' and he said, 'Fine, go for it....' We never discussed the amount."
A message left with a receptionist in Senator Reid's press office was not returned.
Asked whether he thought his request for federal aid would produce results, Rogers said: "I think it'll work to some extent -- I'm just not sure to what extent."