Sandoval wants state to continue pushing forward
December 31, 2013
Approaching the end of first term in office, Gov. Brian Sandoval concedes he has a lot of irons in the fire.
But, he said, the state is making progress on nearly all of them from improving education to economic development.
In an interview with the Nevada Appeal, Sandoval cited funding he and lawmakers committed to all-day kindergarten and English-language-learner programs.
"We increased funding for K through 12 by a half a billion dollars," he said. "We put $50 million into (English-language-learners programs) for the first time in the history of the state. We have all-day kindergarten for almost every kindergarten class in Nevada and we reduced class sizes in K through 12."
But Sandoval made reference to a potentially much larger change for Nevada's public schools saying, "One of the things I am going to be looking at is the way we fund our K-12 schools."
The current Nevada plan, he said, "is something that was done by (Gov.) Charlie Russell 40-50 years ago."
The so-called Nevada Plan was developed to fairly spread state resources among counties with differing populations and tax revenues, but there have been increasing complaints — particularly from Southern Nevada — that the districts receive far less per student than the economy generates.
"Obviously, the state was very different back then," Sandoval said. "We've got to take a hard look at the way we fund state education."
He said he will be talking to district superintendents throughout the state about that issue.
That effort follows the decisions in the 2013 Legislature to revamp the formulas for funding higher education in Nevada — largely pushed by Southern Nevada lawmakers who want more of the pie for their campuses. Those citizens and lawmakers who depend on Western Nevada College in Carson City and Great Basin in Elko argue they were the victims of that revamp, not the beneficiaries.
Sandoval said that effort isn't done yet, that more changes are in store for the university system and that the goal is a healthy community college system that provides opportunities for students to move to the universities or to a career.
Sandoval said that, after more than a year in operation, the Governor's Office of Economic Development is starting to take off now, bringing new businesses to the state.
He said his goal was to add 50,000 jobs to the state in his first term and that goal is close to being reached. Sandoval agreed that most of those jobs are positions added back by Las Vegas Strip resorts as the economy recovers, but added that, it's nearly 50,000 more jobs than the state had when he took office.
He said economic development efforts have brought thousands of jobs to Nevada such as Cannon Safe, and the expansion of the online clothing retailer Zulily at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Park in Storey County.
Cannon Safe, a high tech security manufacturer coming to Henderson, was lured by state incentives.
"In Las Vegas alone, I believe the investment is $440 million as a result of companies that are coming in," Sandoval said.
He said the growing success of the office of economic development, which he created, is the result of not only incentives but close cooperation between economic development officials, higher education and local redevelopment agencies as well as lawmakers and his personal efforts.
Sandoval said those efforts include calling corporate executives who are on the fence personally to get commitments to move to the Silver State.
He said he is hoping the state gets a huge boost in the next few days when the federal government announces the six states that will be home to the testing and development of commercial aerial drones. He and GOED officials say that designation would bring huge economic benefits to Nevada by making it a center for high tech studies of drone technology.
This past budget cycle, Sandoval and lawmakers managed to restore most of the cuts suffered by state workers during the past five years, including the arbitrary pay cuts and the step increases for workers frozen at entry-level salaries for two full budget cycles.
"The only thing left is the furloughs and my goal next session is to eliminate that as well," Sandoval said.
He said lawmakers also managed to reverse some of the damage done to local governments, giving the counties back the money for the Indigent Accident Fund that pays catastrophic medical costs incurred by the poor. The state has taken that money — about $20 million a year — for the past four years.
In addition, they eliminated the $160 million line of credit against the Local Government Investment Pool that was used to artificially balance the budget.
At the same time, he said changes were made to help businesses including bonding for the cash to pay off the state's unemployment insurance debt to the federal government — at one point more than $850 million.
The bonds issued just a month ago paid off the debt. Now business must pay off the bonds but they were issued at a low enough interest rate that the state could sharply lower the unemployment insurance rate businesses must pay.
"That was a big win for business," he said.
In addition, he and lawmakers changed the limits and exempted more than 70 percent of Nevada businesses from the Modified Business Tax.
The governor said the sudden problems charging Rawson-Neal psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas was dumping patients by giving them bus tickets to California came after his proposed budget had already called for significant improvements to mental health programs.
He said changes to policies and procedures he believes have repaired that problem.
"Even before this started we had put extra funding in the budget," Sandoval said.
That includes providing around the clock service to evaluate patients brought in by law enforcement, expanding the number of hospital beds both throughout the state, and expanding-restoring the program of home visits that allows mental health patients to live at home rather than be institutionalized.
"We are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable in our society," Sandoval said.
Despite criticism from the far right of the Republican party, Sandoval said his decision to expand Medicaid services under the Affordable Care Act and to move forward full bore with a state operated health exchange was the right one.
But all accounts, Nevada's exchange is working much better than the federal exchange, signing up thousands for health insurance under ACA.
"No, I don't like the law, but it is the law of the land," Sandoval said. "We don't have a choice whether we're going to have an exchange or not. The choice is whether we're going to have a Nevada exchange or a federal exchange.
"I didn't want the federal government in Nevada any more than they already are," he said.
Sandoval said the state is moving on all fronts to improve services and restore its economic health and that his goal heading into 2014 is to nurture and aggressively push that growth on all fronts.