State of the State: Gov. Brian Sandoval stresses education, meeting future challenges | NevadaAppeal.com

State of the State: Gov. Brian Sandoval stresses education, meeting future challenges

Gov. Brian Sandoval in his third State of the State address laid out a sweeping reform plan including elements designed to please progressive Democrats along with changes conservative Republicans have long sought.

Much of the speech centered on the need to reform how Nevada pays for K-12 education. His proposed budget seeks to increase state spending on public schools, colleges and universities by nearly $900 million. His total proposed two-year budget was $7.3 billion.

Sandoval said the current Nevada Plan hasn't changed significantly since the 1960s and no longer meets the needs of a changed society or economy and the needs of students in the 21st century.

"I am asking the Legislature to join me in beginning to work of comprehensive modernization of our education system to meet the needs of today's students and the new Nevada," he said.

His plan, he said, includes a wide variety of initiatives from doubling pre-school attendance to expanding all-day kindergarten to all schools, technology in the classroom, more career and technical education, English Language Learner programs and greatly expanded charter schools along with programs to help students in poor areas.

The education package for pre-kindergarten through high school would increase spending $782 million during the biennium.

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He also proposed changes long espoused by the conservatives including significant changes to collective bargaining, expanding charter schools and construction defect reforms.

"While many must recognize the hard truth that our education system will not improve without more funding, others must accept the reality that improvements will not be made without accountability measures, collective bargaining reform and school choice," he said.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle applauded repeatedly as he rolled out his proposals.

But the room was much quieter when Sandoval talked about the tax increases needed to pay for those programs.

He said the current year's revenues are $150 million below forecasts and the existing revenue structure just isn't keeping up with needs.

He said his budget makes the temporary taxes set to sunset in July permanent, adding $580 million to the budget.

"It's time we are honest with ourselves," he said of the revenues that have been temporary but have been extended three times. "These revenues are now a part of our comprehensive budget."

There was further silence when he added, "Second, we must identify new sources of revenue."

Chief among those, he said, is "a broad-based solution that asks Nevada business to invest in our education system."

That plan will convert the existing Business License Fee to a graduated fee based on the side of the business he said will generate $430 million over the next two years. It would cost the smallest businesses about $400 a year and the biggest up to $4 million a year. Today, all business licenses cost $200 annually.

"I realize these decisions are difficult. I know I am asking a lot from the business community," he said. "But I have explored every option and find this to be the broadest, least complicated and fairest solution."

He broke the tension, drawing some laughter but adding, "I know this approach will cause debate but you will all find there is no perfect solution."

Sandoval also called for legislation to make Nevada's school boards appointed bodies instead of elected — a response to the debacle created when the Washoe School Board spontaneously fired Superintendent Pedro Martinez. Martinez, who was in attendance, will work with Sandoval's office on underperfomring schools.

Sandoval also said:

An additional $100 million in new spending is aimed at higher education to help provide the highly skilled workers needed for future economic growth.

A $14 million bond to establish the Northern Nevada Veterans Home.

Announced another large technology company is preparing to come to Nevada. Switch, which he said is the world's largest data center, will invest $2 billion in Las Vegas.

To make state handling of business issues more user friendly, he said he also will centralize 11 agencies within the Department of Business and Industry to create the Nevada Business Center, a one-stop shop.

Work toward keeping Sage Grouse from being listed as an endangered species.

Establish the Stewart Native American Historical Experience at the Stewart Indian School.

Increasing funding to fight autism from $1.8 million when Sandoval first took office to $73 million.

State of the state reaction

Reaction to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State speech:

Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko: “It’s all going to come down to dollars and cents. There are some wonderful ideas in there. It’s scary but he put it on the table. I respect that.”

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden: “It looks like we’re going to do this on the back of Nevada business. We’ll have to take a look at everything and see. I love all the initiatives. I just don’t know how we’ll pay for them.”

Assembly Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas: “Everyone says they are ready, finally, for broad-based tax reform. That is encouraging talk. But that can’t mean only working families pay more in sales taxes. It also can’t mean that all we do is raise fees across the board to avoid the hard choices. I am optimistic that Nevada’s best days are ahead. But I am also under no illusions it happens because we click our heels and hope. It happens because we stop the political games and we make the hard choices with bold leadership”

Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno: “I’m optimistic we’ll get it done.”

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas: “A critical piece of Gov. Sandoval’s State of the State and education reform plan was the need to broaden our tax structure and bolster revenue for Nevada’s education system. For far too long, our leaders have elected to accept the status quo rather than face head-on the difficult issues facing our state.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno: “We all know that the time for half measures and repackaged versions of the status quo is over and our governor has outlined a pathway to academic excellence for every student. Academic excellence doesn’t come free though and we should all applaud Gov. Sandoval for ignoring personal political risk and proposing a bold new revenue plan that would help fund the many reforms needed in our education system.”

Assembly Speaker John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas: “It’s time for us to stop kicking the can down the road to the next Legislature and solve the problems we face here and now. Our focus and priorities will be on the students of Nevada, not special interests.”

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno: “It’s a big reach. It’s ambitious. It’s too early to know what the proposed business tax entails. I’ll want to hear from business, want to see the details. Taxing is never easy in Nevada.”

Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas: “I believe the governor has set an aggressive yet attainable set of goals for this legislative session. We agree tht we must fund education in a way that is targeted, accountable and effective.”

Assemblywoman Education Chairwoman Melissa Woodbury, R-Las Vegas: “Like many, I am tired of the conversation about education being limited to two topics: more reform or more spending. If we enact reforms that will ensure our dollars are being spent to improve student achievement, our kids are worth the investment.”

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