Overview of proposed $26 billion state budget under way | 2017 Nevada Legislature

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Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff and finance director on Tuesday began the process of laying out the recommended $26.14 billion state budget.

The two biggest pieces of that total are the $7.9 billion in General Fund cash and the $9 billion in federal money for the Department of Health and Human services.

Members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees were told fully 44 percent of the total budget goes to Health and Human Services.

By far the largest chunk of that is Medicaid, which, this coming biennium will consume a total of $7.42 billion. That consists of $5.9 billion in federal money and $1.4 billion in state General Fund cash plus a bit of local money.

There’s some uncertainty in the Medicaid budget, however, because of unanswered questions about what the Trump administration will do to the Affordable Care Act. Elimination of the ACA without a replacement could dump more than 200,000 Medicaid recipients from the program.

Another 25 percent of the total budget goes to education. K-12 will get a total of $4.65 billion during the biennium. The K-12 budget will get $107 million more state funding than in the current budget. A significant share of that will be used for the 2 percent raises Sandoval has budgeted each of the coming two years.

The new budget, according to Chief of Staff Mike Willden, will add 276 employees, primarily replacing contract workers with state employees.

Asked where there are budget cuts from current spending, Finance Director Jim Wells said, “There are very few places where there are actual reductions in spending.”

Assemblywoman Robin Titus, R-Wellington along with other lawmakers questioned relying on recreational marijuana taxes to generate $100 million of the K-12 budget.

“I’m concerned we may not see that income,” Titus said.

Wells said those estimates are conservative because his staff also was concerned because of how slowly the tax money came in after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.

The Sandoval administration also said it was worried about whether the Trump administration would clamp down on recreational marijuana across the country. Wells said in any event, the General Fund would have to make up any shortfall in the K-12 budgets.

The Nevada System of Higher Education will spend $1.89 billion, a third of which will come from the students themselves. Altogether, the university system will get $115 million more in the coming budget than it did this cycle. The bulk of that cash, $57 million, will fund increasing student populations primarily at University Nevada, Reno and University Nevada, Las Vegas.

K-12 and the university system together account for 51 percent of state General Fund money.

The recommended budget also pumps some money into the Department of Corrections where experts project Nevada will need 700 more inmate beds over the coming two years. According to Willden and Wells, the answer there is a multi-pronged approach that starts with getting more parole eligible inmates out by beefing up staffing to the Parole and Probation Division. They said up to 400 inmates are eligible but still in prison, because of the lack of transitional housing beds. In addition, a unit at Southern Desert Correctional Center will be remodeled to double its capacity to 400 and money is included to send 200 inmates out of state.

The hearing was the first in a week-long series of budget subcommittee hearings designed to jump start the process of reviewing the budget for lawmakers. The weather canceled Monday’s hearings in Carson City.


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