Nevada Legislature session pretty much goes Sandoval’s way

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Gov. Brian Sandoval was the big winner in the 2017 legislative session. He got pretty much everything he asked lawmakers for in his proposed two-year spending package.

At the end of session, lawmakers approved a $23 billion two-year operating budget that’s just $55.7 million more General Fund and $72.1 million more total funding than he proposed in January.

That’s a change of less than a tenth of 1 percent.

That budget includes $7.98 billion in General Fund money. There’s another $351 million in supplemental and one-shot appropriations along with individual spending bills in General Fund spending, also almost entirely contemplated by Sandoval.

That brings total General Fund spending to $8.33 billion.

The operating budget also includes $9 billion in federal funds, $942 million in highway funds and $4 billion in fees, licenses and other funds.

One thing that budget does is move the numerous and, in some cases, experimental educational programs Sandoval and the 2015 Legislature funded into the Distributive School Account and the K-12 Education bill, making it more difficult for a future legislative session to eliminate them. The biggest single change is putting the cost of all-day kindergarten into the DSA formula.

Sandoval also proposed the first real pay raise for state workers in eight years — 2 percent each year. Lawmakers one-upped him, turning that into 3 percent a year.

Lawmakers also thought he didn’t put enough Health and Human Services funding into mental health and related programs, so they added in nearly $30 million.

Where 2015 was the year for K-12 education, Sandoval made it clear early on 2017 would be the year for higher education. He kept that promise, proposing a total $1.89 billion total budget for the university and community college system. That’s $1.23 billion in General Fund and $673 million in student fees and tuition.

It includes funding for expanded career and Technical Education programs. For community colleges, the most important addition was a change in the weighted student funding formula that recognizes the high cost of CTE programs primarily offered at community college campuses. In addition, he won approval of SB19, a bill that greatly expands the dual enrollment programs allowing students to start earning credit for college certificates while still in high school.

The budget also contains $20 million to fund the Millennium Scholarship program.

There are also several major projects in the capital construction budget including $40 million for a new engineering building at UNR and $25 million to jump start construction of the UNLV Medical School building. Between 2015 and this session, the state has now committed more than $80 million to the UNLV Medical School.

The total Capital Improvement Projects budget is $354 million over the biennium.

To meet challenges of the increasingly dangerous world of the internet hacking, Sandoval proposed and lawmakers approved creation of a Cyber Defense Center to bring together and coordinate efforts by a long list of government and public safety agencies to detect, prevent and respond to cyber attacks.

For northern and rural Nevada veterans, Sandoval’s budget includes $43 million to build the Northern Nevada Veterans Home in Sparks. Most of that cost will eventually be reimbursed by the federal government.

Sandoval proposed and lawmakers funded a number of juvenile justice reforms including a statewide risk assessment program to better match youth with the most effective services. He also sponsored legislation to get control of Nevada’s burgeoning opioid abuse problem.

Sandoval also vetoed what was, for him, a record 41 bills. That list included the bill that would have allowed all Nevadans, regardless of income, to apply for health care insurance from a plan designed much like Medicaid. He said the plan was creative and has ideas that may be looked at in the future but raised too many issues. There was also no estimate attached indicating what the plan might cost the state.

The biggest thing he didn’t get was funding for school vouchers which Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly adamantly refused to go for. Instead, they agreed to $20 million to expand the Opportunity Scholarships program. That’s just a third of what he wanted to put into the vouchers program. Lawmakers spent the $40 million that freed up on a variety of enhancements.


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