Nevada Legislature begins work on budget

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State finance Director Susan Brown laid out an overview of the governor’s proposed budget on Tuesday for a joint session of the legislative money committees, saying the proposal includes $8.83 billion in General Fund and $25.779 billion total spending over the biennium.

That’s nearly $3 billion more than the current total budget and nearly $1 billion more General Fund spending.

The General Fund number is also some $92 million more than the projections by the Economic Forum, projections the governor is required to use to build his budget unless he proposes tax increases to cover the difference.

Gov. Steve Sisolak has proposed retaining the 25 percent of the Government Services Tax that was planned to go back to the highway fund and legislation to keep the Modified Business Tax at its current level.

Revenues for the MBT, commerce tax and insurance premium tax came in more than 4 percent above projections, that sets off a statutory trigger that would give businesses a reduction in the MBT. That accounts for $48 million of the added General Fund revenue Sisolak has proposed spending. But in order to get that funding, he’ll need a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and Assembly. While Democrats have a veto-proof majority in the Assembly, they’re one vote short in the senate, giving Republicans in the upper house some leverage.

The largest share of the funding goes to Health and Human Services — $12.7 billion or 43 percent of the total over the biennium. About three quarters of that, $9.1 billion, goes to Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that are primarily federally funded.

The budget also proposed increases in Medicaid rates for Pediatric and Neonatal intensive care, supported living and personal assistants. Altogether, those changes will cost $71.7 million over the biennium.

Education claims the next largest amount, $4.9 billion for K-12 and $2.1 billion for higher education, a total just more than $7 billion or 24 percent of the budget.

The proposed budget also continues the special education programs created under the previous administration’s watch including Zoom Schools, Victory Schools and Read By Three.

It will cost $126.5 million over the biennium to cover enrollment growth in K-12 schools and another $176.7 million to pay the statutory pay raises for teaches and staff. That’s on top of the $180.6 million to pay the 3 percent cost of living raise Sisolak has proposed for K-12 employees.

The Department of Transportation gets just more than $2 billion but the majority of that is federal highway fund money. That’s followed by the $1.67 billion to support the Public Employees Benefits Program — health insurance for state workers.

There are several major projects on the Capital Improvement Project list including $8.6 million to complete the Reno DMV building.

But the big ticket items are in the south — a $61.8 million education building at Nevada State College and $76.7 million for a health sciences building at the College of Southern Nevada.

Tuesday’s hearing was the first of six designed to give lawmakers an overview of the proposed two-year budget they’ll review in detail over the next four months.

Wednesday’s hearing will focus on an overview of the Health and Human Services budgets including Medicaid, Welfare, Behavioral Health and Child and Family Services.


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