Legislative budget briefings begin Tuesday in Carson City
The Nevada Legislature gets down to serious business this week with a series of six day-long briefings outlining Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget.
And Tuesday’s opening session focuses on the signature piece of the governor’s proposals and, not incidentally, the largest single piece of the General Fund budget: K-12 education.
Superintendent of Education Dale Erquiaga will explain plans that will require a total of $3.48 billion in spending, nearly half the proposed $7.3 billion General Fund for the biennium. That is an increase of more than $350 million within the Distributive School Account and a total when all funds are included of $782 million more than the current budget. Sandoval also has proposed another $100 million more in grant funding.
“I am therefore proposing a broad-based solution that asks Nevada business to invest in our education system,” Sandoval said in his State of the State address on Thursday.
“I realize these decisions are difficult. I know I am asking a lot from the business community. But I have explored every option and find this to be the broadest, least complicated and fairest solution.”
The hearings are for the combined membership of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees — the “money” committees that actually process the budget. But numerous other lawmakers generally attend to get a better understanding of what the budget contains.
The first day will begin with an overview of the budget by Director of Administration Julia Teska, followed by a brief review of the Judicial Branch budgets by Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hardesty. Erquiaga will close the day.
“Like many, I am tired of the conversation about education being limited to two topics: more reform or more spending,” said Assemblywoman Education Chairwoman Melissa Woodbury, R-Las Vegas, after Thursday’s address. “If we enact reforms that will ensure our dollars are being spent to improve student achievement, our kids are worth the investment.”
The second day moves on to the next biggest chunk of the General Fund and — when federal and all other funds are included — the largest section of the $23.5 billion overall state budget. Altogether, Health and Human Services will consume $9.88 billion of that total and the biggest parts of it are Medicaid, which the state pays nearly a third of, and Medicare which the federal government funds in its entirety.
After Health and Human Services finishes up Thursday, the Nevada System of Higher Education will present its budget proposals, which include $24 million in bonding and an equal amount of other funding to finally build the $45 million Hotel College in Las Vegas plus more than $9 million to start creating a Southern Nevada medical school.
Lawmakers take a break on Friday and the following Monday, return for a review of budgets funding Corrections, Public Safety, Transportation and Business and Industry on Jan. 27. Sandoval has proposed significant changes for Business and Industry, combining its 11 divisions to create a one-stop-shop called The Nevada Business Center.
Tourism, cultural affairs, conservation, Wildlife, Agriculture and Taxation are set for review Jan. 28. The budget briefings wrap up Jan. 29 with the Military, Veteran’s Services, Motor Vehicles and the Department of Employment, Trianing and Rehabilitation.
“It looks like we’re going to do this on the back of Nevada business,” said Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden. “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.”
The 120-day 2015 Legislature opens for business Feb. 2.