Unable to get two-thirds vote, Democrats begin pulling back major bills
Democrats on Monday began the process of amending costs out of bills they had hoped would be their signature pieces this session — the measures intended to pay for expanded K-12 education and other programs.
The Senate Finance Committee started the dominoes falling by adopting sponsor Debbie Smith’s amendment to pull the $99 million fiscal note out of Senate Bill 182.
Smith, D-Sparks, said the amendment does that by making the decision optional, stating that districts, “to the extent money is available, may include kindergarten for a full school day.” The bill originally mandated full-day kindergarten in all Nevada schools.
She said that wasn’t what she wanted to do when the bill was introduced, but that the policy allowing and encouraging full-day kindergarten where possible is an important first step.
That move is an admission that Democrats, although in the majority, can’t get the two-thirds majority needed to pass tax increases or override a veto by Gov. Brian Sandoval and, therefore, can’t pass bills requiring large amounts of new revenue.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said he thinks the Democrats put forward policies they truly believe in. But he said the state is facing tough fiscal restraints, and they weren’t able to reach a deal with Republicans or the governor.
“So they need to make their policy proposals match the revenues,” he said.
The decision followed Saturday’s votes at the joint Senate Finance/Assembly Ways and Means committee hearing that completed the state budget.
Because of that inability to get a two-thirds majority in each house, the budget came out with very few changes to the spending plan submitted by the governor.
Not being able to fund the Democratic education goals announced early in the session is disappointing, Smith said. He added that SB182 still accomplishes the policy change of making kindergarten mandatory in Nevada — one of the few remaining states where it wasn’t.
“I personally believe we need to significantly better fund full-day kindergarten,” she said. “But requiring kindergarten for all our kids is vastly better.”
She conceded that’s not the only measure likely to be amended.
Lawmakers are expected to make similar changes to AB162, which provides $24 million to further reduce class sizes in elementary schools statewide.
In addition, there is SB171, which would have moved $125 million in governmental services tax revenue swept from the highway fund to the general fund in 2009 back where it can be used for infrastructure projects. That, however, creates a huge hole in the general fund budget.
According to sponsor Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, the money would have been available not only for highway projects but school construction.
He said Monday he is still looking for ways to fund the measure.
Smith said there is still hope for smaller appropriations such as the $10 million in SB173 that would go to the Knowledge Fund.