Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval proposes $8.1 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval proposes $8.1 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2018-2019

Speaker of the Assembly Jason Frieson introduces Gov. Sandoval on Tuesday.
Jim Grant/Nevada Appeal |

With only one new tax, Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday presented lawmakers with his plan for an $8.1 billion General Fund budget for the upcoming biennium.

That’s a roughly 10 percent increase over the current budget and a bit more than $200 million over what the Economic Forum projected for General Fund revenues.

The $541.3 million in new money projected by the forum raised the available cash to $7.89 million. Beyond that, most of the difference is made up by more than $60 million in savings in the Medicaid program, keeping some $20 million in the Government Services tax that was to go back to DMV this coming year and a total of nearly $100 million in recreational marijuana tax money. That money technically goes straight to K-12 education but, in effect, means the state doesn’t have to use other funds to make up that amount.

Nearly $70 million of that marijuana money will come from a proposed new 10 percent retail tax on recreational pot sales.

As the Republican governor did in the 2015 cycle, Sandoval has budgeted significant increases in K-12 education funding. That will raise the General Fund contribution to K-12 from $1.12 billion a year to $1.33 billion, again using just under $100 million from marijuana tax money. Some of his 2015 programs including Zoom Schools, Victory Schools, Read by Three and Jobs for America will all get a boost.

This time, Gifted and Talented programs will get an added $4.3 million over the biennium.

Altogether, some $107 million is added to the K-12 budgets.

As he promised this past fall, Sandoval included funding to revive the school vouchers (Educational Savings Accounts) program. His proposed budget includes $60 million — $25 million in fiscal 2018 and $35 million in 2019.

“I knew it would be a split house on that one,” Sandoval said.

With more than 8,000 applicants for the $5,300 per school year grants, fully funding the program would cost $85 million. Sandoval’s Chief of Staff Mike Willden said, “we really can’t get to the $85 million number in this budget.”

The budget plan pumps $115 million into the Nevada System of Higher Education, some $58.7 million to cover growing student enrollments at UNR and UNLV and $13 million to expand funding for the UNLV Medical School to $53 million this coming biennium. That will bring total investment in that school to nearly $80 million.

The budget also includes $21.4 million for Career and Technical Education at the state’s four community colleges — Western Nevada College in Carson City, Great Basin in Elko, Truckee Meadows in Reno and College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas.

Those campuses also will share in the $10.5 million in Capacity Building funds in 2019. At WNC, the money will help reinstate the rural nursing program and expand Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) programs.

Officials at those schools have argued strenuously they can’t meet the demands for trained staff to take high-tech jobs at plants including Tesla without the cash to provide that training.

Over and above those expenditures, the plan includes $20 million to shore up the Governor Guinn Millennium Scholarship program that officials say would otherwise be broke after this coming budget cycle.

The biggest Capital Improvement project is funding for half the $83 million cost of a new Engineering Building at UNR. To claim the $41.5 million in state cash, UNR will have to raise a similar amount from other sources.

The next largest project is the $36 million in front money to jump start construction of a northern Nevada Veterans Home. The governor and lawmakers provided $14 million to begin that project in 2015 but the federal government hasn’t come through with it’s share.

“The governor is tired of waiting for the federal funds,” said Willden adding Sandoval wants it built by the time he leaves office.

He said after the home is built, the feds will reimburse the state most of its funding.

Altogether, the capital improvements budget comes to $344 million, a large share of that in badly needed maintenance and repairs.

Members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees will begin reviewing the governor’s recommended budget plan next Monday in subcommittee hearings. They have scheduled a full week of hearings on the budget to prepare them for the opening of the 2017 Legislature in February.