Nevada lawmakers head into final day with budget deal
Nevada Senators on Sunday pounded through the deal that will end the 2017 Legislature, expanding the Opportunity Scholarship program, passing the Capital Improvement Projects bill and the marijuana tax that Republicans earlier blocked.
The Assembly, however, adjourned at 12:45 a.m., with Speaker Jason Frierson, D-las Vegas, announcing they would take up the package of measures at noon Monday.
The other four budget bills were passed on a simple majority vote but CIP and the marijuana tax were blocked because both require a two-thirds majority to pass. Republicans had said since the start of session they wouldn’t approve a budget that didn’t include Educational Savings Accounts — vouchers.
They lost most of their leverage when Gov. Brian Sandoval made it clear he wouldn’t veto the entire $26 billion budget package to save the $60 million ESA program. He also told legislators to get their work done before 12:01 a.m. Tuesday because he wouldn’t call a special session.
That combination doomed the controversial program that would have allowed parents to claim up to $5,900 a year in state money to pay tuition at private schools.
Since the blockage happened in the Senate, the deal started in that house as well.
Senators first approved, SB555 adding $20 million to the $6 million in tax credits businesses can already get from the Modified Business Tax by donating to the Opportunity Scholarship program.
Those scholarships then provide up to $7,755 a year to families making less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The money can be used to pay tuition at private schools. Gansert told the Senate last year, $2 million was awarded to 475 students.
Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, described the added money as “a one time shot.” He said if the taxation department approves less than that total, the money carries forward to the following year.
That bill was approved unanimously by the Senate.
They then reconsidered the defeat of the marijuana excise tax proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to pump $60 million into K-12 education. Since that hole had already been filled using the $60 million in funding proposed for the school vouchers program, the marijuana tax money was, instead, directed to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The bill passed 15-6.
Even though the CIP funding died 12-9 in the first vote, both sides agreed it was vital because it funded not only $354 million worth of new construction, maintenance and other projects but over $250 million in existing General Obligation Bonds. Defaulting on those bonds would seriously damage the state’s bond rating.
On reconsideration, Reno Republicans Heidi Gansert and Ben Kieckhefer voted for the bill along with fellow Republican Becky Harris of Las Vegas. The measure was approved 15-6.
The bill includes several major projects in northern Nevada including funding for half the $83 million UNR Engineering Building, the $42 million south Reno DMV facility and the $33 million northern Nevada Veterans Home project.
The bill also contains a number of significant projects in southern Nevada and a long list of maintenance, repair and restoration projects including $1.8 million to restore the exterior of the state Capitol.