In spite of the political fights that dominate the final days of the Nevada Legislature, lawmakers are gearing up to complete what’s arguably their most important task — passing a two-year budget.
On Monday and Tuesday, state budget committees in the Assembly and Senate introduced and reviewed the five budget bills — the culmination of four months of hearings on the proposed budget brought forth by Gov. Brian Sandoval in January.
The final $8.1 billion budget isn’t too different from the one that Sandoval initially proposed, with most of the decision-making happening earlier in May during a joint budget committee when a handful of discrepancies were closed and state budget committees gave the final thumbs up to how the state will spend its money over the next two years.
Once drafted by legislative staff, the five budget bills generally can’t be amended if lawmakers want to close down the session within the constitutionally required 120-day deadline. Here’s a look at each of the five budget bills introduced on Tuesday.
Under a constitutional amendment approved by former Gov. Jim Gibbons in 2007, Nevada lawmakers are required to approve funding for K-12 education before any other budget bill or appropriation.
The state’s proposed Distributed School Account this session comes in at $2.3 billion (slightly higher than the $2.2 billion approved last session) over the next two years, and continues many of the program’s implemented or proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval during the 2015 session, with a few additional tweaks. The budget sets per-pupil funding at $5,900 during the 2018 fiscal year and $5,967 during the 2019 fiscal year.
The budget bill was introduced Tuesday evening as SB544.
Here’s a few of the programs and how much the state is putting up over the state’s required two-year budget cycle:
- $299.5 million for class size reduction programs
- $386.5 million for special education students
- $25 million for grants in Career and Technical Education
- $41 million for the Read by 3 program
- $5 million for “Turnaround schools”
- $50 million for Victory Schools
- $9.8 million for the Great Teaching and Leadership Fund
- $5 million for a fund reimbursing teachers for school supplies they personally purchase
- $36.6 million for Adult High School Education programs
- $14.7 million to the Gifted and Talented education programs
The bill also includes $45,000 per year funding for anti-bullying grants, and extends a “Charter School Harbor Master” — a state-funded organization designed to recruit high-quality charter schools into Nevada — into 2019.
One unresolved issue is that the budget relies on $64 million in new tax revenue from a proposed 10 percent tax on sales of recreational marijuana products. The vehicle for that tax, SB487, has yet to come up for a floor vote, but is scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Thursday.
STATE WORKER PAY BILL (AB517):
As announced back in January, Nevada state workers are set to get their first cost of living pay increase in several years.
The approved spending plan includes a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) over both years of the two-year budget cycle, and also includes a 5 percent pay bump for correctional officers and IT professionals. State workers received a 3 percent bump in pay over the last two-year budget cycle, but The Nevada Appeal reported that raise was mostly eaten up by a 2.25 percent mandatory increase toward the state’s retirement system premiums.
Fiscal staff testified that the pay raises will cost $18.6 million in the 2018 fiscal year and $38.4 million in the 2019 fiscal year.
The bill also exempts a number of state employees to a provision in state law that limits the maximum salary of a state worker from exceeding 95 percent of the governor’s salary. Sandoval has foregone pay raises over the last eight years, and the state’s next governor will take the aggregated salary bump accumulated through his two terms whenever he or she takes office.
AUTHORIZATION BILL (SB545):
This bill includes $100,000 to fund an independent lawyer within the Gaming Control Board. The idea emerged after lawmakers learned that the board’s chairman had secretly recorded a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt out of concern that he was making an inappropriate request on behalf of a campaign donor.
The FBI determined nothing criminal occurred, but Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton introduced a bill that would allow the board to hire independent counsel separate from the attorney general’s office. Because it’s included in a budget bill, lawmakers won’t have to approve Carlton’s original policy bill for the independent counsel to become a reality.
The budget bill was introduced Tuesday evening as SB545.
Highlights of funding included in the bill over the next two years include:
- $6 billion for Nevada’s Medicaid program
- $115.6 million for Nevada Check-Up, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- $19.6 million for Southern Nevada adult mental health services
- $9.3 million for Northern Nevada adult mental health services
- $51.8 million for behavioral health prevention and treatment and another $1.3 million toward behavioral health administration
- $72.8 million toward the Department of Taxation’s Marijuana Regulation and Control Account
- $6.8 million for the Marijuana Health Registry
- $35.6 million for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- $6.5 million to the Nevada Catalyst Fund
- $13 million to the Nevada Knowledge Fund
- $1.6 million to the Nevada Film Office
- $250,000 to the Achievement School District
- $21 million toward Career and Technical Education
- $8.3 million toward the GEAR Up program
- $4.4 million toward UNLV’s School of Medicine
- $8.5 million to Nevada College Savings Trust
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM (SB546):
This bill implements a $346 million capital improvement program, which includes about $48 million in general fund.
Highlights among the projects:
- $1.5 million to plan an additional housing unit at Southern Desert Correctional Center
- $3.5 million to plan an education building at Nevada State College
- $33 million to build a Northern Nevada Veterans Home
- $6 million to bring the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
- $6.2 million to renovate a housing unit at Southern Desert Correctional Center
- $1.4 million for furnishings and equipment for the UNLV Hotel College
- $4.3 million for Stewart Indian School welcome centers
- $41.5 million in general obligation bonds for a UNR engineering building
- $1 million for advanced planning of a health sciences building at the College of Southern Nevada
- $34.2 million for a National Guard Readiness Center
APPROPRIATIONS BILL (AB518):
This bill includes nearly $10 billion in spending from the general fund and highway fund. Once it’s introduced, it must sit on the chief clerk’s desk for 24 hours to give lawmakers a chance to review it. The bill was introduced at approximately 8:30 p.m. on Monday.
It cannot pass from its second house until the K-12 funding bill first passes.
Among the highlights:
- It ensures that the Nevada Early Intervention Services program remains a program where service delivery is split between the community and the state. The model is several million dollars more expensive than the governor’s proposed change, but lawmakers opted not to implement his suggested revamp.
- It applies about $1.2 million for equipment that can support Meals on Wheels programs for homebound seniors.
- It stashes away an extra $1.3 million that the Autism Treatment and Assistance Program could tap into if it demonstrates there are enough autism treatment service providers to handle additional children in the program.
- It includes about $516,000 to provide payments for rural foster care families.
- It allocates about $684,000 to the Nevada System of Higher Education for cloud seeding.
- It applies about $700,000 to the Division of Parole and Probation for a pilot re-entry program for inmates.