Nevada lawmakers will likely have between $240 million to $250 million in leftover funds after trimming Gov. Steve Sisolak’s proposed $8.8 billion budget, according to Republican lawmakers briefed on the matter.
The surplus funds come as lawmakers on legislative budget committees have made sizable cuts in recent weeks to health care and higher education budgets, as well as programs proposed by Sisolak funding school safety. In aggregate, those cuts are expected to total nearly a quarter billion dollars and could present a possible solution as lawmakers look for ways to fund a promised 3 percent pay raise and 2 percent merit pay increase for teachers, Republican lawmakers say.
The money could also lessen the need to nix a proposed decrease of the modified business, or payroll, tax that Democrats are counting on for about $100 million to fund their policy priorities. The viability of that proposal was recently thrown in jeopardy after Republicans declared that they would take the matter to court if Democrats tried to pass it with simple majority support in the wake of a legislative legal opinion. (Though Democrats have a supermajority in the Assembly, they’re one vote shy of a two-thirds majority in the Senate.)
Republican Sen. Keith Pickard said he thinks the extra funding figure could climb to $300 million by the end of the budgeting process, but that he doesn’t know what Democrats who control the Legislature have in mind on how to spend it. He said Republicans are discussing crafting a plan of their own that could help nudge the process along.
“I think if we come out and say something, then they can’t say we don’t have a plan, we’re just complaining,” Pickard said.
Pickard says his top three priorities will be class-size reduction, teacher pay raises and funding Opportunity Scholarships that help students attend private schools, though he said that last category could be expanded to include funding for Nevada Promise Scholarships that support community college students or to help schools that cater to the needs of students who don’t fit within the traditional school setting.
Democratic Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Joyce Woodhouse declined to confirm the amount of funds cut from the governor’s recommended budget in an interview and said the total was still pending but that she expected to have the final numbers in the coming days.
Moves that have contributed to the savings include a re-projection of enrollment that reduced the general fund’s obligation to schools by $118 million; more than $30 million saved through cuts to proposed school safety spending, some $32 million cut from Nevada System of Higher Education budgets, and reductions in Medicaid caseload. Economic Forum projections also showed $43 million more than previously forecasted over a three-year period.
The Clark County School District has been particularly vocal about its budget plight, omitting Sisolak’s promised teacher raises from the district budget and saying CCSD needs an extra $240 million in the coming biennium beyond what’s in the governor’s budget.
A joint statement Thursday from Superintendent Jesus Jara and board chairwoman Lola Brooks said the district is “eager to continue our partnership with the Governor and members of the Nevada Legislature to maintain K-12 education as their most important priority in the final state budget.”