Senate majority leader faults Lombardo for budget deal failure, special session
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said Gov. Joe Lombardo failed to uphold his end of a handshake deal to close down the state’s 120-day session, blaming the governor for an expected special session needed to pass the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget.
In a Tuesday morning interview with The Nevada Independent, Cannizzaro said she “had not anticipated” the failure of the CIP bill (AB521), which came as Senate Republican lawmakers voted down the measure in the final hour of the 2023 regular legislative session Monday night. She said that outcome went against the spirit of a late Sunday handshake agreement with the governor to pass all five major budget bills along with several of the governor’s major policy priorities.
“I would expect that when there is a deal and a handshake and an agreement, that you live up to that. Period,” Cannizzaro said.
A formal proclamation triggering a special session is expected to be issued by Lombardo’s office sometime Tuesday afternoon. That proclamation is expected to contain a call to pass the CIP budget and possibly some other high-profile items, though sources close to the governor’s office were noncommittal about the specifics of the proclamation.
On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) clarified that the governor indicated to him that the upcoming special session will only involve the CIP bill and raising charter school teacher salaries. Yeager said that when asked if there would be anything else included in the special session proclamation, Lombardo did not bring up the potential for a stadium deal for the Oakland A’s or a proposed expansion of the state’s film tax credits, which did not pass through the Legislature.
Though the governor may call a special session, only the speaker and majority leader can introduce bills during a special session.
The CIP bill, which includes nearly $1.2 billion in executive branch capital projects and reimplements a statewide property tax, is the only major budget bill to require a two-thirds vote to pass — a threshold Democrats were unable to reach because they hold just 13 of 21 seats in the Senate, one shy of a supermajority.
Sources close to negotiations on the governor’s side said Lombardo had not reneged on the deal and is still ready to sign the bill with no conditions — adding that parties had not agreed to have the governor whip Senate Republican votes in support of the deal. Sources — granted anonymity to speak freely about ongoing negotiations — added that Senate Democrats were made aware of Republican opposition to the CIP earlier in the day.
A spokesperson for the Republican Senate Caucus said Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) was not immediately available for an interview.
Cannizzaro said Republicans’ eventual rejection of the bill violated the spirit of the deal.
“The governor should have had the votes to move this, and he didn't,” Cannizzaro said. “And I cannot understand that, because we executed it on every single piece of this.”
Seevers Gansert said during a floor speech last night that her caucus would “not vote to pass a CIP bill until our concerns are addressed.” That includes adding charter school teachers into SB231, a $250 million pot of matching funds Democrats approved to boost K-12 teacher pay, as well as funding for capital improvements at charter schools and graduate medical education — a set of requests she said totaled $75 million.
"We are doubly resolved to stay here for as long as is necessary to correct this inequity," Seevers Gansert said just before the eight Senate Republicans voted against AB521, sinking the bill.
As part of the deal with Lombardo, Cannizzaro said Democrats made concessions on passing the governor’s priorities, including government modernization, criminal justice and school discipline measures. She said as part of negotiations, Democrats left some of their policy priorities on the cutting room floor.
But Cannizzaro said Senate Republicans moved to renegotiate terms of the budget deal with “no time to do these other things,” even after Lombardo’s office had pledged to sign both outstanding budget bills once they made it to his desk.
“This is a negotiated deal,” she said. “We agreed to all these pieces. We're not renegotiating in the 11th hour.”
Still, Seevers Gansert said on the floor last night that after giving Democrats a list of their priorities, “the majority's response to our list has been disregard, disdain and dismissal.”
A spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though in a statement issued after adjournment sine die said the caucus “fully support Gov. Lombardo and await his call for a special session to find common ground solutions for Nevadans.”
Cannizzaro said as part of the deal, Lombardo had agreed to a last-minute amendment added to the CIP bill that would direct $25 million to the Culinary Training Academy in Las Vegas, a vocational school that provides workforce training for the state’s largest industry: leisure and hospitality.
The funding for the academy would only take effect if Lombardo vetoed a pair of so-called “Christmas tree” bills (AB525 and SB341) that include appropriations totaling more than $100 million for dozens of nonprofit organizations.
Seevers Gansert criticized the inclusion of funding for the Culinary Academy in the CIP bill, saying the bills were loaded with “pork,” a reference to earmarks or government appropriations for local projects typically secured to bring funding to a member’s district.
But opposition from Senate Republicans to the Culinary Academy provision and the CIP bill also largely tied back to their votes against other major Democrat-backed budget bills, including those passed by Lombardo. Seevers Gansert reiterated concerns Monday about what she described as “fiscal largesse,” and that excessive recurring expenses in the budget were fiscally irresponsible.
Cannizzaro, who gave birth during the final weeks of the session and returned to the Legislature only a few days later, said negotiating in good faith is an important part of her role as a state lawmaker. She said those negotiations took place even while she was in labor, and she feels a duty to the state and her constituents.
“I am frustrated,” Cannizzaro said. “We negotiated. I have negotiated — and because I have a job to do here ... I have sat through meetings with this baby, instead of being home. My family has not met this baby. I negotiated in good faith because that's what I was supposed to do.”
This story was updated at 1:37 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, to clarify the account of a conversation between Yeager and Lombardo about a special session agenda.
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