CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Gov. Brian Sandoval’s two-year budget proposal includes significant new money for state universities and community colleges, K-12 education, veterans, prisons, state workers and Nevada’s park system.
The $8.1 billion blueprint, an increase of nearly 11 percent from the current budget, includes only one new tax — a 10 percent excise tax on retail sales of recreational marijuana.
Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford said in the Democratic response his party will oppose the Republican governor’s plans to spend $60 million on a private school voucher program when the 2017 Legislature convenes on Feb. 6.
Here’s some key things to know about the new budget proposal:
STATE OF THE STATE:
Sandoval said the state of the state has dramatically improved in the six years since he took office and is “growing stronger every day.” He pointed to last month’s unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, down from a staggering 14 percent in 2010. He said Nevada has created 198,000 new jobs since 2011 for an all-time high of 1.3 million jobs with 72 consecutive months of job growth. He announced Tesla Motors plans to expand its northern Nevada “gigafactory” currently manufacturing batteries to include the production of electric motors and gearboxes for its next car, the Model 3. That’s expected to mean $350 million in additional capital investment and 550 additional skilled jobs.
The proposed 10 percent tax on retail sales of recreational marijuana would come on top of a 15 percent wholesale tax that already was included in the ballot initiative voters approved in November legalizing pot in Nevada. Sandoval says he will ask regulators to limit the sale of marijuana products and ban packaging that could appeal to children or could be mistaken for candy. All told, Sandoval projects the taxes and fees on the sale of recreational and medicinal pot combined would bring in about $100 million over two years devoted exclusively to education.
Sandoval proposed $115 million in new spending on higher education over two years to address growing enrollment as well as cover half the costs of building a new $83 million engineering building at the University of Nevada, Reno. Funding for UNLV’s School of Medicine set to open next fall also would continue at requested levels. He proposed a $100 million boost for K-12 schools with a high percentage of at-risk students, special education and gifted and talented programs. He also asked for $20 million to fully fund the millennium scholarship program to help high school graduates go to college, and more money for technical and vocational training at community colleges.
PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS:
Sandoval wants $60 million over two years for the Education Savings Account, a program that allows parents to claim up to $5,000 in state money to send their children to private or other alternative schools. The Supreme Court recently upheld the program’s mission, but ruled the financing mechanism was illegal. Ford, D-Las Vegas, said it’s the “wrong priority for Nevada’s kids” because any amount of money directed to the account will result in less money for public schools.
Sandoval proposed $36 million for a new veterans’ nursing home in northern Nevada. He wants to build a new Department of Motor Vehicles facility in south Reno and a new national guard readiness center in North Las Vegas. He wants to retrofit the Northern Nevada Correctional Facility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and establish a cyber defense office within the Nevada Department of Public Safety to better guard against computer hackers.
STATE WORKER RAISES:
In addition to the 4 percent cost-of-living increase for all state workers, Sandoval proposed an additional 5 percent for correctional workers and information technology specialists. He says additional money also would be made available to cover inflationary costs in state workers’ health insurance.
Sandoval said his personal journey to every state park in Nevada the past year helped persuade him to propose $15 million in new spending for parks. He said the centerpiece would be a new 12,000-acre Walker River Recreation Area in Lyon County. It would include 28 miles of riverfront thanks to the private donation of three historic ranches valued at $8 million.