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Politics and Policy

Sandoval Proposes $8.1 Billion Budget, Including School Voucher Funds

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Paul Boger
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$8.1 billion. That’s what Republican Governor Brian Sandoval is asking lawmakers to spend in the upcoming budget. During his final State of the State address, Sandoval gave a laundry list of action items including increased funding for education, economic development and other pet projects. Reno Public Radio’s Paul Boger has more.

For the fourth time since taking office, Sandoval addressed a joint session of the Nevada Legislature telling lawmakers things are starting to look better in the wake of the economic recession.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to report that the state of our state has dramatically improved and we are growing stronger every day.”

Sandoval touted Nevada’s steady decline in unemployment from roughly 13.7 percent in 2010 to 5.1 percent last month. The governor gave much of the credit to investments in the tech industry. While Sandoval made no mention of the controversial and stalled Faraday Future project unfolding in Las Vegas, the governor says his administration will work to bring more jobs to the state, including a large expansion by Tesla.

“Tonight, I am pleased to announce that Tesla will expand its investment in Nevada by producing the electric motors and gearboxes for the Model 3 at the Gigafactory. The new project will yield more than $350 million in additional capital investment and add 550 skilled jobs to Nevada’s new economy.”

Education was also a key component of last night’s address, and Sandoval asked lawmakers to boost that spending by $243 million. To help pay for it, Sandoval is recommending another tax on Nevada’s newest commodity, recreation marijuana.

Those requests were met with applause from both Republicans and Democrats, but Sandoval soon broke the bipartisan spirit.

“My budget includes $60 million to fund the Nevada Education Savings Accounts," Sandoval explained. "We’ve heard from thousands of families about how crucial it is that we give them the freedom of choice in the education of their children.”

For many Democrats, the idea is a non-starter. They argue it will divert funds away from public schools.  Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson of Reno says, if anything, that money could be used elsewhere in the public sector.

“$60 million goes a long way towards to making a big difference in a lot of different areas. We know that $60 million put into mental health could do a lot of good and a lot of positive changes for people in the community. So that’s the kind of conversation we’re going to be having.”

Overall, Sandoval presented lawmakers with a rather optimistic plan for the next two years with no budget cuts expected. But in an official response, Senate Majority Leader and Democrat Aaron Ford of Las Vegas says many Nevadans are not feeling the benefits of the economic recovery.

“Many people continue to feel left behind," Ford said, "whether because they're unemployed, under-employed, face stagnant income or simply don’t feel as if the same opportunities exist for them that exist for others.”

Many Republicans, including Assemblyman Jim Wheeler of Minden, voiced support for the governor’s agenda, but only if it can be accomplished in a responsible manner.

“In the past, our budget has been very, very tight. While it’s still tight--don’t get me wrong we still have to watch every penny in my opinion--this time we are able to do some things that will move Nevada forward without raising any taxes.”

The 79th session of the Nevada Legislature convenes early next month.

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