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Governor Sisolak Calls For More Education Funds, Gun Control In Address

Paul Boger
Governor Steve Sisolak address lamakers during his first State of the State.

Nevada's new Democratic Governor, Steve Sisolak, is calling on lawmakers to increase funding for public schools, protect the Affordable Care Act, and pass gun control measures as part of his first State of the State Address.

The Nevada State Assembly Chambers were packed Wednesday night with lawmakers, state officials and invited guests to watch Steve Sisolak give his first State of the State Address.

The speech, which lasted about 45 minutes, laid out a legislative agenda that called for increased spending for public education as well as healthcare. The new governor’s proposals call for lawmakers to increase the state’s minimum wage, increase pay for state employees and teachers by three percent while at the same time putting more money into the state’s rainy day fund, all without raising taxes. Sisolak says his agenda is ambitious, but possible.

“We are anticipating general fund revenue of over $4.3 billion in 2020, up nearly three percent over 2019,” Sislak said. “In 2021, it’s projected to rise even more to nearly $ 4.5 billion. Nevada’s economic growth happened under our current revenue structure, and, as they say, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ That’s why this budget that you’re being presented is without any new taxes.”

In all, Sisolak’s proposed budget calls for nearly $8.8 billion in spending over the next two years, millions more than his predecessor, Republican Brian Sandoval.

Among Sisolak’s biggest asks is increased funding for schools, a promise the Democrat campaigned on last year. In addition to possibly revamping the state’s education funding formula, The Nevada Plan, Sisolak says he wants to nearly double the amount of new money scheduled to go to schools annually. He also wants to add dollars to categorical programs, like the ones that target historically underserved communities.

“My recommended increase in funding for the New Nevada Plan will increase from $36 million to $70 million per year, meaning that an additional 28,200 at-risk students will receive the academic support they need, no matter what school they attend," Sisolak said.

The governor also underlined his desire to create a Cannabis Compliance Board to oversee the state’s growing recreational marijuana industry, vowing to use some of the tax revenue collected from pot sales to address school safety issues.

Sisolak also used the address to tackle another major campaign promise: gun control reform. Vowing to push for a ban on bump stocks, the device used by the shooter in the October 1st, 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, Sisolak signaled that he is prepared to implement the state’s beleaguered gun background check law, which Republicans in the previous administration said was unenforceable.

"Our country is plagued by the epidemic of gun violence, something Nevadans have come to understand all too well,” said Sisolak. “We are still reeling from the losses we suffered on 1 October. And now, at long last, we’re going to take action. I am working with the legislature to implement commonsense background checks on all firearm sales in Nevada.”

For Democrats, the speech aligned with many of the priorities laid out during the 2018 election. Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson of Reno says the governor’s speech created an agenda that’s workable for lawmakers.

“I’ll be looking through it, but by the initial structure of what things are going [sic] I believe we will have a balanced budget. I believe that we will be able to accomplish important things and still have a balanced budget.”

Some Republicans, on the other hand, are not as optimistic.

Assemblyman John Ellison of Elko, says he can’t figure out how lawmakers will pay for the governor’s priorities.

“You know, there was a lot of increases, but I think that’s going to be a big thing,” Ellison said. “How are they going to fund this?"

Sisolak said he would not be proposing tax increases, but Ellison said that would be impossible.

“I mean, from what I’ve seen, I don’t know how they can do that. It looks like, to me, that there’s no way. You’re going to have to either cut or increase," Ellison explained. "There’s too much money out there on the table.”

Officially though, Republicans say they are remaining cautiously optimistic. As part of the Republican response, State Senator Heidi Gansert of Reno says the GOP will work with Democrats to keep state government in line.

“You can count on Republicans to stand our ground on the unshakeable beliefs of personal responsibility, limited government spending and individual freedom over government infringement,” Gansert says. “Yet, at the same time, we know, too, that Nevada families expect us to find common ground and to join together for a common purpose to address their immediate and long-term concerns for the common good.”

Despite that vow, Republicans will have a difficult time pushing any agenda not in line with the Democratic leadership. And as the 120-day legislative session quickly approaches, Democrats are all but primed to pass the governor’s proposals.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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