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Gov. Lombardo proposes historic education funding, state employee raises and suspension of gas tax

A close-up of Joe Lombardo standing at a podium with a wide grin and semi-shut eyes. He’s wearing a black suit with a red tie. A few people are sitting behind him.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo at his first State of the State address at the Nevada State Legislative Building’s Nevada Assembly Chambers in Carson City, Nev., on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

On Monday night, Republican Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo outlined his administration’s goals and proposals during his first State of the State address ahead of the legislative session early next month. KUNR host Marc Garber sat down with reporter Lucia Starbuck to learn more.

Marc Garber: Let’s start with education. What is the governor proposing?

Lucia Starbuck: Lombardo promised to make historic investments in education. He wants to put $50 million into the state’s scholarship program that can be used for private education.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE LOMBARDO SPEAKING DURING THE STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS): Traditional public schools are not – and should not – be the only option. (CLAPPING)

Starbuck: Other goals include increasing per-pupil funding, particularly for English language learners, at-risk students, and gifted and talented students. He also wants to expand pre-kindergarten services. He also proposed improving the teacher pipeline by providing stipends and tuition for student teachers.

Garber: And during his campaign, Lombardo promised not to raise taxes. Did he stay true to that pledge Monday night?

Starbuck: Yes, he actually proposed tax cuts, including suspending the gas tax for one year. That costs about 23 cents per gallon in Nevada.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOMBARDO): Today, the government has more money than we can responsibly spend; households and businesses most certainly do not. Look around. Everything is more expensive these days – groceries, supplies and services. Nowhere is this more evident than at the pump.

A crowd shot inside a large government room with brown walls and two stories of seating. People are standing up and clapping.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
The crowd at Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo’s first State of the State address at the Nevada State Legislative Building’s Nevada Assembly Chambers in Carson City, Nev., on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

Garber: How does Lombardo plan to address state employment? As a note of disclosure, KUNR staff are state employees because we are part of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Starbuck: Lombardo proposed raises for every state employee by 8% next fiscal year and 4% the year after that. He also wants to give what he’s calling “Retention Bonuses” of $500 per quarter for a total of $2,000 every year. Lombardo’s chief of staff, Ben Kieckhefer, told reporters earlier this month there’s a roughly 24 percent vacancy rate in state employment.

Garber: And Lombardo referred to himself as a crime fighter; he is the former sheriff of Clark County. What are his crime-related goals?

Starbuck: Lombardo wants to give judges and probation officers authority to impose tougher punishments for parole violations. He wants to strengthen drug laws by increasing penalties for possession, particularly for fentanyl. He only took a few questions from the press afterward. I asked what proposals he thinks would be the toughest to get by the Democrat-controlled legislature, and he said his crime reforms.

Garber: And what are Democrats saying about the governor’s proposals?

Starbuck: Shortly after the State of the State, Democratic leadership held a rebuttal. When I asked if they’d join Lombardo’s proposed, “Office of School Choice,” here’s what Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICOLE CANNIZZARO): If we cannot put a qualified teacher in every classroom, I do not know why we would ever entertain an idea to take public dollars away from those kids who deserve an education and put it towards a private corporation.

Nicole Cannizzaro and Steve Yeager stand indoors behind podiums, looking away from the camera. There is a blue Nevada state flag on a vertical pole behind Yeager.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Democratic Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (left) and Speaker-Elect Steve Yeager hold a joint press conference following the State of the State address at the Nevada State Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev., on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

Garber: And Governor Lombardo also suggested some election-related changes. What were those all about?

Starbuck: He said mail-in ballots were a response to COVID and are now unnecessary. He alluded to requiring showing identification to vote, which isn’t required in most cases in Nevada.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOMBARDO): Signature verification is a time-intensive and cumbersome process. We require people to have a valid form of identification to get on a plane, to operate a motor vehicle, or to purchase alcohol or cigarettes, et cetera, but not to cast a vote in an election. That is illogical. (CLAPPING) 

Starbuck: Democrat speaker-elect, Assemblyman Steve Yeager, said the election reforms don’t have a chance.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE YEAGER): So certainly disappointed to hear that come out of the governor's mouth when we have done everything in our power to make sure that we make it as easy as possible for people to access voting.

Starbuck: I should note there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Nevada.

Garber: There are some points made by Lombardo that Democrats can support, right?

Starbuck: They said there were a few compromises there. They support increasing state employee pay and per-pupil funding, growing the teacher pipeline, and investing in mental health care. Lombardo proposed funding six behavioral health centers across the state, and he mentioned in rural and Northern Nevada specifically.

Garber: There were also some topics that Democrats wanted to hear about that Lombardo didn’t even touch, right, during his speech? What were those?

Starbuck: Democrats were disappointed the governor did not address housing. I wanted to note Lombardo didn’t get into culture war topics like Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools or, you know, make any changes to how transgender people are treated — something we’re seeing in right-leaning states. He also did not mention anything about expanding or restricting abortion access or immigration.

As a note of disclosure, the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents owns the license to this station.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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