CARSON CITY -- Gov. Brian Sandoval pledged Tuesday evening to put an additional $270 million in newly projected tax funds into the state's public education budget but reiterated he will not support any tax increases.
On a day when legislative Democrats decided Sandoval's budget is more than $650 million short of the real needs of public education, the governor told a televised audience that Nevada business "cannot afford a tax increase."
"As I visit Nevada firms, I see row after row of empty desks where workers once sat," said Sandoval in a 14-minute speech from the Governor's Mansion. "I see empty warehouses.
"These businesses cannot afford a tax increase or further intrusion by government," he said. "They should not be asked to choose between paying Carson City's bills, meeting their own payroll or hiring the next unemployed Nevadan."
While the economy has improved since he became governor in January, Sandoval said, there still is a need for shared sacrifice, and he expects when legislators return in 2013 that "we will have a very different conversation about the funding of our schools and for that matter, all of state government."
Proposal to Reform schools pitched
He proposed legislators approve his plan to reform education, including adopting performance pay for good teachers, getting rid of the seniority system in which the newest teachers are laid off first and approving triggers that earmark all additional future revenues to the public schools, colleges and universities.
By adding $270 million to his education budget, he will have restored "nearly 95 percent of the reductions to basic classroom support," Sandoval said, comparing his spending plan with the $2.6 billion education budget approved by the Legislature in 2009. That funding never materialized because it was cut 7 percent during a special session in 2010.
With the new infusion of money, Sandoval increased state general fund support to public schools to nearly $2.5 billion over the next two years. Democrats use far higher figures for the shortfall in education, counting the loss of federal funds and raises, with merit and longevity pay that teachers will not receive in Sandoval's budget.
"Our kids come first," the governor said. "On that, there can be no debate. I have asked the Legislature to restore funding for class-size reduction, all-day kindergarten, classroom programs and extracurricular activities like music, sports and theater."
Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said that even with the additional funding proposed by Sandoval, "thousands" of teachers and education workers still will be laid off. Clark County School District officials projected 1,800 layoffs before the additional funds were found.
"I question his figures," Warne said. "He is still not addressing the financial needs of education."
Sandoval's remarks were delivered less than an hour after a joint hearing at which members of the Democrat-dominated Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees adopted a public education budget plan that would cost $650 million more than the governor's plan.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, both D-Las Vegas, issued a two-sentence response to Sandoval's speech.
"We thank the governor for his remarks to the state, keeping Nevadans informed as we go through the debate over priorities in the budget. We agree: We will all rise to meet the challenges of our time, and we will do it together."
Sandoval declined a request for an interview. But in his speech, he anticipated continued Democratic opposition to his budget plan.
"Some will say this is not enough. Yet they offer no plan for how to find additional money without harming the fragile economic recovery we know Nevada is experiencing."
The governor's proposed budget had called for a 9 percent reduction in state support for public schools, with 16 percent and 29 percent cuts over the next two years in higher education spending.
But the Economic Forum predicted that state tax revenues over the next two years will produce more than $270 million above its estimate in December. Sandoval wants to put nearly all of that money into education, with $20 million going to higher education.
The Economic Forum is a group of five business leaders who by law determine how much tax revenue is available for state government to spend.
Sandoval said that Nevada ranks as worst in the nation in its high school graduation rate, and Nevadans deserve more from educators. He called for legislators to approve his "reasonable education reform measures," which include performance pay and the ending of the seniority system in which "some of our best teachers" are laid off first.
"Under this system, award-winning teachers of the year can lose their jobs, simply because they don't have as many years in the system as someone else who may not be as effective in the classroom. That's unacceptable," Sandoval said.
future revenue pledged to schools
The governor also called on legislators to establish "priority triggers" that specify future revenue increases will be directed to public schools, colleges and universities.
"It's pretty simple: We will agree now that as revenues increase, we will direct that money straight to education," he said.
With the additional $270 million found this week, Sandoval said he will have added $440 million into the proposed state budget plan he released in January. Because of additional federal funds and a lower social service caseload, Sandoval added about $120 million to the state budget six weeks ago. He also proposed last week to put $50 million back into programs for autism, elder protective services, mental health and nursing.
But even with the improved economy and additional funds, Sandoval emphasized: "Our state simply cannot afford to deliver every program our people have come to expect."
"I want to deliver more for Nevadans, not less. And I know the way to get there is to strengthen Nevada's dynamic economy. I firmly believe that sacrifice today will ultimately yield prolonged success tomorrow."
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.