CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval heralded the strides Nevada has made over the last six years as he unveiled a proposed $8.1 billion biennial budget and announced new spending for education, workforce development, state parks and veterans.
“This occasion marks my fourth and final State of the State address, and I stand before you with a sense of deep humility and great pride,” Sandoval said in his introduction.
His proposed budget represents a 10 percent increase over the current $7.3 billion spending levels.
The two-term Republican reminded legislators of the economic hardship Nevada faced when he took office in 2011, when unemployment was at record levels, the housing market was in shambles and state coffers were dry.
Sandoval reiterated a theme that, by working together, the state cannot fail, and he pushed to continue his agenda in his last two years in office of investing in education and workforce development to position Nevada for a 21st-century global economy.
“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 announced that Tesla Motor Co. plans to “double down” on its commitment to the state and will expand its massive gigafactory in Northern Nevada, where it is building lithium batteries for its electric cars, to include production of electric motors and gearboxes for its Model 3 sports car.
“The new project will yield more than $350 million in additional capital investment and add 550 skilled jobs to Nevada’s new economy,” the governor said.
From an economic development perspective, Sandoval said Nevada begins the year with “momentum.” Since 2011, the state has recruited 204 companies, bringing $14.5 billion in capital investment and 38,000 jobs, he said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the evidence is undeniable. We’re on the right track because we’ve made the right choices.”
Sandoval also announced that a nonprofit group will transfer three historic ranches in Northern Nevada’s Lyon County to the state parks system, providing 12,000 acres and open access to 28 miles of the East Walker River for public use. Additionally, he proposed creation of the new Tule Springs State Park, adjacent to the Tule Springs Fossil Bed National Monument in North Las Vegas.
The governor reiterated Nevada’s long-held stance to fight any attempts to open Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste dump, saying, “Let me make my position clear — for the remainder of my term, I will vigorously fight the storage of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada.”
But Sandoval called for a relaxing of public lands regulations to open Nevada’s vast natural resources for economic growth.
He said Nevada’s emerging lithium resources are significant to emerging sectors in advanced manufacturing, and that mining is critical to the future of the “new Nevada” economy. To that end, he urged President-elect Donald Trump and Congress “to allow Nevada to capitalize on our wealth of mineral deposits that are central to the success of our rural and state economies.”
Education remains a priority in his budget and policies.
“My vision for our state is to put all Nevadans, regardless of age or circumstances, on a career pathway toward success,” Sandoval said. “We can make that vision a reality by investing in higher education, closing the college attainment gap, expanding dual enrollment and career opportunities.”
Sandoval received applause from some in the audience when he announced his budget will include $60 million to fund education savings accounts, a school-voucher program that allows parents to tap state dollars to pay for private school tuition.
“We’ve heard from thousands of Nevada families about how crucial it is that we give them freedom of choice in the education of their children,” he said. “I look forward to building a bipartisan solution to get this done.
“It’s time to give Nevada families more choice.”
Other initiatives include: a new veteran’s home in Northern Nevada, foreclosure protection for active service members, removal of out-of-state tuition for Gold Star family members to attend Nevada colleges, a cyberdefense center to protect Nevada against cyberattacks, funding for Stewart Indian School preservation and expanded services for the elderly.
Sandoval reflected on former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln as he urged legislators to reject “the counterproductive divisiveness of partisan politics.”
“The choices we make this session, ‘for good or ill,’ are ours alone,” he said, recalling Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech.
“President Lincoln said, ‘We cannot escape history.’”
“Indeed, we cannot,” Sandoval said. “What we can do, however, is accept that this is our time to write it.”