CARSON CITY — Minutes after laying out an ambitious agenda in his first State of the State address, Gov. Steve Sisolak spoke with the Las Vegas Review-Journal about his goals for his administration and how he plans to follow through on his promises for Nevada.
His pledge of no new taxes grabbed headlines and even earned some praise for the Democratic governor from Republican lawmakers. But Sisolak’s blueprint for the Silver State also called for significant increases in education spending, including a pay raise for educators, along with stricter gun laws, increased Medicaid reimbursements and more.
“That’s what I campaigned on, that’s what people voted for, and that’s what we’re going to deliver,” Sisolak said in the interview.
He’ll have the benefit of a Democratic supermajority in the Assembly and a a near supermajority in the Senate. But Sisolak, who earned a reputation as a deal-maker in his time as a higher education regent and Clark County commissioner, knows that accomplishing his lengthy list of goals will take compromise, and he’s promised to work with Republicans to make his vision for Nevada a reality.
“We need to put partisan gamesmanship aside,” Sisolak said “We’re here to do a job. Let’s get the job done. Let’s listen to everybody and come up with reasonable proposals.”
While Republicans expressed support for his pledge of no new taxes, leaders of the party caucuses, including state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, and Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, say Sisolak’s proposal to retain two taxes that are scheduled to be reduced or phased out is effectively a new tax.
“When a tax expires and you renew it, I think the N-E-W part of that means it’s new,” Wheeler told the Review-Journal Thursday. “Unless they can make some kind of deal with the Senate on that side, I believe it will fail.”
But Sisolak reiterated that he is “not proposing any new taxes,” and he said that if Republicans disagree with his budget, they should propose cuts.
“You’re always going to find people that want to criticize every proposal,” Sisolak said, noting that his budget calls for increased funding to education, mental health and substance abuse programs, prison and juvenile justice reform and Meals on Wheels for Nevada seniors.
“Do they want cut Meals on Wheels? Do they want to cut help for foster families? That’s the kind of thing that we’re talking about,” he said. “If they want to start cutting out of the budget and cut Meals on Wheels or cut mental health care, let them start making those proposals.”
Sisolak also called on Nevada lawmakers to pass a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage. The wage has not increased since 2011, when it went from $6.55 an hour to the current $7.25 for jobs that offer health insurance.
In 2017, a bill that would have raised the Nevada minimum wage to $12 for employees without employer-provided insurance and $11 for those with insurance passed on party lines. Then-Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the bill, saying it could undermine the state’s economic recovery.
Sisolak has not set an amount for such an increase.
“I want the legislators and I want the affected interested groups, both the individuals and business groups, and everybody to sit down at a table and say, ‘Look, this is what we can agree on. This is what we can’t,’” Sisolak said. “Those are the kinds of discussions we need to have.”
However, the new governor was specific about one plan for raising pay. He is calling for a 3 percent raise for state workers and educators. State workers have not seen a pay increase in more than a decade.
Sisolak had discussed his desire to raise teacher salaries on the campaign trail, and he said in the interview that it is important to “show them that we care about them moving forward.”
“Teachers are underpaid, underrespected and overworked,” he said.
In his speech, Sisolak said he will create a Cannabis Compliance Board, which he envisions operating like the state’s Gaming Control Board.
“I am extremely proud of the gaming industry and the ways it’s regulated in Nevada. I don’t think anyone can argue (with the notion) that our gaming industry is the most well-run, well-regulated gaming industry in the world,” he said. “If we’re going to be in the cannabis business, and we are, I think it’s important that it is also a well-run, well-regulated industry.”
The governor said he sees the new board handling licenses, product testing, banking, advertising and any other number of topics relating to Nevada’s burgeoning marijuana industry.
He also said he hopes the board can create a universal set of regulations for the industry, rather than having cannabis businesses deal with varying local rules.
“I think it’s important that we have one good set of rules and everybody has to follow them,” Sisolak said.