Updated January 23, 2023 - 8:04 pm
Gov. Joe Lombardo’s inaugural State of the State speech was a mixed bag of bipartisanship and bellicosity, delivered before an audience of majority Democrats who will soon put their own stamp on his agenda.
Here are five takeaways from Lombardo’s address:
Prudence in budgeting
Lombardo inherited a surfeit of money from his predecessor, former Gov. Steve Sisolak. A temptation would be to spend most of that on a new governor’s priorities. But Lombardo decided to save: He will increase the rainy day fund’s cap from 20 percent to 30 percent, putting another $630 million aside. And he’ll create a new “Nevada Way” fund for special projects decided upon by the governor and Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.
Overall, including money set aside in reserve for schools, Lombardo’s budget will set aside $2 billion in savings. That’s a very comfortable hedge against future recessions or unplanned emergencies. And while some Democrats may criticize the governor, saying the state has money and unmet needs, so why not use the cash to address them, it’s a prudent strategy that learns from the past, when the state’s savings were wiped out by recessions and pandemics.
Accountability, at last?
Lombardo pledged $2 billion in new funding for students, including a $2,000 increase in the state’s per pupil funding. But that money comes with strings attached. “Along with this funding, I expect results,” Lombardo said. “I won’t accept a lack of funding as an excuse for underperformance. … And if we don’t begin seeing results, I’ll be standing here in two years calling for systematic changes to the governance and leadership in K-12 education.”
While school funding has been much debated in the past, fewer elected officials have talked about accountability. Lombardo went further when talking about restoring a key component of the Read by 3 program, holding students back if they couldn’t read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade.
“I will be imposing a new five-year rule: schools have five years to improve literacy scores and to ensure that students who are not proficient in reading do not advance beyond third grade until they are brought up to grade level,” he said.
School choice fight brewing
Lombardo pledged on the campaign trail to embrace school choice, and his speech reflected it. He’s calling for the creation of an Office of School Choice with the state Education Department. “Traditional public schools are not — and should not be — the only option,” Lombardo said. “Nevada’s Pupil Centered Funding Plan is built on the idea that education dollars should consider the needs of students and should follow them no matter what school they attend.”
The Legislature in 2015 passed a bill that would do exactly that, under the title of Education Savings Accounts. The idea was hamstrung by a court ruling, and then later repealed by majority Democrats. It’s a good bet their views on education dollars following students to private schools has not changed, making this one of the issues to watch during the upcoming session.
Election reform mixed bag
Lombardo listed several of his preferred election reforms, labeling them “just common sense.” And some are: Moving up the mail-ballot deadline so votes can be counted on Election Day, not a week thereafter. Or an independent redistricting commission that would ostensibly take the politics out of redrawing political district lines.
But a few others — getting rid of universal mail balloting sent automatically to all active registered voters, voter ID requirements or new rules governing so-called ballot harvesting (in which someone unrelated to the voter ferries her or his ballot to the polls) — will undoubtedly be seen by Democrats as rolling back some of Nevada’s hard-fought attempts to make voting as easy and convenient as possible.
At two different points in the speech, Lombardo took direct aim at the Democratic leaders of the Legislature. He denounced the 2021 public option health insurance bill, which was the pet project of state Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas. “At a minimum, this law needs to be substantially revised, or better yet, repealed,” Lombardo said.
And Lombardo also denounced Assembly Bill 236 of the 2019 session — a criminal justice reform bill that was sponsored by the Judiciary Committee, then headed by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, now the speaker-designate. “We can clearly see that some of those changes didn’t produce the outcomes some were predicting,” Lombardo said. “In fact, they made things worse.”
Although there were bipartisan overtures in Lombardo’s speech, those remarks are likely to stick with legislative leaders when they get the governor’s budget and bill requests in two short weeks.