CARSON CITY — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s proposals for more education funding drew support even from Republican lawmakers following his first state of the state address Wednesday, but that welcome from across the political aisle didn’t extend to the Democratic governor’s proposals for labor, housing and business.
The governor, reflecting priorities that were the focus of his campaign, made education, health care and the economy — especially jobs and wages — the centerpiece of his 48-minute speech. Chief among the three was education, with Sisolak proposing a 3 percent raise for the state’s K-12 teachers and more money for supplies, higher education, new buildings, scholarships and safety.
“I think that he set forth some of his campaign promises and he talked today about how he’s going to live on them,” said Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas. “I am encouraged by him sticking to his commitment to education. That, along with expanding access to health care, were things that voters cared about.”
Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, said that there “were a lot of things that sounded good on his proposal for education.” But he expressed concerned that the governor’s call to revisit the state school funding formula could harm rural schools by shifting money to Las Vegas.
Wheeler said he did not object to teachers’ raises but does oppose Sisolak’s call to let state workers unionize.
“If the money’s there (for teachers), I don’t have a problem with that, Wheeler said. “I have a problem with unionizing the state workers big time.”
He said he also objected to Sisolak’s call to increase the state’s minimum wage and provide paid leave for workers, calling the proposals “anti-business.”
“We’re in the greatest recovery we’ve ever had,” Wheeler said. “Why would we throw a monkey wrench into that?”
Official GOP response
Sen. Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, who gave the Republican response to the speech, echoed Sisolak’s concerns that the economic recovery has yet to reach every Nevadan, especially those in low-wage jobs or struggling with increasing housing costs.
But she disagreed with his proposed approach to solve those issues, saying the solution “is not more government intervention in the housing and labor markets” but helping workers improve their skills and productivity. Besides his labor proposals, Sisolak called for offering $10 million of state tax credits per year to support affordable housing.
And Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said he worries about proposals that increased state government costs, such as the 3 percent pay raise the governor also proposed for state employees.
Educators praise proposals
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Canavero applauded Sisolak’s education plans, particularly the governor’s $44.7 million proposal to continue funding preschool for low-income students.
“We have a target of 3,000 students. We think we’re going to get there,” Canavero said. “His investment continues those seats and enables us to keep serving children at 200 percent of the poverty level or greater.”
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara, whose priority is fixing the funding formula for education, welcomed the proposed pay raise for teachers, calling it a “great act for public education in the state of Nevada.” He also backed the governor’s call to use money from the surtax on marijuana sales to fund school safety.
John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, representing more than 15,000 teachers, called Sisolak’s proposals “a start.”
“We’re going to support his leadership to get things done,” Vellardita said. “But we also know it’s not the endgame. It’s not going to be how the session will close in terms of what ultimately will be settled on.”
The Nevada State Education Association also commended Sisolak “for this initial step of addressing educator salaries,” NSEA President Ruben Murillo said in a statement.
One conservative Republican had likes and dislikes.
Will Bradley, a registered Republican from Las Vegas who was a member of the Review-Journal’s 2018 voter panel, took issue with several of the governor’s proposals, including increasing minimum wage and same-day voter registration. But he liked Sisolak’s commitment on no new taxes and maintaining a rainy day fund.
Nonetheless, he said the speech left him with an upset stomach.
“It was a long list of growing government,” Bradley said. “Right now he’s toeing the line and saying no new taxes, but with all these new programs he’s creating, he’s going to have to raise taxes.”
That said, Bradley was magnanimous towards the new Democratic governor.
“Even though I’m pretty far right, I hope he succeeds,” he said.
Contact Bill Dentzer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-461-0661. Follow @Dentzernews on Twitter. Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at email@example.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Colton Lochhead contributed to this report.