CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak proposed significant increases in funding for health care and education in Nevada, including a 3 percent pay raise for teachers, and expressed his desire to increase minimum wage in his first State of the State address to lawmakers Wednesday night.
The speech from Sisolak, the first Democrat elected as governor in Nevada in two decades, laid out his priorities in front of a joint meeting of Senate and Assembly members as Democrats are set to enter the Legislature with majority control of both chambers as well as the governor’s seat for the first time in 28 years.
On top of calling for increased funding for education and health care services, Sisolak’s 48-minute speech focused heavily on Democratic priorities that also included measures on gun control, immigration and criminal justice, but with a promise of no new taxes.
“The budget and priorities that I will outline tonight are focused on this objective: making sure that Nevada’s economic recovery reaches every family, that our schools prepare every child to reach their potential, that our health care system is there for every Nevadan that needs it,” Sisolak said.
Assembly Minority leader Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, was skeptical about the scope of Sisolak’s plans.
“I hope that the governor really follows through on the bipartisanship part of the speech. He said that he wanted to work with Republicans, and we want to work with him,” Wheeler said. “I don’t see any way that we can afford everything that he’s asking for given our current budget.”
The governor proposed a total of more than $600 million over the next two years in new state funding for education, including $90 million for a 3 percent salary increase this year for the state’s 26,500 K-12 teachers, the first such raise in 12 years. He proposed a $2 million increase in reimbursements to teachers who buy school supplies, from $100 to $180 per teacher per year.
Other educational initiatives:
■ An increase in the New Nevada Plan from $36 million to $70 million to fund academic support for an additional 28,200 at-risk students. The governor also said he wanted to review the decades-old statewide funding formula.
■ $44.7 million for pre-school development programs, and $63.4 million for Read by Grade 3.
■ $100 million for Nevada’s Zoom Schools and $50 million for Victory School programs.
■ $1 million to expand career and technical education to serve an additional 2,000 students.
■ $2 million annual increase in graduate medical school education funding, a new health sciences building for the College of Southern Nevada and a new education building at Nevada State College.
■ A onetime $8.6 million infusion to Washoe County schools to rectify a state bookkeeping error.
■ Money from the 10 percent marijuana tax toward preventing school violence.
Like education, health care was one of the major tenets of Sisolak’s campaign.
“As long as I’m in office, Nevada will continue supporting and defending the Affordable Care Act, including all protections for those with pre-existing conditions,” Sisolak said.
Sisolak said his budget will include the largest investment of general fund dollars to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services in state history.
Some of his health care proposals include:
■ Creating the Patient Protection Commission, which he said would take a comprehensive look at health care in Nevada, including reining in prescription drug prices.
■ $3 million per year to expand women’s health care services, including things like cervical cancer screenings and family planning programs.
■ Increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care units.
■ Increasing the hours of Mobile Crisis Units in the state.
Government, economy and budget
The governor said his budget proposal contains no tax increases, but he does propose to maintain current levels of two taxes that were to be reduced or phased out over the next two years. Leaving the modified business tax and governmental service taxes as is will generate $69 million.
He proposed 3 percent raises for state employees and said he supports their right to collective bargaining. He said he is committed increasing the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage, but did not say to how much. And he said he backs a return to pre-2015 rules on prevailing wage structure for school and public works projects.
In addition to implementing the automatic voter registration program voters approved in November, he said he wanted to work with the Legislature and local governments to expand early voting and implement same-day voter registration. And he proposed more funding to support the 2020 census.
The governor said he wants to ban bump stocks, which were used by the shooter in the deadly Oct. 1, 2017, shooting, and that he believes that people subjected to restraining orders shouldn’t be allowed to buy guns.
“Our country is plagued by the epidemic of gun violence — something Nevadans have come to understand all too well,” Sisolak said. “We are still reeling from the losses we suffered on 1 October. And now, at long last, we’re going to take action.”
Sisolak also said he is working with lawmakers on finding a solution to implement the 2016 voter-approved expanded background check initiative, which a court has ruled cannot be enforced in its current format.
“It’s long past time we listen to voters, and enact these changes. Because background checks save lives,” he said.
The governor proposed adding staff to support mental health and substance abuse programs and handle increased parole and probation caseloads and more money for inmate education and skills training. More than 80 percent of the inmates enrolled in a pilot program graduated with either credits going towards a traditional college degree or a pre-apprenticeship experience.
Energy and environment
Sisolak said he is committed expanding clean energy and fighting the effects of climate change. He said he “strongly” supports increasing Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030., and that if the Legislature were to pass that bill, he would sign
Sisolak also pledged that “not one ounce of nuclear waste will ever reach Yucca Mountain while I’m governor.”
Social and veterans programs
Sisolak praised former Gov. Brian Sandoval for his work on immigration, including his signing of a 2015 bill that allowed DREAMERs to get teaching licenses.
On Wednesday, Sisolak announced that he plans to create the “Governor’s Office for New Americans,” to help immigrants in the state navigate governmental services and showing them how to “build new businesses,” and help DACA recipients and applicants navigate the process.
He also said his budget calls for an $800,000 increase in funding for Meals on Wheels, which will go to feeding roughly 8,700 seniors in the state and eliminate the current wait list for the program.
Sisolak also addressed the growing affordable housing crisis within the Silver State, and said he will offer $10 million annually in tax credits that will go toward the creation and preservation of affordable housing.
Sisolak said he that he will sign an executive order next week creating the Cannabis Compliance Board to oversee Nevada’s budding marijuana industry. He has talked about such a proposal previously, saying that he envisions it operating in a similar role as the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
“We will manage and grow this new industry strictly and fairly and in a way the state can be proud of,” Sisolak said.