CARSON CITY – The 2013 Legislature will have 20 new members and an entirely different leadership and probably won’t be as stridently partisan as in past sessions.
But when it comes down to it, the session that starts Feb. 6 will resemble the one held last year in the most crucial way: Money will be far short of the needs, and no new tax increases will be approved.
"We will continue to make education better in our state, bring jobs here and create an exciting economy," said Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, after final returns early Wednesday showed his party remained in the majority.
But whether there is enough money to finance education improvements remains in doubt.
The Economic Forum, a group of five business leaders, meets Friday and might make preliminary estimates of how much money the Legislature will have to spend over the next two years. By law, the forum’s revenue estimates are binding on legislators and the governor in passing the state budget.
While the economy has been improving, the Economic Forum in June heard reports that state revenue was just $58 million more than estimates made a year earlier.
Then last week its technical advisory committee projected that revenue from minor taxes and fees, such as mining and real estate transfer taxes, will be $150 million short of current revenue.
Much of that decline, however, is because the mining industry won’t be making an estimated $100 million payment to the state. The industry made a tax payment early under Gov. Jim Gibbons’ administration to help the state balance its budget. Now the state, in effect, has to pay the industry back for that early payment.
Still unknown is the cost of expanding the number of people admitted into Medicaid, the free health care program for the poor, unemployed and some of the elderly. Gov. Brian Sandoval has not decided whether he wants to expand Medicaid to include people with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $15,000 a year.
President Barack Obama sought that expansion in his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; but in upholding that law in June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided governors could make their own decisions on whether to expand Medicaid. Obama was re-elected Tuesday, so there is no chance that Obamacare will be repealed.
Nevada Democrats retained control of both houses of the Legislature in Tuesday’s election but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass bills, including tax legislation, over Sandoval’s veto.
The Senate will remain in Democratic hands at the same 11-10 margin, while the Assembly Democrats will have a 27-15 lead, up one from the current membership breakdown.
PARTY LEADERS SELECTED
In a closed meeting Wednesday, Senate Democrats unanimously named Denis, of Cuban heritage and the cousin of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as their leader. He will become the first Hispanic Senate majority leader when the Legislature convenes.
"We want to improve education, to create jobs, and we need to look at revenue and find out how to do the best for Nevadans," Denis said.
Republican senators in another meeting Wednesday elected Michael Roberson of Las Vegas as caucus leader. He will be the Senate minority leader.
And in a surprise, Assembly Democrats unanimously named Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, as their leader. There had been widespread speculation that the party would choose Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, as their leader.
Kirkpatrick, Assembly speaker heir apparent, will become the second female speaker in state history.
"We are going to have a great year," said Kirkpatrick, known for working well with Republicans. "I was humbled by the decision."
Assembly Republicans are likely to name Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, as their leader during a meeting Friday in Carson City.
NO GOP MINORITIES IN LEGISLATURE
Republican legislators in 2013 remain an all-white group with no Hispanics and no blacks. Of 25 GOP legislators, only Sen. Barbara Cegavske and Assembly members Melissa Woodbury and Michele Fiore are women.
But the Democrats will look more like the face of Nevada. Of their 38 members, 15 are women, seven are black, and eight are Hispanic.
With the election of three African-American Democratic senators – Patricia Spearman, Aaron Ford and Kelvin Atkinson – the Senate ties its record for members from that demographic. Last year former Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, elected Tuesday to represent the 4th Congressional District, was the only black senator.
Denis, a Mormon church leader, brings a calm disposition to the Senate leadership role and is passionate in his support for improving education.
While Roberson was the conservative lightning rod for Democratic criticism in 2011, he has been taking more moderate positions this year.
He has called for the Legislature to spend $20 million to help Clark County’s English as a second language students and announced he supports a plan by Sandoval to extend $600 million in sales and business taxes that would expire in July.
Meanwhile, Hickey said early this week that he wants to be part of a less partisan Legislature in 2013.
Because Sandoval has announced he would veto any new tax increases in 2013, chances of the Democrats carving out a two-thirds majority to increase taxes would be remote.
The 2 percent business margins tax advocated by Horsford last year went nowhere, though endless hearings were conducted on the plan.
Just recently a district judge in Carson City threw out a petition from the Nevada State Education Association calling for the Legislature to implement that tax next year.
Democrats did not advocate any major tax increases during the fall campaign, but they did emphasize the needs of education.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.NEW LEGISLATORS
New Senate Republicans: Mark Hutchison, District 6; Pete Goicoechea, District 19; Scott Hammond, District 18.
New Senate Democrats: Patricia Spearman, District 1; Kelvin Atkinson, District 4; Joyce Woodhouse, District 5; Justin Jones, District 9; Aaron Ford, District 11; Debbie Smith, District 13. Of the nine new senators, only four have not served previously in the Legislature.
New Assembly Republicans: Michele Fiore, District 4; Paul Anderson, District 13; James Oscarson, District 36 ; Wesley Duncan, District 37; Jim Wheeler, District 39.
New Democratic Assembly members: Heidi Swank, District 16; Ellen Spiegel, District 20; Andy Eisen, District 21; Michael Sprinkle, District 32; James Healey, District 35; Andrew Martin, District 9. Martin’s candidacy was declared invalid Monday by a District Court judge because he lives outside the district. Whether he takes the seat may not be settled for months. Spiegel is a former Assembly member, but the 10 others are new legislators.