Sandoval, Legislature ready to once again put partisan politics aside to work for Nevada

CARSON CITY —

As Gov. Brian Sandoval begins the job of selling his $8.1 billion legacy budget to the Nevada Legislature, he finds himself in familiar territory.

The Republican will have to work with Democratic majorities to achieve his objectives when the 2017 session kicks off on Feb. 6, a situation he faced in both his first and second sessions as governor.

“I believe my record demonstrates my willingness to work with anyone in order to develop the best public policies to improve the lives of Nevadans,” Sandoval said in a statement. “This upcoming session is no different. I’ve submitted a budget and introduced my priorities in my State of the State address with the goal of removing barriers to job creation, enhancing workforce opportunities and improving our delivery of education.”

Sandoval has proved to be a governor who knows how to compromise and find a path forward for his goals of expanding economic development opportunities and improving public education. Working with supportive Republicans and Democrats who often seek the same objectives, Sandoval has won approval of most of his initiatives over the past six years.

The 2015 session, when Republicans controlled both houses of the Legislature, proved to be no easy ride, though. With a huge battle over new taxes, including a commerce tax on large businesses, it took all of Sandoval’s persuasive efforts to get the package approved. It won a tough two-thirds approval with the help of Democrats who supported the tax plan as a way to obtain new funding for public education.

Many Republicans in the Legislature opposed the tax plan, and there was fallout for Sandoval’s Republican supporters, with several incumbents losing reelection bids in 2016 at least in part due to their pro-tax votes.

As Sandoval pushes his final spending plan in the 2017 session, he will again find himself on common ground with Democrats on many of his proposals, from a $125 million boost in new funding for public education programs to increased funding for the UNLV medical school.

But on points where they disagree — and several such issues have emerged — Sandoval holds the upper hand with his veto pen. Democrats can pass many policy measures over GOP objections with a simple majority vote, but they do not have the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

Bipartisan spirit

Legislative leaders of both parties say they are ready to work together.

“I think there is a lot of good stuff in the governor’s proposed budget,” said Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford. “It is a proposed budget, however, and I anticipate we’re going to see some back and forth on a number of issues.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that the governor and I will be able to work together,” the Las Vegas Democrat said. “We have a lot of commonalities, not the least of which we are both Buckeyes. We are practical and reasonable individuals who can look at differences of opinion and find compromise.”

Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, said lawmakers will have to work together across the aisle, but Sandoval’s ability to veto legislation is a factor.

“I think the governor spelled out in his state of the state some very specific priorities,” Anderson said. “I think that veto pen is probably going to be used as leverage to make sure everyone knows how important those priorities are to him.”

It remains to be seen just how often Sandoval will find the need to wield his veto power this session.

Where they agree

Democratic lawmakers will likely be on board with many of Sandoval’s proposals, including increased K-12 spending on critical student achievement programs, funding for state parks and propping up the Gov. Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship program for eligible Nevada high school graduates with $25 million in additional funding.

Increased funding for higher education will also likely be well received, especially the $53 million for the continued expansion of the new UNLV medical school. Two percent cost of living raises for state employees should also win favor, as will increased funding for Medicaid.

Where they may disagree

But there will likely be some fierce battles on major policy issues where the two parties have fundamentally opposing views.

The biggest fight will likely be over Sandoval’s proposal to put $60 million into Education Savings Accounts, which would give parents $5,100 to place their children in private schools, including religious schools. The policy has been deemed constitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court but the funding mechanism approved by Republican lawmakers in 2015 was found to be faulty.

While Democrats have not come out solidly opposed to ESA funding, Sandoval will be a challenge getting it approved in the budget.

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, threw down the gauntlet on the issue last week.

“No ESA funding…No Budget,” he said.

In response to Roberson, Assembly Speaker-elect Jason Frierson said Democrats are ready to work with Sandoval.

“As I have always said, we’re at the table and ready to have a good faith discussion. I look forward to working with the Governor on the Governor’s budget,” he said.

Roberson has also been outspoken on a proposal from county government leaders who want to tweak the state’s property tax cap to increase revenue for their budgets. Roberson said the idea will go nowhere in the session.

Ford has pointed out several other concerns with Sandoval’s budget, including a plan to send some inmates to a private prison out-of-state to help ease overcrowding, and cuts projected in the state-operated mental health programs.

Other battles will no doubt emerge as the session progresses.

But if past history is any predictor, Sandoval is likely to end the session with most of what he wanted by working cooperatively with lawmakers of both parties.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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