With a month left in the session, legislative Democrats and Gov. Steve Sisolak seem caught in a dilemma. They’d prefer not to raise taxes, thus feeding stereotypes about their fiscal recklessness and handing Republicans an election issue. Yet it’s becoming clear that the governor’s budget math doesn’t add up when it comes to sating the demands of the vocal teacher unions, one of the Democrats’ primary benefactors.
What to do?
The irony is rich. Nevada Democrats for decades have made a habit of offering sweeping promises on the campaign trail about boosting education spending. But they simply haven’t delivered once ensconced in Carson City. Instead, it took Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and the only GOP-controlled Legislature in a generation to implement a $1.2 billion tax package in 2015 to increase school funding In return for supporting higher levies, Republicans also passed a number of promising reforms intended to enhance school choice and increase achievement levels.
The 2019 session started with the usual rhetoric. The governor preached raises for public school teachers, and Democratic lawmakers pledged to rework Nevada’s complicated school funding formula, a priority for the teacher unions, which view it as a vehicle to push spending upward. But three months into the 120-day conclave, a bill addressing the formula overhaul has yet to materialize, while Clark County education officials maintain the current budget proposal doesn’t provide enough money to cover the governor’s promised 3 percent raises for teachers.
None of this makes Gov. Sisolak or the majority leadership look particularly adept. But all is not lost for the education lobby. Democrats have made it a priority to kill a number of the 2015 GOP reforms, which — if they succeed — would achieve the union objective of quashing policies designed to promote public school accountability.
At this point, the Democratic strategy appears to center on the Economic Forum, an unelected five-member panel created in 1993 to prevent lawmakers from manipulating revenue numbers to indulge their spending tendencies. The panel this week will reveal the financial projections that, by law, will form the foundation for the next state budget. If these oracles emerge to foresee good times — voila! — Democrats will have more money to shower on favored interests.
The forum was created to take the politics out of revenue forecasting. But don’t for a minute think that strike threats from Las Vegas teachers or education rallies promoting more spending aren’t designed to exert subtle pressure on members of the panel. If they don’t deliver optimistic economic news, Democrats and the governor will face some awkward challenges — and an angry and perpetually disgruntled education establishment.