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Anderson’s answer shows ESAs are coming

Updated May 4, 2017 - 9:40 pm

It didn’t make the headlines, but if you read between the lines, we found out this week that the Nevada Legislature is going to pass Education Savings Accounts. No special session necessary.

I know that’s a bold prediction. Democrats have publicly opposed ESAs and control both houses of the Legislature. How can it happen?

On Tuesday, as reported by the Review-Journal’s Sandra Chereb, Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, said his caucus won’t vote for a budget unless it has ESA funding. More importantly, Anderson believes Gov. Brian Sandoval “has our backs.” Anderson said Sandoval would veto a budget without ESAs.

Anderson’s comments echo a statement made in January by Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson: “No ESA funding … No Budget.” Democrats can pass the budget, but they lack the two-thirds majority needed in each house to override a Sandoval veto.

Are Sandoval’s closest legislative allies wrong about his thinking? Not likely. Sandoval won’t accept a budget without ESAs. Moreover, Carson City insiders say Sandoval will veto any bill that doesn’t receive a Republican vote.

All that equals ESAs.

As a reminder, ESAs allow parents to take about $5,000, a portion of the money the state would have spent on a child’s public school enrollment for a year, and use it to select the educational options that are best for their child. Unlike vouchers, ESAs allow parents who withdraw their children from public school enrollment to mix and match services, including private school tuition, tutors, or online learning, and save unused funds for future years.

Republicans passed nearly universal ESAs in 2015, but the Nevada Supreme Court struck down the program’s funding on a technicality. Sandoval has proposed much more modest funding, allocating just $60 million over two years. In the first year, that’s only enough to serve about half the students who’ve already applied.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, and Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, will determine whether the Legislature passes ESAs by the end of the regular session or during an overtime special session.

A special session favors Sandoval. The governor, not Ford or Frierson, would set the agenda. The governor lives nearby. Most Democrats are from Southern Nevada and have careers and families they’re eager to return to.

Sandoval has all the political leverage. He has high approval ratings, while legislators are all but unknown to the public. Ford’s not starting his campaign for attorney general by opposing the most popular politician in the state in order to stop a politically popular program that saves the government money.

They’d also lose the best — and maybe only — leverage they have to get Sandoval to sign even one of their priorities before a special session, where Sandoval alone would dictate what lawmakers can consider.

Ford and Frierson are smart, which means I think negotiations are already well underway.

ESAs. No special session. You read it here first.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Nevada section each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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