Education, healthcare likely to highlight Sisolak’s first State of the State address
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Gov. Steve Sisolak takes the podium Wednesday night, Jan. 16, to outline his plans for the biennium, including a budget expected to focus heavily on K-12 education.
The State of the State address is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. before a joint session of the Nevada Legislature in the Assembly chambers and kicks off the process of reviewing the budget. Sisolak will face a friendly crowd, since his fellow Democrats hold a majority in both the Senate and Assembly.
The budget review will begin in detail Tuesday, Jan. 22, before a joint session of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees.
Sisolak said in a brief inauguration speech that the first goal will be “to get our education system back on track because we know that’s the bedrock of a thriving economy and the pathway to a better life for our families.”
He said every child deserves the opportunity to succeed, “and that starts with strong public schools.”
Another major focus of his administration, Sisolak has said, will be addressing the cost of healthcare, including cracking down on the rising cost of prescription drugs and protecting coverage of pre-existing conditions.
“Nobody should ever be denied coverage or charged more for being sick, elderly or a woman,” he said in his plan for the state.
It’s unclear how much Sisolak will be able to change a proposed budget that was 99 percent complete before he took office. The process of building the executive budget began months ago under then-Gov. Brian Sandoval.
The state’s Economic Forum has projected a total of $8.84 billion in General Fund revenue for the biennium, a $590 million increase over current spending.
If Sisolak plans any spending increases over and above the projections, he’ll have to lay out where he plans to get the money — specifically, what taxes he would create or increase to pay for it. Unlike the federal government, Nevada’s Constitution mandates a balanced budget.
While $8.84 billion of the budget is General Fund money, that’s far from the total biennial state budget that will be a bit north of $27 billion when federal money, highway fund and other revenues are added in.
The increases proposed in the budget Sandoval left behind total far more than what is projected, including a total of $784.8 million more for K-12 education, primarily to cover the cost of growing public school enrollments and statutory 2 percent pay raises for teachers.
The other area that will require a major funding increase is Medicaid, projected at an added $316.9 million over the biennium. While most of that is federal funding, about $110 million of it will come from the state. Those costs are driven by enrollment, now nearly 660,000, and largely outside of state control.
The January 22 budget hearing will feature an overview of the Executive Budget by Susan Brown, director of the governor’s Finance Office. Day one also includes a review of K-12 funding and proposed capital improvement projects.
That is the first of six day-long joint subcommittee meetings to get lawmakers up to speed for the 80th session of the Nevada Legislature that opens for business February 4.
Per the agreement, Caesars will continue to operate Harrah’s for the first half of 2020 before it’s redeveloped into a non-gaming hotel and mixed-use development.