Sandoval to detail budget tonight in final State of State address

CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval will unveil his executive budget proposal and outline the administration’s priorities for the last two years of his term when he delivers his final State of the State speech Tuesday night.

Sandoval, a two-term Republican, has made economic diversity, workforce development and education cornerstones of his agenda. He will lay out proposals he hopes will continue those efforts for the remainder of his time as Nevada’s chief executive, which ends when a new governor is inaugurated in early 2019.

Other initiatives, based on bill drafts his office has requested for the legislative session that begins Feb. 6, concern juvenile justice reform, combating opioid abuse, renewable energy and technology.

Any new proposals will be unveiled during his address.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, will give the Democratic response to Sandoval’s speech.

The governor’s budget will be based on $7.9 billion, the amount of general fund tax revenues the independent Economic Forum projected the state will collect over the upcoming two-year budget cycle that begins July 1. The forecast is $541 million, or 7 percent, over the existing $7.3 billion budget, but below the $8.2 billion requested by state agencies.

“I think this budget is as dialed-in as any budget I have ever seen,” Sandoval told reporters this month. “It’s a budget I am proud of. I am excited to give the State of the State.”

By law, the forecast from the Economic Forum must be used to build the budget, or new revenue must be found to fill any gaps. The forum’s projection of increased revenue does not leave a lot of money for new spending.

In 2015, Sandoval pushed a $1.5 billion tax package through the Republican-controlled Legislature that included the state’s first levy on annual business revenues of $4 million or more. No new tax plans are expected.

Caseload growth in Medicaid and student populations will eat up a big chunk of any new dollars. Mike Willden, Sandoval’s chief of staff, has said increased enrollment in K-12 schools and higher learning institutions, along with caseload growth in Medicaid and inflation, is expected to cost the state nearly $450 million over the next two years.

Sandoval’s budget also will include proposed funding for education savings accounts — a school voucher program passed in 2015 that allows parents to claim a portion of state per-pupil dollars to send their children to private school or pay for other alternative education programs.

The Nevada Supreme Court upheld the concept of ESAs but said they must have a funding source outside the public school account. Sandoval hasn’t said what his ESA funding plan will look like and whether he will propose eligibility restrictions.

“There is money in the budget, but I will wait for the State of the State to detail the amount,” he said.

ESA funding must also get through the Senate and Assembly, both of which are controlled by Democrats who opposed the law.

Looming over the budget is the big unknown of what consequences the state may face under the incoming administration of Republican-elect Donald Trump and a GOP majority in Congress.

Republicans have moved to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s health care law that also provided billions of dollars to states to expand Medicaid.

Nevada’s Medicaid budget is $6.4 billion, with all but about $1.1 billion being paid for by the federal government. Repeal could leave the state faced with a decision to fill a big funding gap or cut programs.

HOW TO WATCH THE STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS

Gov. Brian Sandoval will deliver his final State of the State address at 6 p.m. on Tuesday from the Nevada Assembly chambers.

The speech will be streamed live on the Review-Journal’s Facebook page.

Local television news stations will carry the speech on-air or via their websites.

The address can also be accessed through the Nevada Legislature’s website, www.leg.state.nv.us. From the homepage, click on “calendar of meetings” in the upper right corner. Then click on “view” by the Governor’s State of the State Address.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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