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Sandoval calls for education overhaul, job cuts in State of the State address

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AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Gov. Brian Sandoval acknowledges the applause of lawmakers and guests after entering the Nevada Assembly chambers to deliver his first State of the State speech before a joint session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Jan. 24, 2011.

Updated Monday, Jan. 24, 2011 | 9:08 p.m.

Sandoval's State of the State

Gov. Brian Sandoval, center, leads a standing ovation for a pair of Nevada servicemen who were decorated for their actions in Afghanistan, while making his first State of the State address before a joint session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Jan. 24, 2011. Lt. Col Tony Millican, who is stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, received the Bronze Star and the Air Force's Lance P. Sijan Award for heroism. Spl. Ernesto Padilla, of the Nevada National Guard received the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered from a road side blast that tore his vehicle in half. Launch slideshow »

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Sun Coverage

CARSON CITY -- Gov. Brian Sandoval is calling for an overhaul of the public school system, shifting $267 million in state costs to Nevada counties and decreasing funding to higher education to help solve the state's budget shortfall.

In his State of the State message Monday evening, he outlined a proposed $5.8 billion two-year budget that would consolidate 20 state agencies, cut state workers' salaries by 5 percent and freeze their merit and longevity pay. His cuts also include closing the antiquated Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

He said his budget and other proposals will lead Nevada “onto a new path, and I submit that it is one of progress and ultimate prosperity.” (The speech began at 6 p.m., but prepared remarks were released to the media before it began.)

His proposed budget would eliminate hundreds of jobs, with most of those coming in health and human services programs. Sandoval said he wants to pay workers based on their performance, rather than give automatic pay increases every year. He also advocates giving state workers bonuses for identifying waste in the bureaucracy.

The governor will soon sign an executive order creating the Office of Inspector General to work with the internal audit staff to assess the spending of taxpayer dollars. He will sponsor a bill in the Legislature that would sunset every licensing and advisory board by June 2013 so lawmakers can determine if they should continue to exist.

Sandoval instructed state gaming regulators to draw up rules and proposed laws to “provide a flexible environment for the technological resources that are the underpinning of modern gaming devices.”

On education, total funding for public schools would be reduced by 5 percent. The state’s basic support per pupil would be $4,918, or a decline of $270 per pupil. He also proposes giving school districts greater flexibility in spending their money.

He called for an end to teacher tenure to eliminate protection of seniority; evaluating teachers and principals on student achievement; creating a $20 million system to reward performance of effective teachers and ending so-called social promotion, requiring that students be able to read by the end of the third grade or not advance.

The governor is repeating his call for better charter school options and vouchers to make private school education a possibility for more families.

His proposed budget calls for a 17 percent reduction in all funds – state and federal – to the university system, which he says has failed. The four-year schools have a graduation rate of less than 50 percent, while the graduation rate for two-year colleges ranges from 4 to 20 percent.

He said he wants to give the university Board of Regents more autonomy to raise tuition, which is “well below our Western neighbors.” But 15 percent of any tuition increase would be reserved to help those who need financial aid.

With Nevada’s unemployment rate the highest in the nation, Sandoval is setting aside $10 million to give to employers to hire those seeking work. He wants to add $10 million in economic development funds to lure businesses to Nevada.

Sandoval said the cure for unemployment “is not more government spending but helping businesses create jobs. The key is to get Nevada working again.”

On transportation, he said in prepared remarks, "We need to improve ground connections by linking Las Vegas to Phoenix via Interstate 11 and to Southern California via high-speed rail."

Turning to federal health care reform, Sandoval said he thinks many of its points are unconstitutional, but the state must prepare for it. He said the state can't wait until civil suits are resolved and must plan for a major expansion of Medicaid, which could cost Nevadans $574 million between 2014 and 2019.

He is also advocating a change in the Nevada Public Employee Retirement System so future employees would come under a defined contribution plan. The state health insurance plan can no longer afford full health care coverage for all retirees, he said.

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