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August 31, 2014

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GOVERNMENT:

What the new federal budget means for Nevada

Now that Congress has passed a budget, the country can rest assured that there will be no more shutdown scares for nearly two years.

But what else does the budget mean for the country? Here’s what’s in and what’s out, from a Nevada perspective.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS — OUT.

The budget does not call for an extension of unemployment benefits, which means on Dec. 28, about 17,600 Nevadans who have been collecting jobless benefits for six months or more may find their checks have dried up before their 73 weeks of eligibility has run out. Extending the federally guaranteed schedule of extra benefits for one year would cost about $25 billion. The Senate expects to restore unemployment benefits — potentially through a bill Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., introduced — in January.

YUCCA MOUNTAIN FUNDING — OUT.

It almost goes without saying at this point, since this has been an iron-clad pattern for the past four years of budgets, but there is no new funding for Yucca Mountain in the budget. (There is still money from previous budgets to keep the lights on.)

AIRLINE SECURITY FEES — UP.

Expect your flights in and out of McCarran to be slightly more expensive. For the past several years, the federal government has forced airlines to tack on an extra $5 to round-trip airfare ($2.50 per leg). That’s going up, after this budget, to $11.50 per round-trip. The idea is that the few extra bucks will bring about $13 billion into the federal coffers over the next 10 years.

MILITARY RETIREMENT BENEFITS — DOWN.

The budget saves about $6 billion in the budget by slowing the pace with which military retirement benefits keep up with inflation. Under the bill, military retirees under the age of 62 will see a smaller annual cost-of-living adjustment reflected in their benefits until the end of 2015, when retirees’ cost-of-living adjustment will be pegged at the rate of inflation minus 1 percent. The change has sparked outrage among military advocates and caused the budget to lose support among Republicans — including Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Joe Heck.

SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE — LARGELY UNCHANGED.

The surest sign that this budget was not a grand bargain venture may be that the financial tenets of the country’s two biggest entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, remained unchanged. But there is one change coming to Social Security: From now on, the government is going to keep closer tabs on the Social Security records of the recently deceased, in order to cut back on fraudulent claims and tax returns. Only certified individuals will be able to view a deceased person’s information kept on the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File for the first three years after a person’s passing.

MEDICAID PAYMENTS AND CHILD SUPPORT — NEW RULES.

Medicaid got a little wiggle room under the deal: States will be able to delay Medicaid payments slightly in order to ensure the bills get paid — and they can go after deadbeat parents for child support in the form of non-Medicaid health insurance, where such an option is plausible and available.

PENSION PREMIUMS — UP.

Premium payments are ticking upward for private and public pensions. Corporations whose pensions are insured by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation are expected to see their premiums rise under the budget. And civilians who join the federal workforce after New Year’s can expect a higher pension premium, too — by 1.3 percent more than what it’s been.

GOVERNMENT CONTRACTOR SALARIES — CAPPED.

Congress is trying to end the chances of contractors getting absurdly rich off the federal government with a new salary cap of $487,000, indexed to inflation. Though that’s no small change, it does represent the first across-the-board limit on what the many members of the federal government’s adjunct workforce are allowed to earn. There are potential exceptions in rare cases, such as certain specializations in the sciences and engineering. (All the more reason, perhaps, to get a STEM degree.)

MINERAL MINING ROYALTIES — DOWN.

The bill permanently extends a provision requiring states to pay for the federal government’s administrative costs when they receive mineral lease payments. It means Nevada and other big mineral mining states will be getting less than the traditional 50-50 split on royalties. While the provision doesn’t really change much — this has been the way business is done since 2008 — it does represent a chunk of change Nevada won’t ever get to claim again.

THE SEQUESTER — SLIGHTLY SMALLER.

The budget deal reversed about $65 billion of the sequestration cuts — less than 10 percent of those specified under the Budget Control Act. But the lawmakers who supported the deal argue, every little bit helps to keep everything from afterschool programs to the Air Force bases at Nellis and Creech running.

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