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June 23, 2018

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States of the State: How has Nevada performed under Gov. Brian Sandoval?


L.E. Baskow

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks as UNLV and LVCVA host a rally in the Cox Pavilion promoting the final presidential debate in October on Tuesday, January 12, 2016.

In 2013, The Business Journals ranked Sandoval 27th among 45 governors with regard to business development.

Invoking both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, Gov. Brian Sandoval gave his final State of the State address Jan. 17, revealing highlights of his $8.1 billion budget for 2017.

He also harked back to his first such address in 2011, when the newly elected Sandoval said, “If Nevada were a stock, I’d buy it.”

Under his leadership, has Nevada performed like a blue-chip over the past six years? Here’s a snapshot of the Sandoval era.

Health care

• In 2012, Sandoval became the first Republican governor to embrace the expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.

• 187,000 more Nevadans covered, $25M saved in the general fund: Sandoval also shifted mental health spending to Medicaid. (In 2013, San Francisco sued Nevada for its since-reformed practice of busing discharged psychiatric patients out of the state unescorted.)

• Potential repeal of the ACA: The bid to repeal the ACA by the new administration and Congress threatens that funding solution. Nevada’s total Medicaid budget is $6.3 billion, but only $1.1 billion currently comes from the state.


• Sandoval’s stand on pot is mixed. In 2013, he signed a bill that legalized both the distribution and production of medical marijuana, but he opposes recreational use.

• Revenue proposal supporting education: Last week, the governor proposed a 10 percent tax on retail sales of recreational pot. How much money that would raise is not yet clear, but under the governor’s plan, all of it would go to education. Sandoval also has asked the Legislature to come up with additional laws to keep marijuana out of the hands of children.

The economy

• In his 2013 State of the State, Sandoval called economic development his highest priority.

• Unemployment, from 14 percent in 2011 to 5.1 percent today: The financial picture has improved dramatically since Sandoval took office. In 2011, in the depths of the recession, Nevada led the nation in foreclosures. Resale transactions are now trending toward nondistressed activity, with fewer homeowners dealing with negative equity.

• Tax incentives to attract new industries ($89M For Apple in 2012; $1.3B for Tesla in 2014): It’s hard to say how much of the state’s economic improvement was because of Sandoval’s efforts, but he has certainly legitimized the influence of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which played a major role in attracting new industries (and the jobs that come with them) to Nevada.

• $216M For faraday future in 2016: Sandoval didn’t mention Faraday in his final address. Industry watchdogs (and the state treasurer) have raised doubts about the ability of the company’s chief backer to finance the ambitious electric car factory and R&D facility in North Las Vegas.

• First in the nation for future job growth: A November 2016 article in Forbes puts Nevada at the top of the list for future job growth, with a predicted 2.6 percent yearly increase through 2020.


• 51st in the nation: Education Week ranked Nevada 45th for public education when Sandoval took office; we've dropped six spots.

• Graduation rates (68 percent in 2010; 74 percent in 2016): The Clark County School District has improved from being the worst in the nation.

• Creation of education savings accounts (benched by Nevada Supreme Court): Sandoval signed into law one of the most far-reaching school voucher programs in the U.S. — ESAs enabling parents to put state funding toward private or home school. Opponents argue that the law financially strips public education, and the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that money earmarked for public schools couldn’t be used for ESAs. In his final State of the State, Sandoval proposed a budget that includes $60 million for ESAs (without identifying the source).

• $1B tax increase for schools (after major budget cuts): In 2015, Sandoval led a bipartisan push for the largest tax increase in Nevada history, the bulk going to fund public schools. It contrasted brutal budget cuts in the thick of the recession that reduced already low per-pupil spending, shifted revenue slated for teacher salaries and mandated local agencies take on about $100 million in previously state-funded programming.

Federal lands

• Yucca Mountain: As Nevada attorney general, Sandoval waged a legal battle against a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Now, with the idea of reviving the project floating in the Republican-controlled Congress, Sandoval said he would spend his remaining two years in office fighting any attempt to transport or store high-level nuclear waste at Yucca.

• Opposing federal regulations on mining: Citing Nevada’s gold production and discovery of lithium deposits, Sandoval pledged Jan. 17 to oppose federal environmental regulations aimed at curbing the mining industry.

Gun rights

• Sandoval opposes universal background checks and vetoed a 2013 bill that would have expanded the scope of criminal history checks to include private sales at gun shows and between individuals.

• No enforcement for Ballot Measure 1: A ballot measure passed last year aims to close private sale/gun show loopholes. However, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt says the law is unenforceable because it calls for the FBI to conduct the checks, and the FBI won’t perform them unless the state pays for it. Sandoval doesn’t appear inclined to seek the funding, but he does favor increasing the reporting requirements for mental health agencies to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

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