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May 23, 2019

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In speech, Sisolak adds $700M to budget, promises no tax increases


Tom R. Smedes / AP

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak delivers his first State of the State Address from the Assembly Chambers of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.

Updated Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 | 8 p.m.

Gov. Steve Sisolak delivered his first State of the State address Wednesday in Carson City, proposing a two-year $8.8 billion budget to fund education, health care and raises for state employees.

The proposed budget, outlined in an hourlong speech, represents an 8.6 percent increase from former Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $8.1 billion budget proposed in 2017. Sisolak also announced he would be allowing up to $10 million in tax credits for developers who create and preserve low-income housing. The governor, who defeated Republican Adam Laxalt in last November’s election, said despite an expansion in the budget for the upcoming biennium, he would not be raising any state taxes.

“Nevada’s economic growth happened under our current revenue structure,” Sisolak said. “And as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Sisolak recommended to the Democratic-controlled Legislature to issue 3 percent annual raises to all state employees, and advocated that employees of public schools are also offered that growth. He also said he hopes to raise the state’s minimum wage.

“We are in position to give workers a raise, and we expect great return from that investment,” he said.

The Nevada governor proposed increased funding for medical education, career and technical education, the statewide Nevada Plan, Meals on Wheels, cervical cancer screenings and family planning. He said Nevada would be dedicating $45 million each year to add to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Sisolak announced an unspecified portion of the money raised by a 10 percent tax on recreational marijuana sales will go toward preventing violence in public schools.

Sisolak, who helped start a fundraiser for the victims of the 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, said he is working with the Legislature to find a way to enforce Nevada's 2016 gun background check law. The measure was approved by voters but the state's then-Republican governor and attorney general said it was flawed and could not be enforced. A lawsuit calling for the law to be enforced is still tied up in court, but Sisolak said he wants to find a way to get it done.

"It's long past time we listen to the voters and enact these changes because background checks save lives," he said.

The Democrat also wants to ban bump stocks, which the gunman used in the Las Vegas mass shooting to modify his guns to mimic the firing of a fully automatic weapon.

He also wants to create a new office that advocates for small businesses and a new Cannabis Compliance Board, which will regulate the state's legal pot dispensaries like the state's Gaming Commission oversees casinos.

Sisolak, a longtime critic of Yucca Mountain as a federal dump for nuclear waste, drew a rousing applause during his speech by doubling down on that stance.

“Not one ounce of nuclear waste will ever reach Yucca Mountain while I’m governor,” he said. “Not on my watch.”

Sisolak said the newly established Governor’s Office for New Americans will help immigrants in Nevada with government services and resources for building new businesses. He urged the Legislature to expand early voting and implement same-day voter registration.

“That’s how we work together,” Sisolak said, choking up. “That’s how we get things done and that’s how we build an even stronger Nevada.”

Senate Republicans released a statement applauding Sisolak's pledge not to increase taxes, saying Nevada needs to "stay on course to continue to grow our economy."

"You can count on Republicans to stand our ground on the unshakable beliefs of personal responsibility, limited government spending and individual freedom over government infringement," said state Sen. Heidi Gansert, R-Reno. "Yet at the same time, we know that Nevada families expect us to find common ground."

Gansert said education, tackling the opioid crisis and renewable energy were all areas where bipartisan common ground could be reached.

Democratic legislative leaders Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson and Speaker of the Assembly Jason Frierson released a joint statement touting Sisolak's "strong vision" for the future of the state.

"We are eager to partner with the governor on improving public education, expanding access to affordable health care, protecting Nevadans by passing stronger gun safety laws, and promoting small and local businesses," they said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.