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May 15, 2021

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Nevada budget: Sisolak proposes cuts to education, increased funding for health care

Gov. Sisolak Covid-19 DETR Presser

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Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signs unemployment insurance legislation during a press conference, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

Nevada’s $8.69 billion general fund budget for the next two years is a 2% decrease from the previous biennium as the state reels from the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The state released details of the budget ahead of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s State of the State virtual address on Tuesday.

“Ultimately, state revenues — while still severely impacted by the economic crisis — never dropped as low as our worst expectations and this budget reflects that inconsistent, if not positive, ending point,” the introduction to the budget read.

The overall budget is $27.1 billion for the next two years, which is an increase of $1.3 billion. This includes monies from the federal government and other sources.

The Department of Health and Human Services will receive $15.2 billion in the proposal, an increase of $2.6 billion from the current biennium.

That amount includes around $10.24 billion for Medicaid services, which is an increase of $1.58 billion from 2019 because of a spike in Medicaid enrollees — the state projects 778,000 people to be enrolled by the end of the next biennium.

The budget would also restore a 6% Medicaid provider rate reduction approved during a 2020 special legislative session.

“I am committed to remaining flexible and working closely with the Legislature in this unprecedented and evolving fiscal situation,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Throughout this dynamic process, the priorities will remain the same: recovering from this crisis and creating jobs, educating our kids, promoting justice and equality and most importantly now, protecting the health of our people.”

A $130 million decrease is expected for K-12 education and the Nevada System of Higher Education, although the shortfall is expected to be covered by President-elect Joe Biden’s stimulus package that would send $350 billion to states.

The Nevada budget also recommends the postponement of a full implementation of the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan, the new school funding formula passed in the 2019 legislative session. Under the budget, the first phase of implementation would begin by using funds currently distributed through the state Department of Education, with full implementation — including adding local funds — taking place in the 2023-2025 biennium.

“The 80th Legislature could have never anticipated the economic realities the State of Nevada would face in the FY 21-23 biennia when they passed the (new plan),” budget documents read.

The phased implementation of the new funding model includes weighted funding for at-risk, English learning and gifted and talented students. At-risk students are those who come from poorer families or who are not doing well academically.

Funding will go toward preschool development programs; Zoom Schools, a program that helps English learning students; and Victory Schools, a program that helps underperforming schools in poorer areas, among other programs.

State Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, in a statement about the budget, stressed that the federal government needs to pass further relief for states.

President-elect Joe Biden has announced a plan that would send $350 billion in aid to state and local governments. With a slim Democratic majority upcoming in both the House and the Senate, Nevada could receive more help from Washington.

"Facing these unprecedented challenges shouldn’t be left to the states alone,” Cannizzaro said in a statement. “We are thankful that the incoming administration in Washington recognizes that states and localities on the front lines need more federal support, and we will also use the session to call on Congress to pass a much-needed state and local aid package to give us greater flexibility to protect the health, safety and economic prospects of all Nevada families.” 

The governor’s budget is usually released during the State of the State address, though Sisolak broke with tradition this year as he will give his address in a prerecorded video to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The video will air at 6 p.m. Tuesday on the governor’s YouTube channel.