Nevada’s new state budget nears approval |

Nevada’s new state budget nears approval

Brendan Riley

CARSON CITY (AP) – The final elements of a record $7 billion budget for Nevada’s government operations for the next two years were introduced Sunday in the state Legislature, just ahead of the lawmakers’ scheduled adjournment on Monday.

AB628, the appropriations act which doesn’t rely on any new taxes, represents the end product of lengthy hearings by Senate and Assembly money committees that started their review of Gov. Jim Gibbons’ spending proposal more than four months ago.

Also introduced was SB576, the bill that authorizes the state spending; and SB575, the pay raise bill for classified and unclassified state workers. Adding in AB627, the already approved funding bill for K-12 schools, brings the total to $7 billion.

“Everything has been coming together,” said Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas. “It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and negotiating, giving up a little, compromising. We came a long ways in such a short time.”

When the $7 billion in general fund dollars is added to federal funds and other revenue sources, the total spending for ongoing government programs hits about $18 billion. That overall figure is up 15 percent over the current two-year budget cycle.

Just over half of all general fund dollars are for education. Another 29-30 percent goes to human services, including Medicaid and mental health services while about 10 percent would be used for public safety, including the state’s prison system.

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The balance of the spending in the budget would go to commerce and industry-related agencies, constitutional offices and other special-service government operations.

About a third of the projected revenue that would support the spending comes from sales and use taxes, and another 28 percent comes from fees and taxes paid mainly by casinos. The balance comes from various insurance and business levies, real estate transfer taxes, secretary of state fees and from taxes on liquor and cigarettes.

Gibbons, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and other leaders announced a budget agreement last Tuesday, following rush-job revisions to a plan that Senate and Assembly negotiators had accepted but Gibbons had rejected.

The Republican governor, who ran a no-new-taxes election campaign in 2006, had refused to sign off on a slight raise in a business tax that would have generated about $4.5 million next year. Assembly negotiators wanted that for education programs, but dropped the bid for a tax source as senators agreed to free up the money from other budget sources.

Buckley, D-Las Vegas, wanted more funding to expand all-day kindergarten in Nevada schools and came away with about $15 million for that. Gibbons got nearly $10 million for his education “empowerment” plan which gives public schools more control over programs at the local level.

Buckley called the agreement a “major victory” for education, both for K-12 schools and higher education. She added that that the various K-12 funding additions total $63 million.

The governor insisted on leaving a business tax rate at 0.63 percent rather than seeing it inch up to 0.64 percent. He had threatened to veto the budget bill if the slight increase in taxes – less than half of 1 percent of the entire budget – was included in it.

Gibbons also got $1.7 million for a Nevada National Guard “Youth Challenge” program that focuses on troubled youths, but didn’t get funding for an anti-terrorism intelligence-sharing operation in Carson City.

The budget proposal also includes numerous fee hikes, mainly affecting interest groups willing to accept them.