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Governor Focuses On Improving Education During State of the State Address

Gov. Brian Sandoval has unveiled a budget that would raise taxes by $1.1 billion and give the majority of that back to Nevada schools.
The proposal announced Thursday evening during the governor’s third State of the State address in Carson City includes a proposed $7.3 billion general fund spending plan, which would include $1.15 billion in both new and extended taxes.
The governor would use the extra money to expand full-day kindergarten statewide and provide extra resources to schools with a high number of English language learners and children living in poverty.
 “We were very pleased to see that the governor is going to reinvest money into the education system” Ruben Murillo, president of the Nevada State Education Association, told KNPR’s State of Nevada. “But it only brings us up to where we were seven or eight years ago.”
Murillo points out that population has increased but funding for schools has not kept up with the growth. He says teachers and school support staff have had to make do with money they’ve scraped up.
The governor announced plans to spend more money on education but with some provisions.
“Improvements will not be made without accountability measures, collective bargaining reform and school choice. Our new investments must come with performance measures and accountability, opportunity scholarship, giving tax credits for businesses that provide tuition-based scholarships for students who attend private schools.” Sandoval said in his speech.
Collective bargaining reform has caused outrage in other states, but Murillo is not worried about a battle in Nevada.
“I’m sure the governor doesn’t mean that he plans to balance the budget on the backs of educators through collective bargaining reform” Murillo said.
As for accountability, Murillo says educators want to be held accountable but that students and the community need to be held accountable as well.
The governor didn’t just propose giving money to programs. He also said he would support changes to capital funding for school districts.
“Imagine sitting in a high school in Las Vegas with over 40 students and no air condition. I will support a temporary rollover of bonding authority for the construction and maintenance of our local schools with state oversight.” Sandoval said.
Tax policy expert Guy Hobbs told KNPR’s State of Nevada that the Clark County School District has been concerned about the lack of capital dollars to build new schools and repair old schools for several years.
Under the proposal from the governor, Hobbs explained, the school district will be able to keep the bond rate the same instead of relying on the fluctuating property values, which means the district will have more money to pay for building new schools and repairing older ones.
The governor plans to raise money for education through state tax reform.
The governor wants to restructure the flat, $200-a-year business license fee into a fee that varies based on a company's gross receipts and industry type.
“There is going to be a lot of debate and dialogue in Carson City about whether it is a fee or tax and whether it impedes economic development efforts,” Hobb said. “It is an attempt to broaden Nevada’s tax base a bit and put more of that burden on businesses.”
But Hobbs points out it is not the comprehensive tax reform that many people had wanted.
The governor also called on lawmakers to make temporary taxes, which are set to sunset this year, permanent.
Kyle Roerink, political reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, says those so-called ‘sunset taxes’ must stay in place.
 “The $650 million sunset package isn’t going anywhere. It is part of the money for education,” Roerink said.
Passing any tax reform may not be easy in a state where 79 percent of voters recently rejected a margins tax that would have funded education. He also has a challenge in the State Legislature where several lawmakers signed a no-new-taxes pledge and infighting between Republican leaders started before they even made it to the state capitol.
“You have a dysfunctional Republican Assembly Caucus who are opposed to the revenue increasing such as the $431 million revenue increase the governor as proposed.” Roerink said. “I’m ready for fireworks in Carson City.”
Pundits have said the governor seemed to more than willing to reach across the aisle to get things done in this legislative session.
“My overall feeling from the speech is that he came off as a moderate Democrat yesterday” UNLV political science professor David Damore said.
He said the governor walked into an opening left by state democrats who couldn’t move forward with a variety of issues.
Democratic Assembly Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick in the official democratic response urged members of both parties to have the courage to make the hard choices the governor outlined in his plan.
“He set the table for what will be a lot of conversations about how we move forward in this state,” Roerink said, “He had very open arms and a lot of people are tipping their hat to the governor for that.”
Kirkpatrick said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have gotten used to failing to get things done because they refuse to compromise. Kirkpatrick says improving Nevada's schools and universities will require "give and take" on all sides.
Kirkpatrick was the speaker of the Assembly before Republicans won control of both houses in November.
Overall, Damore said Gov. Sandoval is still popular and the speech seems to indicate he is ready to spend some of that political capital. 
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
Kyle Roerink , Las Vegas Sun politics reporter
David Damore , UNLV political science professor
Guy Hobbs, public finance advisor, Hobbs, Ong & Assocs.

Ruben Murillo,  president, Nevada State Education Association
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