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Education, homelessness, health care: How will lawmakers spend Nevada's surplus?

knpr guests
Kristen DeSilva/KNPR

L-R: Jeremy Aguero, Dina Neal and Jason Goudie at KNPR on Oct. 5, 2022.

Four months from now, state lawmakers will get to Carson City for their legislative session, and they’ll be presented with a gift. 

For the first time in many years, they’ll be creating a two-year budget starting with a massive surplus. Nevada is expected to have an extra $900 million to $1 billion on hand. 

The difficulty will be figuring out how to spend it, because there are so many needs. Education. Mental health, regular health. Law enforcement. Transportation. Homelessness. 

And did we say education? 

State Senator Dina Neal and Clark County School District CFO Jason Goudie joined State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann to help us see how and where state lawmakers might spend that money. 

First, Jeremy Aguero has been an economic analyst in Las Vegas for decades, breaking down the numbers for both public and private entities. He's made presentations to the state Economic Forum, which every two years, predicts how much money the state will have for the next two years.

Where is that money coming from? “Because things are more expensive, and taxes are based on that, and because folks are sort of willing to spend money that they couldn't spend for a couple of years, we have very substantial increases in both state and local revenues,” he said.

During the pandemic, when Nevada had record unemployment, personal incomes increased 16%. The detriment is, of course, the high cost of goods amid record inflation. 

“If that lasts for a while … what happens when that starts to run out?”

Neal wants digital goods to modernize taxes. She said her digital goods bill was introduced first in 2019 but didn’t pass. 

“Our economy is growing,” she said. “And it is not growing with the actual state policy itself … If we end up with a billion-dollar increase in our state budget, that does not mean that you go and spend that money. It means for me, I would go back and look at budget shortfalls.”

She said to look at pandemic relief expirations, state office capital needs, then state employee salaries. Her top two priorities, she said, are health care, including dental care, and education. 

“There's no reason that, for the Medicaid population, the only thing you can get covered or getting your teeth cleaned or getting them pulled, but you can't get cavities covered,” she said.

Aguero’s priority would be education. 

“We've underfunded our K-12 education for two generations. And now we're shocked and stunned that our kids aren't performing at a level that we want,” he said.

Recently, the Clark County School District approved a $2.9 million budget for the 2022-2023 school year. Per pupil funding increased $100 for an enrollment of about 297,000 students.

Goudie said 86% of their budget is for personnel – administrators, teachers and support staff.

“One of the things that we've seen is that more schools are now getting access to those weighted funds. And we're able to reach deeper into the communities that need it,” Goudie said. 

Through past legislative sessions, he said CCSD’s proportional funding decreased, but that can no longer happen: “If there’s a surplus, there should be a proportional funding increase in K-12.”

Note: At a meeting after this interview aired, the CCSD Board of Trustees, in a 4-3 vote, approved Superintendent Dr. Jesus Jara’s contract extension through 2026, which includes a $75,000 raise.

Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst, Applied Analysis; Jason Goudie, chief financial officer, Clark County School District; Dina Neal, state senator, Nevada

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.