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What does Nevada need as Lombardo settles in as governor?

AP Photo/Ellen Schmidt
Clark County Sheriff and Nevada Gov.-elect Joe Lombardo gives a victory speech during a news conference, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas. Lombardo ran against incumbent Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak.

A little more than a week ago, Joe Lombardo, the former Clark County sheriff, was sworn in as the 31st governor of Nevada. During his first appearance as the state’s top elected official, he promised he would be the "education governor.”

He's pushing for more money for teachers and schools. He also wants to give parents a choice of schools for their kids. But what does that mean? Is it charter schools or Education Savings Accounts or taxpayer dollars for private schools? And what bargaining chips does he have to get what he needs from the Democratic majorities in the Nevada Legislature?

Warren Hardy (L) and Steve Sebelius (R) with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann at Nevada Public Radio on Jan. 12, 2023.
Kristen DeSilva
Warren Hardy (L) and Steve Sebelius (R) with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann at Nevada Public Radio on Jan. 12, 2023.

On the upcoming Nevada legislative session

“Does the state have the money for the basic services? Yeah, but it depends on what you want,” said Steve Sebelius, the politics and government editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I mean, if you want a better school system, I don't know that we necessarily have spent the money for that. The suppression of crime is something that we have the money for, but we have jury-rigged this ridiculous system of sales tax to hire police officers, which was probably the worst idea, except for the alternative, which was to not be able to hire those officers. … And I think the legislature is eventually going to have to take a look at the property tax exemptions that are in place that have slowed the revenues since we've recovered from the recession.”

Warren Hardy is a former Republican state senator and is the founder of Hardy Strategies as a lobbyist. He told State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann many areas of the state are underfunded.

“When we have a conversation about new revenue, it's conversation about new revenue and whether it actually works,” he said. “We have got to absolutely 100% get to a point where we can do a study that really tells us our unique situation and how we're to spend this, how we're to spend this money…”

The Nevada Legislature in 2023 will decide how to spend an influx of cash, some of which came from the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and some that has been contributed to inflation and sales tax revenue. Nearly 900 bills have already been submitted for consideration during the four-month 82nd Regular Session.

But what happens when the money runs out? “I don’t think [Lombardo’s] thinking about that at all,” said The Nevada Independent founder and CEO Jon Ralston.

He added, “I don't even think he's thinking much past his State of the State and what he's going to propose, because he is completely unfamiliar with state government and maybe as unfamiliar with state government as any governor ever has been. That's not a criticism; that's a fact. And so they have a lot of money, although we're gonna have to see what the so-called roll-up costs in various programs like education and health and human services are … but he has said no new taxes.”

On mental and physical health

Amanda wrote to State of Nevada on Twitter, saying more needs to be done to protect LGBTQIA+ students from harassment, as it’s harmful to their mental health. When Lombardo was head of LVMPD, he said he wanted to do more for mental health.

On the side of LVMPD, a new bill went into effect at the start of the year that requires a check-up of sorts for the stress levels of officers. For the state, Sebelius said we haven’t done a good job, and that there aren’t enough mental health hospital beds.

“When Governor Sandoval was in office, he managed to increase the reimbursement rate for mental health beds in the state of Nevada and miraculously, hospitals began to open entire wings because they were able to recoup those dollars,” he said. “So you have to spend money to do that. … For 20 years now, I think I've been hearing that the Clark County Detention Center is the largest mental health facility in Clark County. That shouldn't be the way it is.”

It’s a challenge in all parts of the state, Hardy said. He said Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones has done some work related to mental health, and there’s a focus in some business communities, but the lack of resources overall creates a ripple effect.

Sebelius added as far as physical health is concerned, the UNLV medical school and Touro University have made progress there.

“Expanding the graduate medical positions in the state is a really good step toward getting more physicians here,” he said. “But there's also an issue of specialists and getting people in particular specialties that Nevada can sometimes lack.”

Ralston said they’ve been talking about mental health funding for decades in Carson City. “And there have been few people up in the legislature to advocate for it,” he said.

On polarization and compromise

Last week, Lombardo said it was time to rise above polarization. At State of Nevada, we’ve heard that from listeners. Are there areas of compromise?

“I've seen such a dramatic shift in the legislature in terms of being willing to compromise and work together toward things we used to fight about during the election cycle, and then we'd put our differences aside to work for the betterment of the state,” said Hardy. “Unfortunately, that’s not really what’s happening or has been happening in Carson City.”

He said he’s been encouraged by conversations with the new administration, and that he senses a willingness on Lombardo’s side.

Sebelius was much more skeptical: “Republicans say no new taxes. Democrats, obviously, have the opposite view. But, you know, when you take up an issue like school choice, Democrats are generally opposed to school choice, they don't want taxpayer money to go into private education. And that's been a red line, mostly because the Democrats are supported, by and large, the teachers union, and the teachers union is against that.”

But, it never hurts to ask, and he said they may come to compromises.

“The legislature will be at loggerheads, the governor can veto any bill, the legislature doesn't currently have the majorities to override a veto if all the Republicans stick with their party. So in that situation, which a lot of Democrats find frustrating. I think there's a lot of opportunity,” Sebelius said.

Guests: Steve Sebelius, politics and government editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Warren Hardy, former Republican lawmaker and founder, Hardy Strategies; Jon Ralston, founder and CEO, The Nevada Independent

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
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.