Nevada lawmakers could be looking at a healthy budget surplus when they head to Carson City this winter — a big change from the massive deficits of the last session.
Thanks to strong sales tax revenues, Gov. Brian Sandoval recently told the Free Press “we’re about 70 million dollars up” based on current Department of Taxation calculations.
This week’s report on gaming revenues should help, too.
The question is, will the extra money be put back into education or will it get sucked up into Health and Human Services programs because of Obamacare?
Sandoval hopes for the former, but fears the latter.
He emphasized his support of education at all levels, from kindergarten through college.
“I made a commitment to higher ed as well as K-12 early on this year, that I would at least maintain their funding at where they were before. ... I wanted to provide them certainty as they built their budgets, that they would know where the baseline was.”
To provide that certainty, the governor pledged in March to maintain previous tax increases that are scheduled to “sunset.”
Then, as now, he pointed to Obamacare as the biggest threat to the state budget.
“With the Affordable Care Act we’re not really sure where we are going to be,” he told the Free Press on Aug. 31. “... Any surplus that we might have may be used by the Health and Human Services budget and the increases in the cost to the state as a result of the Affordable Care Act.”
Shortly after the law was declared constitutional, Sandoval said he wouldn’t automatically accept its directive to expand Medicaid coverage because the state might then need to cut education in order to balance its budget.
We asked whether any of the $70 million might go toward mitigating impacts to Great Basin College, which he visited earlier that day, or other rural college budgets.
“That will be something that will be front and center for me as we’re making the decisions, if we have the surplus,” the governor said. “But, as I told the students, I can’t make promises or commitments at this time, because it’s just flat out too early.”
It may come down to the presidential election, and whether the outcome raises the possibility that the health care law — or parts of it — could be repealed. Nevada voters will play a critical role as one of the key swing states expected to decide who will run the country for the next four years.
Until then, our governor is hedging his bets on the state budget:
“Compared to where we were two years ago, when we were in a billion dollar budget deficit situation, and now we’re in a budget surplus situation, we are improving — but we have a long way to go.”
Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are John Pfeifer, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown.