“Folks, you don’t realize where we’re headed,” Nevada Sen. Pete Goicoechea said during a conference call Thursday. “The bills we’re seeing coming out of here that we cannot do anything about, it’s killing us.”
As the legislature entered its final days faced with a logjam of bills to deal with, Goicoechea, along with Assemblymen John Ellison and Gregory Hafen — three Republicans in the Democrat-dominated legislature — took time to share some thoughts on this year’s session.
Goicoechea’s core message: After this session, taxes will be going up, and rural areas like Elko County are getting a raw deal.
“With what we’ve done with collective bargaining, prevailing wage, all the bad bills that are coming out as majority bills, it’s going to get very, very expensive to live in the state of Nevada,” Goicoechea said.
He did not mince words about his thoughts on SB543, the school funding bill.
“I think it’s a disaster,” Goicoechea said.
He called it the “freeze and squeeze of the rural school districts.”
“It’s really hard on the rural school districts,” he said. “It’s going to be really problematic, especially for Elko and some of these other jurisdictions. White Pine, they’re getting a $4 million hit out of this, and they can’t afford it. It’s just wrong.”
Elko County schools would be frozen at current budget levels until they come into alignment with the new formula. Goicoechea said that would take about eight years. He said in Eureka County, it would take about 61 years for them to hit equilibrium with the new funding formula.
“I don’t think the plan is going to work,” Goicoechea said. “As we were debating it on the floor, I said, it’s fine and dandy now, we’re in a boom on mining, everything is increasing. But if gold goes to $900, these schools that are frozen at that level, they won’t be able to turn the lights on. I told them, then the money is going to have to come from the south back into the rurals. And they aren’t going to want to do that.”
The school funding bill has gone through a lot of changes, and there will probably be some more tinkering in the final days of the legislature, but Goicoechea said it looks like it will remain a bad bill. One part of the bill which may get some last minute adjustments is how the net proceeds of minerals are handled. Goicoechea said the state constitution says the money is supposed to go to the counties, and the counties then distribute it.
“The state doesn’t touch it,” Goicoechea said. “The argument will be whether the state can siphon that money away from the school districts. But that’s been litigated several times already, and it’s very clear in the constitution. This is huge for the rural counties.”
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Great Basin College and other smaller colleges in the state are also going to be seeing some funding cuts after this legislative session, Goicoechea said.
“It’s not going to be a good cycle for the small college,” he said.
“The way they’re doing the financing, by the time that bill comes, they’re set in stone,” Assemblyman Ellison said. “These guys won’t even listen. I tell them that the four community colleges around our state are our workforce. But it’s just going in one ear and out the other. I’ve never seen it like this.”
He said part of the problem is that there are so many freshman legislators, and Goicoechea agreed.
“I lay a lot of it back to term limits,” Goicoechea said. He said that even Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson commented that half the legislative body changes every year.
“Probably the big problem with higher education is that everybody’s scrambling,” Goicoechea said. “There are a lot more demands down south with the College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College. Those people are soaking up most of the funding and they have the votes to do it.”
“Rural Nevada is going to have to wake up and realize we don’t have any real clout,” Goicoechea said, “until the people in southern Nevada start recognizing the fact that we are here and we deserve and we are relevant.”
“It’s just been a tough session.”
Although rural schools and colleges might be seeing tight budgets, the overall state budget will be going up, Goicoechea said. He said the money going to education — including increases in teachers’ salaries — and other changes like collective bargaining for state employees, are going to add up to a lot of funding.
“We’re talking a billion dollars in new taxes, folks, and then we’ve got to sustain what we’re rolling up right now. A couple billion dollars in new taxes might not cover this next budget. And I don’t know where it’s going to come from, but everybody’s going to feel the pain, and we will see the reset on property taxes. Some of these issues that we’ve all been fighting, it’s going to happen.”
“With this liberal administration we’ve got, we are going to be California on steroids as we start paying taxes.”