CARSON CITY (AP) — Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said Tuesday he won’t cut education or other vital state services in his upcoming budget proposal and he will extend sunsetting taxes to balance the books.
“I’m not going to cut K-12 or higher education,” the first-term Republican told reporters after a Board of Examiners meeting.
Sandoval campaigned on a no-tax stance and took heat from conservative members of his party when he agreed late in the 2011 legislative session to keep about $620 million in temporary taxes that were set to expire.
But critics Tuesday appeared to fall in step with the popular governor, at least in theory.
“I support Gov. Sandoval and his budget instructions that will not impose new taxes on the people of Nevada,” Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said in a statement.
Roberson voted against last year’s budget largely because of the extension of taxes that would have expired June 30, 2011.
Roberson said he’ll “continue to fight against new tax increases” while working with the governor to improve education. “I will not support additional cuts to public education,” he said.
But his statement was vague on whether his support for the governor included an acceptance of the tax extensions, and he did not immediately return a message from The Association Press seeking clarification.
He called Sandoval’s budget framework “prudent and fiscally responsible.”
“I will stand with him and support him,” Roberson said.
Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, the minority caucus leader in the lower house, also said he agreed with Sandoval’s position that the state cannot afford any more cuts to education. The state-funded portion of K-12 spending was cut about 9 percent during the last session, and state support for universities and community colleges was reduced 15 percent.
“Nevada’s recovery is still fragile and is certainly gradual,” Hickey said when reached for comment. “I agree with the governor that education, especially in lieu of reforms that were adopted and cuts that have been made in recent cycles, cannot warrant another hit.”
Hickey added that the budget process for next year’s legislative session is just beginning, and lawmakers will look at all the tax and spending proposals contained in the governor’s budget at that time, suggesting lawmakers would not give premature blanket approval to extending taxes.
“The Legislature has the duty to dig into those budgets and see what is justified and where other savings can still be found,” he said.
Sandoval said his budget direction means “there will be no need for tax increases in the next session,” a reference to various citizen tax petition initiatives under way. “Nevadans will pay no more than they are in the current biennium,” he said.
But Danny Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO who is heading up a petition proposal to implement a margins tax on businesses, said Sandoval’s announcement would not deter those efforts.
“With cuts that have already been made, if you fund education at the current level, it’s already in the toilet,” Thompson said. “We’re going forward with what we’re going to do and let the people decide.”
That initiative has not yet been filed with the secretary of state’s office. Backers would have to collect more than 72,000 signatures by Nov. 13 to send the issue to the 2013 Legislature. At that point, if lawmakers reject it or fail to act, it would automatically go to voters in 2014.
Two other tax initiatives — one to raise casino taxes and another to increase the cap mining companies pay on minerals — have been proposed but are facing legal challenges.
Sandoval’s acquiescence last year to extend tax increases came after the Nevada Supreme Court raised doubts about the legality of taking tax dollars from local governments to fund state government, as Sandoval had proposed in his original budget.
Lawmakers eventually passed a $6.2 billion general fund spending plan. On Tuesday, the governor said he will propose a “flat budget” for the biennium that begins July 1, 2013.
Sandoval’s comments to reporters came two days before his budget director, Jeff Mohlenkamp, is to meet with Cabinet officials Thursday to lay out the governor’s spending preferences.
“We’re going into this cards up,” Sandoval said as the budget planning begins.
Though the governor said he will extend once again the temporary tax increases first passed in 2009, he will proposal retaining a tax break for about 115,000 small businesses that make less than $250,000 a year.
“I believe at this point in time it is the responsible thing to do for the state of Nevada,” Sandoval said of his decision to continue the temporary taxes.
Sandoval said education, health and human services, and public safety account for 90 percent of the state’s general fund. He said Nevada’s Medicaid rolls are projected to grow as federal health reforms take effect, and any gains in sales and other tax revenues likely will be eaten up by those services.