Governor’s plan likely goal for unallocated $200 million |

Governor’s plan likely goal for unallocated $200 million

by Geoff Dornan

While more than $200 million in general fund money has not yet formally committed in the proposed budget, it’s likely lawmakers will follow the governor’s plan on how to spend it.

The biggest piece of that pie is the $74 million the money committees removed from the K-12 education per-student base budget over the biennium because it didn’t belong in the base.

All lawmakers asked about the money allocation said they intend to put it back into education, not elsewhere. The core issue is whether it goes back into the base, where it could be siphoned off for teacher salaries and benefits, or is put into a specific pot outside the reach of binding arbitration.

Also within the K-12 education budgets is elimination of the teacher-retirement incentives designed to keep good teachers in low-performing schools. That would save about $17 million during the next two years.

Another big chunk of savings comes from the expanded Affordable Care Act coverage, which enabled lawmakers to reduce prison medical care budgets by $7.9 million over the biennium because many more inmates will be eligible for Medicaid.

A recent 9th Circuit Court decision accepting the prison system’s “common-fare diet” in place of the much more expensive kosher diet saves corrections more than $700,000 more.

In addition, there is the $37 million the Economic Forum added to projected revenues for the coming biennium and the $25 million in savings from the lower-than-expected health care cost inflation projections and Medicaid caseload reductions. Sandoval has called for all that money to be used in expanding K-12 initiatives including all-day kindergarten and English-language-learner programs.

The same reductions in the Public Employee Benefits Program generated an additional $12 million in savings. Sandoval wants that cash used to eliminate state worker furloughs in 2015.

The Economic Forum also said revenues for the remainder of this fiscal year would be higher than originally projected. That $7.9 million is included in the state’s fiscal-year 2013 ending fund balance — now projected at just about $38 million.

Combined, those numbers total about $210 million.

There are several other pieces potentially in the mix, including the $9.25 million saved in 2015 via elimination of the Wellness Program within the Public Employee Benefits Program. Some lawmakers including Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, have said they think that cash should be used to further reduce the out-of-pocket costs for state workers in the high-deductible insurance plan.

There are numerous other small changes in spending by state agencies that were approved when the overall budgets were closed Saturday, affecting not only the general fund but other revenue streams.