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Lawmakers wrap up session at midnight

by Geoff Dornan
gdornan@nevadaappeal.com
Jim Grant / Nevada Appeal

In fits and starts Monday night, lawmakers put the finishing touches on a $6.5 billion general fund and a $19 billion total state budget for the coming two years, closing down the 2013 Legislature.

Unable to draw two-thirds of the votes of either house, Democrats were forced to surrender most of the lofty goals they started the session with, including boosting K-12 education funding by $350 million. In emotional floor speeches in the final weeks of the session, Senate Democrats acknowledged they just couldn’t get the votes to pass tax increases, let alone override a veto.

That meant giving up on plans to increase taxes on mining, as well as on their proposal to restore governmental services tax money to the highway fund to pay for infrastructure improvements.



In the end, they had to pass the budget 99 percent as recommended by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Nonetheless, the budget contains significant increases over the current spending plan, including a $164 million increase in general fund spending within the Appropriations Act.



Sandoval recommended that most of the extra money that materialized over the past four months be put into K-12 education. He and some lawmakers have repeatedly said that funding is up $489 million over the current two-year budget. Most of that increase, however, consists of what are called roll-ups — inflation, enrollment growth and other cost increases outside government’s control. The actual increases to education programs total about $120 million.

A significant share of that is targeting English-language learners — a total of about $50 million. Much of the rest is being used to expand all-day kindergarten.

One of lawmakers’ few victories was the elimination of the 2.5 percent pay cuts state workers have endured for the past two budget cycles. It took an additional $32 million to do that. Also, state workers will see their merit pay restored in the second half of the biennium. Although they’ll still have to take six unpaid days each year, employee representatives said that’s the least offensive cut of the batch. At least when they’re furloughed, they say, they get the day off.

Total general fund spending in the budget is a bit north of $6.5 billion. Just about $4 billion of that is in the Appropriations Act. There is about $2.2 billion in the Distributive School Account, which funds K-12 education. That bill includes not only per-pupil funding but class-size reduction, special education and other dedicated pots of money totaling more than $400 million. The total comes to just about $2.5 billion.

Finally, there is about $98.5 million in the Capital Improvement Projects bill — more than $60 million of it for critical maintenance projects.

But revenues projected by the Economic Forum don’t quite cover the total general fund spending. To make up the difference, Sandoval and lawmakers were forced to extend the tax increases originally approved in the 2009 session that were scheduled to sunset next month. Extending those higher tax levels on the modified business tax and local school support tax, as well as extending the pre-payment of the minerals tax, balances the budget with a projected total of $772.4 million.

In addition, there is a series of funding transfers and other revenue shifts that total $428.4 million, including the continued transfer of the governmental services tax to the general fund, commissions and penalties in that tax along with IP1 room tax money.

All those temporary revenues, which are to again sunset in two years, total $1.2 billion.

The biggest pot of money is in the Authorizations Act. That bill lays out how all revenue not directly in the general fund will be spent including, highway fund, federal dollars and dedicated fee revenues. It totals $6.1 billion the first year and $6.4 billion the second for a total of $12.5 billion.

That brings the budget to a record $19 billion-plus for the biennium.