By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau
CARSON CITY – Nevada’s next two-year general fund budget would grow by $279 million to $6.46 billion based on the initial spending requests submitted by state agencies, information released today by the Budget Division shows.
State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp, who will continue to piece together Gov. Brian Sandoval’s final recommended 2013-15 budget through at least December, said the increase in spending is due primarily to the growing public education and Medicaid populations. The public education piece is estimated at $18 million. The Medicaid population increase is expected to cost $104 million.
State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.
The budget is still subject to a variety of revisions by Sandoval between now and January when it is released to the public and lawmakers. The final budget will depend greatly on available tax revenue, which will be set by the state Economic Forum in early December.
“We’re wrestling quite a few different variables that all have to be factored in before ultimately those decisions are made,” Mohlenkamp said.
The agency request budget also includes the cost of expanding Medicaid to already eligible Nevada residents expected to enroll in the program because of the federal Affordable Care Act. This piece is expected to cost $86.6 million.
The budget does not include an expansion of Medicaid to a newly eligible group of Nevadans provided for under the health care law, Mohlenkamp said. Sandoval has yet to make a decision on that issue, he said.
“We have decision units prepared, that should the governor make the decision to opt in, then we can very quickly make that happen within the budget,” Mohlenkamp said.
The budget does anticipate the continuation of several tax increases that are now set to sunset on June 30, 2013. It also, for now, continues salary reductions and furloughs for state workers that would save approximately $160 million.
Sandoval has said he will consider restoring some of the reductions if general fund revenues are sufficient to do so.
Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, praised Sandoval and his budget staff for helping state agencies limit their spending increases.
“While not perfect, these agency budget requests are a concrete step toward limiting the growth of government from already inflated levels,” he said. “Besides limiting spending increases, this budget shows the power of performance-based budgeting, which focuses on providing the highest level of outcomes for every dollar spent.”
Lawrence also warned lawmakers against using any higher revenue projections from the Economic Forum to boost spending.
“Higher-than-expected revenue projections from the Economic Forum should be used to lower taxes on struggling Nevada families, instead of as an excuse to increase government spending,” he said.
Mohlenkamp said the spending numbers released today are expected to be within the general fund tax estimates set by the Economic Forum.
“We do believe that we are in the range, but we don’t know how close we are to actually what the Economic Forum will come in at,” he said. “But that’s pretty much of an unknown right now.”
The final budget will be the first to comprehensively include performance-based budgeting, Mohlenkamp said. The process is expected to make the budget more transparent so the public can easily understand where the money is being spent. It will also provide better accountability on whether the state is achieving its goals, he said.
Several major initiatives being proposed in the budget include a restructuring of the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services, with the mental health side going to the Health Division, and the developmental services piece going to Aging and Disability Services.
“It’s a fairly major restructuring that is going on within Health and Human Services,” Mohlenkamp said.