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State of the State: Benefitting from federal relief money, ‘holding the line’ elsewhere


by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current

In a rare state of the state speech delivered during a non-legislative year, first-term Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday announced the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars, but he was quick to assure Nevadans the spending spree wouldn’t come out of their pocketbooks.

Traditionally, the state of the state speech marks the release of the governor’s recommended budget ahead of the 120-day regular legislative session at the beginning of each odd-numbered year. The last time a governor delivered a state of the state speech in a year without a regular legislative session was 2010, according to a record of the biannual speeches kept by the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

In that speech, Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons spoke of the recession caused by the housing bubble burst, which had led Nevada to a 13% unemployment rate (the second highest in the nation at the time) and a foreclosure rate four times the national average. He announced he would convene a special session later that month to address the economic crisis and “make tough choices about the services we can and cannot afford.”

By contrast, Sisolak’s speech Wednesday largely focused on the billions of dollars of federal coronavirus relief money that has propped up Nevada’s economy throughout the pandemic. State Democratic leaders have promised the unprecedented levels of one-time money will be used on investments that address systemic problems within the state.

Eschewing the typical location of the Legislative Building in Carson City, Sisolak delivered his state of the state speech inside Allegiant Stadium. He said the taxpayer-subsidized sports arena represents “one part of a more diversified economic future.”

The locale and branding of the speech as “Nevada moves forward” gave the state of the state address the feel of a campaign event, though the governor did announce several notable initiatives for the state.

Sisolak announced a $500 million initiative titled Home Means Nevada that will “boost housing construction and homeownership opportunities,” “help seniors retrofit their homes” and “fund new housing developments.” This announcement comes a week after the Nevada Housing Division announced that $300.7 million, or 87%, of the state’s 2021 tax-exempt bonding authority has been earmarked for housing developments.

He also announced an investment of $160 million to support child care and “help lower costs for parents and keep child care workers on the job.” Sisolak said the money would double the number of families receiving subsidies. The announcement comes one day after the state opened the Child Care Services Center — a resource hub for the child care industry.

Additionally, Sisolak announced Nevada will be joining the Northwest Prescription Drug Consortium, an interstate agreement currently between Oregon and Washington that allows the states to negotiate drug companies together to secure lower prices for important medications like insulin.

Sisolak is up for reelection this year and is likely to face a competitive challenge from whoever emerges victorious from a crowded GOP primary. Whoever wins the governorship is the person ultimately tasked with crafting a recommended budget for the 2023 Legislature.

But that didn’t stop Sisolak from dangling a few promises.

After noting a 44% increase in homicide rates in Clark County and boasting that under his administration the percentage of the state budget devoted to law enforcement was number one in the country, Sisolak said he would propose a salary increase for state police officers.

Notably, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is one of the top contenders for the Republican nomination to challenge Sisolak.

Sisolak promised early in his speech that he would continue “holding the line on taxes.”

“Since I’ve been governor, we haven’t raised one penny of new taxes on the people of Nevada,” he said, “not one penny, and that’s also true of every proposal I’m offering tonight — no new taxes, no new taxes.”

Sisolak did sign legislation to increase taxes on the mining industry. He also signed off on a bill that would have extended two existing taxes that were set to expire, but the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the legislation unconstitutional for not passing by a two-thirds majority.

As is customary with state of the state speeches, the minority party issued their response. In the prerecorded message taped within the Legislative Building, State Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer said Democrats have used the money to “balloon the size of our government” and that Nevadans will “be on the hook for” once the federal money is gone.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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