In the six days of the 2020 special session of the Nevada State Legislature, it has become clear that barring new sources of revenue or further federal aid, the state government will be forced to compensate for a projected $1.2 billion shortfall for the 2020/20121 budget cycle, which will spell significant cuts in funding to education, Health and Human Services and the state’s Medicaid contribution.
The language of Assembly Joint Resolution 1 is simple. The resolution urges “the President and Congress of the United States to provide flexible funding for state, local and tribal governments to account for anticipated public budget shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Assemblyman Howard Watts introduced the Resolution in the Assembly and acknowledged the benefit of the CARES Act but noted the emergency aid was aimed at combating the virus on the ground and not funding state or local governments and the services they provide.
“Over the last days, we have heard about the grim fiscal situation that we find ourselves in due to forces outside of our control,” Watts said from the Assembly floor. “We know that the proposed cuts, or any solution based on cuts, is balanced on the backs of the least fortunate among us, our children, our seniors, our sick and ailing, our workers, rural or urban, in every single district that we represent.”
Watts made reference to the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or the HEROES Act that passed the US House of Representatives on May 15, largely along party lines. Since then, the $3.5 trillion stimulus bill has been stalled in the US Senate.
Nevada representatives Dina Titus, Susie Lee, and Steven Horsford, all Democrats, voted for the HEROES Act. Republican Mark Amodei did not.
“In Washington, the House passed the HEROES Act back on May 15. I don’t know about all of you, but to me, a month ago seems like forever,” Watts said. “Unfortunately it has not been taken up in the United States Senate, and neither majority leader McConnell, nor President Trump have offered a counter proposal to bring us closer to a solution.”
Assemblywoman Robin Titus spoke in support of the Resolution and defended the Trump Administration.
“As of July 8th, President Trump has provided Nevada a running total from all federal sources of $13 billion dollars,” Titus said on the Assembly floor. “$13 billion dollars has come from our president to our state.
“We have heard through budget hearing of a $1.2 billion dollar shortfall for the State of Nevada.
“The budget we passed last session was $8.876 billion, which was $857 million higher than the budget we passed in the previous session. The education budget was $183 million higher than the previous biennium, and Health and Human Services was $261 million higher.
“Additionally, we passed 28 additional new offices or departments last session.
“Adding to the problem we find ourselves in has been the lack of communication and transparency on budgets and has prevented us from making responsible budget cut proposals.
“Due to lack of predictability of this virus, it’s almost impossible to predict supply and demand trends. We are also hearing there may be millions of dollars of funds that have been lost to fraud. If there ever was a time for transparency, I urge this state, all of our branches, to have accountability measures and transparency. We need it now.
“My fellow legislators, President Trump has been more than generous to Nevada, $13 billion so far. If our President blesses us with an additional federal funding, I hope that we use it in the most responsible and transparent way possible. I’m going to be voting yes on this resolution because I have faith and trust in our great President to continue to negotiate a bipartisan solution that will be the best interest for Nevada.”
The Resolution passed the Assembly by a unanimous vote. Within an hour of AJR1’s passage in the Assembly, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak issued a press release expressing support for the Resolution. Later that afternoon, the Senate considered AJR1.
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizaro encouraged passage.
Senator Ira Hanson was the only no vote. Hasnen said the Resolution is part of national politics, a fight between Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi.
“This (AJR1) has to do with the State of Nevada giving in effect a de facto endorsement of a $3.5 trillion spending package called the HEROES Act. Now that the federal government has already given, as my colleague just pointed out, $13 billion to the state of Nevada in less than one year, so the idea that the federal government is somehow dropping the ball is simply an completely inaccurate statement.
“What this bill is, is nothing more than political camouflage for a $3.5 trillion national spending bill, which is going to fund the irresponsible actions of states like California and New York throughout this entire crisis. So let’s call this what it is. This is an endorsement of the HEROES Act. And when we vote right now, on that board, what you’re really going to do is say do I side with the President of the United States or do I side with side with Nancy Pelosi, where this bill and this whole concept originated,” Hanson said from the Senate floor.
Hansen’s fellow Republican Heidi Gansert said her job was to act in the best interest of Nevadans, and therefore supported the Resolution.
“This bill is about Nevada. This bill is about helping Nevadans,” Gansert said. “While the federal government may address the entire U.S., our efforts are focused on Nevada.
“D.C. politics has become hyper-partisan as we all know, but we don’t have to be that way in Nevada,” Gansert said.
Senator Patricia Spearman blamed the state’s current situation on the Trump Administration.
“We understand that the Administration in Washington knew that this was coming back in November, December, January, February. It was only in March that we realized here in Nevada the magnitude of this pandemic,” Spearman said to senators via Zoom.
“We have a pandemic right now, where we have within our power to flatten this curve, but some of our colleagues see otherwise, and that’s your choice. That’s your choice.
“This is something we must do. Had we acted in November, December, January or February, we would not be here now. And so act we must. Support this bill. For all that is good. military members, veterans, their families. I support this bill because it is for the people.”
The Resolution passed by a 20 to 1 margin. With the Governor’s signature, the Chief Clerk of the Assembly will prepare and transmit a copy of AJR1 to the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States as the presiding officer of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and each member of the Nevada Congressional Delegation.
Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Ally. He has reported on regular 10 sessions of the Nevada State Legislature. Support his work.