Updated May 5, 2021 - 7:17 pm
CARSON CITY — Buoyed by a new revenue forecast that projects a state windfall of more than half a billion dollars, Gov. Steve Sisolak used a sparing video address Wednesday to tout efforts undertaken during to the COVID-19 crisis to mitigate its economic impacts and said he was committed to using the money to transform the state and address “systemic issues.”
“In the last 14 months, we’ve taken action to strike a balance between protecting the public health and also protecting our fragile economy,” the governor said in 10-minute remarks streamed online. “Thanks to the quick response by state and federal leaders to soften the effects of a nationwide shutdown, and because of the sacrifices that were made by all Nevadans, our fiscal situation has greatly improved across the state.”
The governor called out revenue projections formally adopted Monday by the state Economic Forum that are the basis of the two-year budget state lawmakers are fashioning right now for the fiscal period that starts in July. The forecast gives the state $586 million more than what was projected as recently as December, a windfall aided by federal stimulus money and better than expected rollout of COVID-19 vaccines that have spurred a faster business climate recovery.
“Nevada, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to utilize the funding we have to transform our state, but it will require us to break the patterns of the past,” the governor said. “I am committed to changing our systems, our systemic issues that make Nevada the hardest-hit state in the nation when there’s an economic downturn.”
Rebuilding rainy day fund
The governor said the funds should be put toward rebuilding the state’s rainy day fund, which was tapped in full to offset funding shortages at the height of the economic downturn a year ago, as well as to pay off debts and “restore the difficult cuts that we suffered in areas like mental health and education.”
“We need to ensure our recovery process brings along every Nevadan, especially those who have been the most negatively impacted by this pandemic,” the governor said. The broader revenue picture outlined Monday in the Economic Forum’s review, he said, “showed us that those in our state who make the most (were) really impacted the least, and those who make the least were impacted the most.”
He concluded by urging Nevadans to continue getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Every shot in the arm puts us one step closer on our path to full recovery,” he said.
Post-pandemic job training
Speaking to reporters after his address, Sisolak also stressed the need to fund additional workforce development programs to help Nevadans whose jobs were permanently eliminated during the pandemic and need to find new lines of work, a major concern for thousands who work in the hospitality industry in Southern Nevada.
“We need to do more working with our trades, with our community colleges to expand workforce development and apprenticeships,” Sisolak said.
The governor also stressed the need to rebuild the state’s unemployment division, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, from the ground up. The systems was overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of claims last year, with state unemployment at one point reaching 30 percent — an all-time state record in the U.S.
“You clearly can’t fix it in the next month,” the governor said, referring to the current legislative session, which ends May 31. “But you can get started. DETR doesn’t need a fix, it needs a major overhaul.”
The governor said assessments were ongoing and officials were looking at funding improvements drawing on the revenue windfall and the $2.9 billion in federal aid Nevada is receiving under the American Rescue Plan, with preference on using the federal aid first.
The governor’s remarks were largely an expanded versions of comments he made Monday following the dramatic increase in revenue projections adopted by the forum, the five-member appointed body tasked with charting the state’s financial future. The forum’s action drew bipartisan relief, with Republicans urging use of the money to restore budget cuts.
“Nevada has more money to spend for this budget, without raising taxes, than the pre-pandemic 2019 budget. This is fantastic news,” said Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville. “The governor and the Legislature must now restore cuts to education and health care, fix unemployment, and be mindful of our improving economy. Now is not the time to grow government or overwhelm recovering businesses.”
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