News - February 6, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Gov. Sandoval's chief of staff sharply rebuked criticisms by state treasurer Dan Schwartz, who said on Nevada Newsmakers Monday that the governor lacked clear priorities in his proposed budget, rarely talks to him or other constitutional officers and has mishandled the Education Saving Accounts issue.

"That is patently false," Chief of Staff Mike Willden said about Schwartz's comments about Sandoval's budget priorities. "The budget always has a set of priorities. If you listened and paid attention to his state-of-the-state speech, his priorities this session are work-force development and education. And the governor's budget is built exactly on those priorities. It is not a wish list and it is not a goodies bag."

Willden bristled at Schwartz's portrayal of the governor as "St. Brian and his bag of goodies," when Schwartz talked about Sandoval's one-shot funding proposals in his $8.1 billion general-fund budget.

"I'm not sure what he is saying, calling him 'St. Brian of the Goodies Bag,'" Willden said. "We think they (one-shot proposals) are things that have been prioritized by the governor. They are important things."

Sandoval's one-shot expenditures -- like $43 million to help construct a new engineering building at the University of Nevada, Reno -- are just a fraction of the overall budget, Willden said. The one-shots include a $20 million request from Schwartz's office for the Millennium Scholarship program, Willden added. Schwartz's request on the Millennium Scholarship funding makes up one-quarter all of major one-shot funding proposals.

"So I don't know if this is a misunderstanding of the budgets or they don't pay attention to the budget," Willden said. "But $79 million or $80 million out of a $8.1 billion budget is hardly a fraction. And I want to point out that part of that (one-shot) money is for a program that the treasurer administers."

Willden shot back at Schwartz's assertion that Sandoval rarely speaks with other elected constitutional officers such as the treasurer, secretary of state, controller, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Schwartz used the term, "Bunker Brian" in describing Sandoval's interactions with constitutional officers.

Willden said he and members of the governor's staff met with Schwartz's staff on the ESA issue an hour or two after Schwartz made his comments on Nevada Newsmakers.

"We meet all the time with his staff, so maybe he needs to meet with his staff," Willden said, adding, "The governor is not aware of treasurer Schwartz asking for any meeting (with the governor)."

The governor's one-shot appropriations also include about $20 million for technology improvements for the controller's office and another $6.3 million for projects for the secretary of state, Willden said.

"He (Schwartz) is saying we didn't communicate with them but a whole bunch of the one-shot projects are their projects, the constitutional offices," Willden said.

Schwartz also said Sandoval should have included the Education Savings Account issue in the special session held late last year when the Legislature approved $750 million in tax money for the proposed NFL Raiders' stadium in Las Vegas.

"Our response to that was that the special session was quite simply about the stadium -- either an NFL stadium or a UNLV stadium or both -- and build out the (Las Vegas) convention center," Willden said. "That was the priority of the special session. It was simply that. That is what we wanted to focus on.

"And at the same time, the governor made it very clear to the press, to the public and to legislators that his budget would include a significant request for his appropriation for the ESA," Willden added.

Schwartz specifically had a complaints about Sandoval's $60 million appropriation for the ESA program over the two-year budget cycle. Schwarz said the $60 million was not enough and could not cover all of the parents who have already applied for the program.

If the ESA program is approved, parents who qualify can receive more than $5,000 per child to help pay for private school or parochial school costs. The money parents would receive would roughly equal the money the state would need to educate that child at a public or charter school.

"Just do the math, we've got 8,500 applications at $5,000 apiece," Schwartz said. "That is about $40 million (for a year). When you look at Gov. Sandoval's budget proposal, he is proposing $25 (million) this year and $35 million next year. So we are already underwater."

Willden disputed Schwartz's assertions.

"The treasurer's office put out a memo last week saying that out of the 8,600 applications, they have identified 370 -- that's 3-7-0 -- who have completed the application process and were ready to be funded. So there is a far difference from 370 and 8,600," Willden said.

Schwartz's office later came back and told Willden that 439 applications are now ready to fund.

"The numbers are increasing," Willden said. "When we asked the treasurer's office this morning what they think they will have in the way of fund-able cases, they said they had about 3,015."

"If you do the math on 3,015 fund-able cases at $6,000 each, depending on what they qualify for, then they would need about $16 million or $17 million a year to fund those cases," Willden said.

"So the primary information we have been able to obtain (from the treasurer's office) is that the $25 million (for the first year of the ESAs) and $35 million (for the second year) seems to be adequate," Willden said.

"But again, we continue to wait and get more information from the treasurer's office on the number of eligible cases," Willden said.