Lombardo lets veto pen fly as negotiations with Democrats stall
Gov. Joe Lombardo said outlawing fake electors “does nothing to ensure the security of our elections." (Photo by Trevor Bexon)
Gov. Joe Lombardo on Thursday vetoed a key budget bill and a handful of policy bills, including ones related to fake electors, summer school and rent stabilization for seniors.
Democrats and the governor’s office now have until sine die on Monday to negotiate a deal and repass the vetoed budget bill, as well as one other outstanding budget bill that has yet to clear the legislature and be sent to the governor’s office. If no compromise is reached and the budget bills fail to pass, the legislature will be forced to convene a special session before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.
Known as the Appropriations Act, Assembly Bill 520 is one of five bills that comprise the state budget. It appropriates billions of dollars from the State General Fund and State Highway Fund to the various state agencies and departments.
Lombardo in his veto letter wrote that AB 520, which passed the legislature on strict party lines, “spends more and saves less.” He criticized the Democrats for using one-time money to fund recurring programs.
“These undisciplined budgeting practices create an unacceptable level of risk for the people of Nevada,” he wrote.
Legislative Democrats were quick to fire back at Lombardo.
“Preschoolers, college students, Medicaid recipients, veterans, public safety and health care professionals, and all Nevadans deserve better than a governor who is willing to leverage their well-being for political gain,” said Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro in a statement. “We will reintroduce and pass this budget bill again before the end of the session. Instead of repeating this reckless veto charade, I sincerely hope he will realize his mistake and sign it.”
Democrats and Lombardo are butting heads on several policy priorities, including the Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship Program, colloquially known as Opportunity Scholarships. Lombardo has proposed a massive expansion of the quasi-voucher scheme, which gives companies tax breaks for helping families pay tuition at private schools. Democrats thus far in the session have held firm to the position that they do not want to further fund private schools, the vast majority of which are religious and charge more than the max scholarship amount can cover.
The program is currently funded at around $6.6 million per year. Lombardo has asked for an immediate increase to $25 million per year with additional increases, potentially up to $250 million.
Lombardo also wants to create an Office of School Choice within the Department of Education and allow cities and other local municipalities to sponsor their own charter schools. Democrats amended out those provisions from Lombardo’s omnibus education bill late Wednesday.
Beyond education, the governor has also pushed to increase the size of the Account to Stabilize the Operations of State Government, better known as the Rainy Day Fund, from 20% of operating appropriations to 30%. Lombardo mentioned this priority within his AB 520 veto message.
Also part of negotiations is Assembly Bill 521, the state’s capital improvement program. That bill passed the assembly on party lines but is currently being held on the senate floor. The bill must be passed by a two-thirds constitutional majority because it involves renewing an existing tax, and Democrats are currently one senator shy of that in the upper chamber.
Thursday didn’t bring just bad news for the budget.
Lombardo, who signed two budget bills late Wednesday, signed a third Thursday: Assembly Bill 522, which covers the state workforce. The bill will provide to state employees 10 to 12% pay raises (beginning July 1), a 4% pay increase the following fiscal year (beginning July 1, 2024), reinstated longevity pay, and quarterly retention bonuses of $250.
With many departments reporting record-high levels of employee vacancies, both Lombardo and Democrats have agreed significant additional funding is needed to help recruit and retain public employees, although they squabbled over specific funding levels.
AB 522 is one of three budget bills Lombardo has signed. The two others were signed late Wednesday. Senate Bill 503 appropriates nearly $12 billion to K-12 over the upcoming biennium, and Senate Bill 504 appropriates to various state agencies money that does not come from the state general fund or state highway fund, were both signed by the governor.
Lombardo vetoed several policy bills Thursday. They included:
Senate Bill 133, which would make creating, conspiring to create, or serving on a false slate of electors a category B felony. Fake electors would face a minimum sentence of four years in prison, with a maximum possible sentence of 10 years, and pay a fine of up to $5,000. Lombardo in his veto message said the bill “does nothing to ensure the security of our elections and merely provides disproportionately harsh penalties.”
Assembly Bill 298 established some rent stabilization provisions for seniors and Nevadans with disabilities. Lombardo in his veto message called the bill “needlessly heavy handed” and “an unreasonable restraint on standard business activity.”
Senate Bill 340, which would have required all public school districts and charter schools to offer summer school after the next two academic years.
As of late Thursday, Lombardo’s veto count stood at 13.
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