Commentary - May 22, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz spoke with Gov. Brian Sandoval recently at a social gathering. That in itself is newsworthy, since the two Republicans have had a frosty relationship at times.

The brief conversation gave Schwartz the impression Sandoval will go all out in the final two weeks of the 2017 Legislature to get the Education Savings Accounts passed into law.

Sandoval's zeal to push the ESAs across the finish line inspired Schwartz to use a phrase from "The Godfather" when describing things on Nevada Newsmakers last week.

Sandoval will veto the budget if it does not have funding for the ESAs, Schwartz said.

"Based on my conversation with him, which admittedly was a very short one, I think he will go to the mattresses on this," Schwartz said.

"Others disagree but I think he is committed," Schwartz said. "It is important to the Republican Party. Truthfully, it is important to the Legislature. This was a promise we made to the people of Nevada."

After Schwartz was questioned about the "mattresses' comment he said: "Yes, that is the correct metaphor. I think he will."

"Going to the mattresses" is a term associated with a mob war. It's about getting a place to sleep for the rank-and-file mobsters who will do the Don's bidding in the upcoming battle.

The quote from the movie is, "Sonny's thinkin' about going to the mattresses already."

One of the nicknames for Sandoval is "Sunny." If "Sunny" Sandoval is going to the mattresses, his staff should rent a few rooms at The Plaza.

But "Sunny" won't act like like the hothead "Sonny" and get machined gunned at the toll road, Schwartz said.

'The governor's style is not to pound the table and sound the trumpets," Schwartz said. "But it is my sense that he will veto the budget if it does not include ESAs."

Schwartz said he initiated his revealing conversation with Sandoval.

"I saw him at a social reception and I did speak to him. I went right to the man and said, 'Governor, we are behind this, what are your thoughts?' And his answer was, 'I've always been for it.' So I have the sense that the governor is going to use some political capital to get this done."

In a nutshell, the ESAs are the most controversial policy issue - along with water -- of the 2017 Legislature. And, of course, its a holdover from the 2015 session.

The ESAs, as we know, is a program where parents can get around $6,000 from the state to sent their kid to private or parochial school. It passed in 2015 when the Republicans held the majority.

Yet the Nevada Supreme Court blocked its implementation. So now the whole program is re-written and back in play. But this time, the Democrats hold the majorities in both houses and are looking for some payback after enduring the minority role in 2015.

Democrats are philosophically opposed the the ESAs, calling it the "school voucher bill." Democrats want to secure every available tax dollar for public education.

Money for the ESAs undermine the concept of a public school system, they have said. It's a program for the middle class and leaves out poor, they add.

Schwartz's case to counter Democrats is one echoed by many in the GOP.

"I've seen the arguments from the other side," Schwartz said. "And this state has spent billions and billions on education and where are we? We are 51 out of 50. We have the lowest ACT scores. And while I have the greatest respect for the teachers, we need a change. It (ESA program) is not the end game but it is a very important first step."

The 2015 legislation put the treasurer's office in charge of the program. Yet Schwartz has poor relationships with some powerful Republicans in the Legislature. They made sure the treasurer's office was eliminated in the current legislation.

When the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees closed the budgets for the treasurer’s office recently, they removed all ESA funding.

The only ESA bill left standing in the Legislature also bypasses Schwartz, placing the program in a new Office of Educational Choice, seemingly adding to the bureaucracy.

"It is a ploy," Schawrtz said about his office getting cut out of the ESAs. "Sen. (Michael) Roberson and Assemblyman (Paul) Anderson are showing they can get even with me. My concern is parental choice and getting a bill passed and that remains the case."

Specifically, about getting his funding cut by lawmakers, Schwartz said:

"What The Ways and Means Committee did was pretty much pre-ordained," Schwartz said. "We knew they were going to strip our office of the ESAs and give it to this new office. And truthfully, I am fine with that.

"I put in a lot of work, my office has put in a lot of work. Grant Hewitt, my chief of staff, has really invested a lot of time in this. I feel for them but we all agree that the mission here is to get this passed and if we can get it done, great."