News - February 6, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Nevada Treasurer Dan Schwartz criticized Gov. Brian Sandoval for not having clear priorities in his proposed budget and for mishandling the Education Saving Accounts issue.

Schwartz, speaking during a Nevada Newsmakers interview on the opening day of the 2017 Legislature, was also critical of Sandoval for his lack of interaction with Schwartz's treasurer's office and other Nevada elected constitutional officers.

"It is not something I like," Schwartz said of Sandoval's lack on interaction. "I know the other constitutional officers, to my knowledge and I could be wrong, but he really doesn't talk to them or get along with them."

Sandoval mostly just talks to two people, Schwartz said.

"He has a couple of political consultants he speaks with but I think he is very much 'Bunker Brian," Schwartz said.

"To my knowledge, he (Sandoval) talks to a couple of political consultants, Mike Slanker and (Pete) Ernaut," Schwartz said. "He has nothing to do with the (Nevada) Republican Party. Zippo. I don't understand the guy."

Schwartz also said Sandoval's proposed general fund budget of $8.1 billion is full of one-shot "goodies" which prompted Schwartz to call Sandoval, "St. Brian of the Goodies Bag."

"Gov. Sandoval just doesn't prioritize," Schwartz said. "He doles out a little here and a little there and we just don't get the job done."

Sandoval's office did not immediately respond to an email asking for a reaction to Schwartz's comments. The story will be updated to include them when they are received.

Schwartz, a Republican who is considering a run for governor in 2018, was also critical of Sandoval and Nevada Republicans in the Legislature for not passing a bill to jump-start the Education Savings Accounts during the special session of the Legislature last year.

During the special session, lawmakers authorized $750 million in Las Vegas room taxes for the proposed Raiders stadium, as the NFL team has plans to move from Oakland to Las Vegas.

"I think he (Sandoval) has clearly erred," Schwartz said. "To me, that is one of the unfathomable questions about that special session. Why did the governor not include ESA funding on that? There seems to be a fact that very few people realize. There was a bill prepared to fund the ESAs and the governor or (Senate Minority Leader Michael) Roberson and Assemblyman (Paul) Anderson (minority leader) put it in their pockets to see what the vote on the stadium would be. They won by one vote. So the (ESA) bill kind of quietly disappears."

The ESA bill, which would give parents up to $5,100 a year to help with expenses to send their children to private or parochial schools, passed the 2015 Legislature, when the GOP has majorities in both houses. Yet the Nevada Supreme Court deemed the ESA's funding mechanism was unconstitutional. So the bill was reworked and is expected to be one of the most contentious items in the 2017 Legislature.

This session, however, Democrats control the majorities in both houses and have voiced opposition to the ESAs. Schwartz said he has not yet talked to Democratic leaders about his ESA ideas.

Sandoval has allotted $60 million to the ESA program in his two-year proposed state general-fund budget. Schwartz said that isn't enough.

"The governor and the Legislature need to increase the program," he said. "They need to increase the amount of money that is dedicated to the program."

Schwartz's treasurer's office will administer the ESA program if it is approved by the Legislature this session. He also said he expects financial-means tests for parents to become a qualification for ESA funding.

"The issues we are looking at, is the $60 million sufficient and should we have a means test?" Schwartz said. "Those are probably the two most important issues."

On the lack of funding in Sandoval's ESA proposal, Schwartz said:

"Just do the math, we've got 8,500 applications at $5,000 apiece. That is about $40 million," Schwartz said. "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."

Schwartz does not like the idea of means testing in the first year of the ESA program since it would break a promise to Nevada parents who supported the original plan, which had no financial-means testing.

"So in terms of a means test, we made a promise to all Nevada parents that we would implement this program (without one)," Schwartz said. "I don't necessarily have a problem of a means test going forward but I think we ought to keep our word to the people who have already applied."

Schwartz acknowledge that his relationships with Republicans in the state senate remain sour. Some senators were highly critical of Schwartz when Schwartz presented his "alternative budget" to a senate committee in the 2015 session. Recently. Roberson said via Twitter that the state treasurer should keep out of the ESA issue at the Legislature.

Since Schwartz "has had literally nothing to do with ESAs being passed into law, maybe he should keep his mouth shut," Roberson tweeted.

Schwartz called Roberson "a bully" and said the ill feeling between him and the state senate Republicans still exists.

"The animosity is still there," Schwartz said. "At one point, I would like to see that dissipate but the truth of the matter is that Sen. Roberson in that (special session) stadium vote, he voted to allocate $750 million dollars to build a football stadium but he could not come forward with $25 million to $50 million for the ESAs. So I'm not sure where he is coming from."