Remarks by Governor Kenny Guinn to the 71st Session of the Nevada Legislature
January 22, 2001
Mr. Speaker; Madame Lieutenant Governor; members of the Senate and Assembly; honorable Justices of the Supreme Court; distinguished guests; and my fellow Nevadans: Good evening.
I am proud to say that the state of our state is strong. It is strong despite unique and unprecedented challenges.
Our economy is healthy and prosperous. More Nevadans are at work than ever before, and our personal income growth is well above the national average.
Nevada's welfare rolls have declined by 60 percent in the past six years. Nevadans have gone back to work in record numbers, earning the state a federal financial award, for the second year, as one of the top ten states in the nation for welfare reform.
Indeed, Nevada has much to be proud of.
For a decade, we have led the nation in growth. As a result of this tremendous growth, we will be given a third seat to amplify our voice and enhance our position in Congress. We have communities made stronger by diversity and new ideas.
But growth also brings its share of challenges. Nevada's school enrollment is increasing at three times the national average, we lead the nation in growth with our senior citizen population, our transportation system must constantly improve to avoid gridlock, and our health care system is strained by the ever-increasing demands placed upon it.
Two years ago, I stood before you in this chamber and declared that we would have to cut funding for many programs even though the state's revenues were growing.
Social services, education, and prisons had steadily consumed our revenues until every other facet of our state suffered and sacrificed to pay for this growth.
I knew that without change, we would soon reach a point where the needs of an exploding population would outstrip the growth in revenue.
We had to change the way Nevada did business . . . And change we did.
I directed the most comprehensive review of Nevada state government in our history, and we identified numerous ways we could cut costs and become more efficient and responsive in delivering services to our citizens.
Through those efforts we have saved millions of dollars of taxpayer money, and we didn't stop there.
I formed an Internal Audit Division for the Executive Branch -- to identify potential problems in state government before, rather than after, they occur. This agency has also identified hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings for the state.
We were the first state in the country to privatize our state's worker's compensation program, removing over a thousand positions from the state payroll and a $2.2 billion liability from the state's ledger. And in the future, we will save over $3 million dollars more, every year, by self-insuring.
We maintained a hiring freeze for the past two years, streamlining government and leaving more than 1,500 positions unfilled or eliminated.
We also reformed our state's group health insurance plan, for thousands of employees, so that it is once again healthy and solvent.
We've fixed a long-running problem with NOMADS, the state's welfare computer system, which will save us millions of dollars in federal penalties. In fact, the Federal Government has indicated that it will return $3.6 million to the state as early as this legislative session.
And we removed the barriers to higher education for all our children when we enacted the Millennium Scholarship.
Tonight we have six Millennium Scholars with us, one from each university and community college in the state. I invite them to stand. These are just six of 4,200 high achieving young Nevadans who have taken advantage of this historic opportunity. We wish all of you a successful academic and professional career right here in Nevada.
The Millennium Scholarship program serves as a reminder of what determination, creativity, and cooperation can produce.
I look out here this evening and see the faces of many friends, hardworking legislators and true Nevada leaders. We are fortunate to have the steady leadership of Bill Raggio, Joe Dini, Dina Titus, Lynn Hettrick, and Nevada's newest Speaker, Richard Perkins.
Certainly we have disagreed on some issues, and differed in our solutions to some of the problems that face our state. But we have always agreed on the importance of seeking those solutions together.
I welcome your continued cooperation, your friendship, and your advice . . . sometimes.
I appreciate your hard work and tremendous sacrifices, and Nevada owes each of you a great debt of gratitude.
Sadly, one of our hardest working lawmakers is not with us tonight . . . our friend and colleague, Assemblywoman Jan Evans. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge her commitment and her friendship . . .
In this quiet moment when we think about the future, we ponder many of the same things that Jan did . . . providing for our families, educating our children, protecting our homes, and caring for our seniors.
And although the state of Nevada is strong and vibrant today, the challenges ahead will test our resolve and our commitment to work together for tomorrow.
Aggressive competition from tribal gaming and the prospect of punitive federal regulation endanger our travel and tourism industry. Far-reaching public land regulations jeopardize other important industries such as mining and agriculture. Skyrocketing energy prices threaten us all.
During this past year, I have made no secret of my belief that Nevada must explore new revenue streams and establish a broader economic base, so that we can provide a good education to our children, adequate health care to our families and seniors, and safety for all our citizens.
As a result, many speculated that I would be forced to raise taxes. Indeed, the state's expenditure and long-range revenue projections show that, without changes, Nevada will face a tremendous shortfall within eight years.
I believe, however, that with the potential slowing of the national economy, now is not a time for new taxes, and my budget does not contain a single tax increase. Now is a time for moderation and restraint.
I have long believed that state government cannot and should not be all things to all people. There are some things, however, that only the state can do -- educate our children, care for our seniors, and protect the disadvantaged.
Tonight, I am pleased that I do not come to you with a budget full of painful reductions as I did two years ago. Instead, we are in a position to consider new programs, as well as live up to many of our responsibilities to our state employees, university professors, teachers, and school support staff.
Tonight we will fulfill the responsibilities that have to be met for the good of all Nevadans . . . our children, the disabled, and senior citizens. This is our obligation.
Our past budgetary discipline and restructuring of our financial resources has afforded us this opportunity -- to fund programs that have been too long neglected.
Let me share with you my vision.
Since we last met, we've heard a great deal of discussion about our state's commitment to education. Some say we aren't doing enough, and I agree.
But the solution is not as simple as raising taxes, as some have proposed, and earmarking the proceeds strictly for the purposes of education without consideration of other programs in need of revenue.
I was taught by my father, who could not read, that reading is the basis of all education. I learned this painful lesson as I watched him suffer through those simple tasks that all of us who can read take for granted. His inability to read affected every aspect of his life, and mine.
As many of you know, twenty-five years ago I was superintendent of Clark County schools. I am proud of many of the programs we implemented. However, I always considered my greatest accomplishment to be the placement of a reading specialist in every elementary school.
Before it was popular to talk about getting back to the basics, these reading teachers knew that there was nothing more basic or important than the ability to read. We saw tremendous results with the program, and in fact, the reading improvement teachers are still in our schools today.
Tonight, I am going back to the basics just as I did when I was Superintendent. I am establishing a new statewide goal -- that all Nevada children be able to read by the end of the third grade.
To start us toward this goal, I am allocating $10 million for a teacher-training program that focuses on reading techniques that have proven successful in early grades.
Last session, we created four regional centers for teacher training. These centers also focused on reading. This year, I propose to increase funding for these centers by $4 million, for additional training in reading instruction.
But it doesn't stop there.
I will also allocate $20 million to education technology and the purchase of new textbooks for our schools. After all, Nevada students can't be expected to achieve more and work harder when they can't even take their schoolbooks home.
I am also allocating another $8 million for early childhood education and a $7 million increase for remediation in under-performing schools.
Finally, my budget includes another $20 million to maintain class-size ratios at the first, second, and third grade.
With your help, our children will be better prepared, focused on the basics, and will achieve more.
We owe this to our children. We owe this to our future.
You will find this evening that my education agenda centers on the basics: textbooks, teacher training, and reading. But we must go further than that. We must also address our growing teacher shortage.
Tonight, I am pleased to endorse a project that addresses this shortage -- the proposed state college in Henderson. This new institution will enable us to train more teachers than ever before.
Therefore, this budget includes $16 million for capital construction, $1 million in start-up costs, and another $5.8 million to fund the first year's enrollment.
Because building a new college takes vision, patience, and financial resources.
With your support, the state college in Henderson will become a reality and go a long way toward ending the teacher shortage in Nevada and creating an institution of learning that produces Nevada teachers for Nevada children.
Make no mistake about it: Next to parents and families, our teachers are the most important influence in our children's lives.
Over the past five years, we have raised the academic bar for our children. In doing so, we have also raised the bar for our teachers. We've demanded accountability, as we should, but we haven't given them the tools they need to perform at the level we demand -- the training, the technology, and the textbooks.
In Nevada, we haven't made a sufficient commitment to teachers for a livable salary that matches the vital role they play in our society. As a result, we are losing an unacceptable number of teachers to other states and other professions.
And so, in addition to the money allocated for more training, new textbooks, and technology, I am asking the Nevada Legislature to provide a cash bonus to all Nevada teachers and school support staff that is equal to five percent of their annual salary. My budget includes a one-time allocation of $58 million to meet Nevada's commitment to our teachers.
For a teacher making $40,000 a year, this will amount to $2,000 -- a small way of saying thank you for having met every challenge we've given them, often without additional resources and, in some cases, even having to pay for supplies out of their own pockets.
These are the planks of my education plan for the coming year: a firm commitment for long overdue resources for our teachers; a basic but bold reading program; and the creation of a new college.
In total, my general fund budget includes an increase of $98 million for K-12 education and $134 million for higher education. In addition, we are allocating over $75 million of our one-shot funding to K-12 education. Altogether, this represents a 13 percent increase over last biennium, and the largest allocation for education in our state's history.
As a former teacher, superintendent, and University President -- and now as your Governor -- my first priority will always be to our children and their education.
There is another group of dedicated public employees who deserve recognition this evening -- the loyal employees who work hard to serve the state's citizens and who are often the best guardians of taxpayer dollars -- Nevada's state workers.
Two years ago, I challenged state employees to find new and innovative ways to save money, and make the state more efficient. They responded, and for that, I say thank you.
I'd like to ask George Simecek to stand. George is a plumber at UNR who has been with the state since 1978. George identified a retrofitting need on the campus, and he recently completed the project -- providing the state with a one-time savings of $310,000 plus additional, ongoing maintenance costs if those repairs hadn't been made.
George is not the only employee who has used his knowledge, experience, and dedication to save our state money. There are many more, whose efforts will never be known by the general public. These are good people, whose talents we simply cannot afford to lose.
Over the past decade, state employees have gone without adequate pay increases. The result has been escalating turnover in almost every department. As a result, we have a steady stream of good state workers leaving for more lucrative jobs with cities, counties, and the private sector.
We lose their valuable experience and their abilities, and then we spend more money recruiting and training their replacements. And the costly cycle continues.
We can't afford to lose these employees.
For example, the dramatic turnaround at DMV was prompted by employees who created new programs such as Internet registration. They also worked long hours to improve service and reduce waiting lines to less than an hour.
Tonight I am proposing a responsible cost of living allowance for our state workers -- an eight percent increase over the biennium. I no longer want them to choose between serving the state or protecting their families' financial future.
State employment is a privilege, but it should not be a sacrifice.
It is not enough to invest in our employees, however. We must invest in the health and welfare of all our people, all Nevadans.
As your Governor, I believe we must measure success by how we are able to care for the most fragile of our citizens -- our children, our elderly, and those who are disabled. We cannot afford to do everything, but there are some things we can't afford not to do.
Therefore, I am proposing to double the funding that helps physically disabled Nevadans stay in their homes, with their families. In addition, my proposed increases in services to the developmentally disabled will eliminate all waiting lists for community-based services for these citizens.
Furthermore, I am urging the creation of the Office of Disability Resources, which will combine several existing services in one location. The office will create a long-range plan to better provide services to individuals of all ages with disabilities.
Finally, we will use federal grant money to develop policies and infrastructure that will allow the disabled to go to work without risking the loss of Medicaid or Medicare health coverage.
With the fastest growing senior population in the nation, Nevada must plan ahead. Therefore, I am requesting funding to study alternative living support, long-term care, and other programs to address our seniors' needs effectively and efficiently into the future.
But for those seniors who need our help today, I propose to increase Medicaid waivers by 40 percent to allow seniors to live in their communities and homes rather than hospitals.
I'm also asking the Legislature to approve $6 million for cervical and breast cancer coverage for uninsured women . . . and $10 million to eliminate the assets test for Medicaid Child Health Assurance and streamline Medicaid benefits for pregnant women.
It's simple: We have been behind in these crucial health services for too long.
My budget also includes a substantial increase in funding for Nevada CheckUp, our health insurance program for children of low-income families. Our outreach efforts in the past two years have been extremely successful, and we now expect to enroll 24,000 children by the end of the next biennium.
In addition, I'm establishing a $5 million fund to help working, uninsured families obtain basic health care coverage. Because access to affordable health care is crucial to all Nevada families.
This budget is one that works to support our Nevada families. Because we must encourage programs that keep our families together and healthy.
But in many cases, a child is removed from his or her natural family. It is a traumatic experience with far reaching consequences to the health and welfare of that child. In Nevada, the situation is made even more difficult because the child welfare system is confusing and bogged down in bureaucracy between the state and the counties.
Overall, my budget includes $86 million to support improvement of our statewide child welfare programs and to provide services at the local level, where it should be.
Because I believe the best service to the child is the service closest to the child. Children who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment must not also be victims of bureaucracy. They deserve our devoted attention . . . not our divided attention.
Finally, with the Legislature's help, I will expand Senior Rx, a program that addresses one of the most compelling needs faced by Nevada's senior citizens -- prescription drug coverage.
Two years ago, the Nevada Legislature voted unanimously to provide a subsidized prescription drug insurance plan for the state's neediest seniors. Senior Rx was enacted while others argued about the issue. While Congress bickered, we acted.
I am proud to say that as of this month, we have received 1,400 applications for Senior Rx. Some of those who are already enrolled in the program are with us tonight. I'd like to ask them to stand. Please join me in giving them a warm welcome.
Some seniors will save hundreds of dollars a month. For others, this program isn't about savings -- it's about the difference between receiving your needed medicine or doing without.
Senior Rx is working, and we must expand it. It is time to offer these life-saving benefits to more Nevadans in need.
Another challenge that faces Nevada's senior citizens and, in fact, all of us, is the soaring cost of energy.
Electric utility restructuring in California is, in the words of Governor Gray Davis, "a Acolossal and dangerous failure." Electricity rates have risen more than 300 percent, and in some areas, there have been power shortages and blackouts.
We must learn from the mistakes in California, so that we never repeat them here.
In 1997 and again in 1999, our Legislature approved deregulation for Nevada. Last session, however, the Legislature recognized that there were problems on the horizon, and they gave me the authority to delay it.
Twice I have looked at the situation, twice considered the consequences, and twice said "no" to implementing deregulation.
Last October, I appointed a 17-member, bi-partisan committee to examine the state's energy situation. This group recently issued its recommendations and findings, which clearly indicate that there are serious problems with deregulation in Nevada.
Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing those recommendations and any new proposals from the Legislature. But let me be very clear: I cannot and will not support deregulation until I am assured that power supplies are secure and those who would be hardest hit by rate increases are protected.
Even without deregulation, consumer energy bills will continue to rise because of short supply, increased demand, and high prices for natural gas and oil. This situation will impact all of us to some degree, but for those Nevadans who live on low or fixed incomes, it will be catastrophic.
So tonight, I'm proposing a $5 million fund to help those who will be hit hardest by rising energy costs. This emergency energy assistance fund will create a safety net for low-income Nevadans, so they can afford to pay utility bills without undue hardship.
We've covered a lot of issues tonight -- education, health care, and senior services. But there's one issue that looms over all of them.
I'm talking about the single greatest threat to the health and safety of the people of this state -- the prospect of Nevada becoming the nation's nuclear waste dumping ground.
It's an issue that unites Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, urban and rural counties, and all of us who care about the future of Nevada. We've fought this battle together, for many years and on many fronts. Yet the nuclear power industry is as determined as ever to target our state.
Tonight, I am announcing that we will match that determination with an unprecedented dedication of funds. For the first time in our long fight against nuclear waste, we will dedicate $5 million to fight the Department of Energy and those in Congress who are determined to make Nevada the nation's nuclear waste dump.
I will also ask each city and county, as well as the private sector, to contribute to this vital endeavor. Although much has been done individually throughout our state by citizens and communities, I believe we will only succeed by uniting our efforts.
We can no longer be dependent upon federal dollars -- dollars that can be taken away from us when we don't play by the nuclear industry's rules.
With this $5 million, we will launch a media campaign to rally our neighboring states, because the transportation of nuclear waste is a danger to everyone. We will continue to pursue all legal avenues. We will expose the unprincipled tactics used by the industry in their attempt to force us to accept this deadly waste.
And we will join with our neighbor state, Utah, in a coordinated stand against nuclear waste transportation. I have asked Utah's governor, Mike Leavitt, to join me in fighting to leave nuclear waste where it was created. He agreed, and he has already included more than one million dollars in his budget to join us in this on-going battle.
We will leave no fight abandoned, and we will prevail.
As we all know, the nation has just emerged from an unforgettable campaign season that represented both the best and the worst of politics. One lesson we've learned is that we must work together, in a bi-partisan spirit, to accomplish the public's business and to maintain the public's trust.
I do not agree with those who contend that we are a nation and a state that stands divided. While we disagree on some of the solutions to the many challenges we face, we certainly agree on what those challenges are and how important it is that we find those solutions together.
We have a vibrant and beautiful state that in many ways is the envy of our neighbors. We enjoy an independent lifestyle, moderate taxes, a bustling business sector, abundant wide-open spaces, and opportunities limited only by the depth of our ingenuity.
As your Governor, nothing is more important to me than protecting our way of life, expanding our opportunities, and meeting our obligations.
And after two years, Dema and I remain honored that I was elected to this office. I am proud to be your Governor, and Dema is proud to be called the First Lady.
In 137 years, Nevada has changed a great deal. But I also marvel at how much the state has stayed the same, and how much our new citizens, who come to us from every state in the nation, are much like Nevadans of old.
One of our state's most accomplished writers, Robert Laxalt, compared the spirit of Nevadans to the state flower, the sagebrush, when he said: "They are hardy and resilient, stubborn and independent, restrained by environment, and yet able to grow free."
So tonight we come to you with a firm resolve to protect Nevada's needs. A resolve to create an historic fund to fight deadly nuclear waste. A resolve to achieve financial stability in an unpredictable economy without new taxes. A resolve to pay our state employees a livable wage.
A resolve to protect our citizens from escalating energy costs. A resolve to provide adequate health care and peace of mind to our Nevada seniors . . . and a resolve to put more money into education than ever before in this state's history, so that in time our students and teachers can compete with any in the nation.
I'm confident that these great goals will be reached together, as one people, step by step, always moving forward, always gaining ground.
Thank you, and good evening.