News - May 25, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, and a main architect for Nevada's Education Savings Account bill, said Thursday on Nevada Newsmakers that Gov. Brian Sandoval has assured him that the 2017 Legislature won't end without funding for the ESAs.

"The governor -- not only in person but by his actions -- has assured me time and time this session that we're not getting out of this place, not getting out of Carson City until we get this done, until the ESAs are in statute and are being funded," Hammond said during an interview in his legislative office.

Sandoval is crucial to the passage of the ESAs because of his power of the veto.

Democrats can pass a general-fund budget that does not include the ESAs without any votes from Republicans.

If Sandoval vetoes that budget -- which Hammond expects he would -- Democrats would need a super majority (two-thirds) in both houses to override his veto. So with an initial Sandoval veto, the budget would most-likely need the ESAs' inclusion to get the support of Republicans to override any veto or stave off another looming veto.

"The governor is assuring (me) that we are going to be funding them," Hammond said about the ESAs. "We are not leaving until that happens.

"I think he (Sandoval) is in all the way," Hammond said.

The ESA program, if it becomes law, would give parents around $6,000 in state taxes to cover costs of sending their child to to private or parochial school. It originally passed on party lines in the 2015 Legislature when it was championed by Hammond and with the Republicans holding majority in both houses.

Yet the Nevada Supreme Court blocked its implementation on a technicality in the funding mechanism. So now the whole program is re-written and back in play. But this time, the Democrats hold the majorities in both houses.

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.

Sandoval has made no recent public comments about the ESAs, although he allocated $60 million for the program in his proposed biennium budget in January.

Last week, however, state Treasurer Dan Schwartz also said Sandoval fully supported the program, saying Sandoval "will go to the mattresses" in making sure the ESAs get funding in the final days of the Legislature. Schwartz said Sandoval would veto any budget without the ESAs.

Hammond said he's only seen "The Godfather" movie once and did not fully understand Schwartz's "mattresses" reference. But he agreed with its meaning of "going all the way" for the ESAs.

"About your previous question and 'going to the mattresses,' I believe that is exactly what you are getting from the state senate Republican caucus as well," Hammond said. "It's a determination by each one of us that we are not getting out of this place, we are not leaving Carson City without funding for the ESAs."

Hammond said the $60 million allotted in Sandoval's budget for the ESAs in the first two years is sufficient. Schwartz, whose treasurer's office had done a lot groundwork on the ESAs over the years, said there are enough applications for the ESAs to double that amount.

Hammond tried to clarify the issue.

"I'm not saying that the treasurer is misspeaking, but there is a difference between those who have applied (for the ESAs) and those who have actually gone through and finished the application process," Hammond said. "And for those who have finished the application process, the $25 million we are allocating in the first year would be more than sufficient. And then the $35 million in the second part of the biennium would be sufficient to include more (applicants).

"Obviously, we are not going to be able to get the whole 8,000 to 10,000 that have applied, but again, we are looking at those who have finished the application process," Hammond said. "And so far, we are not going to be turning away too many of those, once we get it all done. So it looks like we have enough to get the program really up and running."