Sandoval submits 83 bills including major changes to retirement and school funding

Gov. Brian Sandoval's staff has submitted 83 budget and policy bills to implement the budget - including major changes to the retirement plan for new state workers and creation of school vouchers.

Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert said since retirement benefits for existing workers can't be modified or reduced, a new retirement program would have to be created for new hires in state service to put them on a defined contribution plan instead of the current defined benefit plan.

In order to do so, however, the state would have to find a way to deal with the unfunded liability in the existing Public Employees Retirement System, which Gansert conceded could result in a significant increase in the contribution rate split by the state and the employees.

She said the change to defined contribution would save the state a lot of money, but not immediately.

"The savings is in the long run," she said.

Another major change in the governor's budget, Senior Policy Adviser Dale Erquiaga said, is Sandoval's proposal to create school vouchers, but that too will take time because it requires a constitutional amendment. Exiting language in the Nevada constitution bars giving public money to schools operated by religious groups. Making the change will require two sessions of the Legislature and a vote of the people.

The voucher plan, he said, would be need-based with students in families closest to the poverty line getting the most money and wealthier families receiving a much smaller percentage of the per pupil guarantee.

He provided no estimate of what the voucher system would cost, saying there is no way to project that number at this time because it isn't known how many parents would move their children to private schools.

The proposed changes to education also would reduce teacher tenure protections and end the system that now means the first teachers cut during reductions are the most recent hires, allowing school districts to decide which teachers to keep based on ability rather than seniority.

Erquiaga said the budget plan, which includes consolidation or mergers of some 20 agencies as well as those major changes to public education, retirement and other state worker benefits, is "the most complex budget people can remember."


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