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Nevada’s budget basics
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Nevada’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2020 were $16.0 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2020 were $2.3 trillion, ranging from $4.7 billion in Wyoming to $337.7 billion in California.
Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.
Per the US Census Bureau, Nevada’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $23.4 billion in FY 2018 (the most recent year census data were available), or $7,715 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $9,801.
Nevada’s largest spending areas per capita were elementary and secondary education ($1,590) and public welfare ($1,411). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.
Nevada’s combined state and local general revenues were $25.0 billion in FY 2018, or $8,261 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $10,071. Nevada does not levy an individual income tax or corporate income tax but does have a gross receipts tax. (Census counts this revenue as either general sales tax revenue or selective sales tax revenue.) Nevada’s largest sources of per capita revenue were general sales taxes ($1,941) and federal transfers ($1,907). Nevada also collects a relatively large amount of revenue from taxes related to gambling. Census categorizes much of this revenue as amusement tax revenue. In 2018, Nevada’s per capita amusement tax revenue was $302 while the nation’s was $27.
Governor Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, was elected in 2018 with 49 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2022.
Democrats control both the Assembly (26 Democrats to 16 Republicans) and Senate (12 Democrats to 9 Republicans). Control of the governor’s mansion and each house of the legislature gives Democrats a trifecta in Nevada. All Nevada Assembly seats are on the ballot in 2022 because members serve two-year terms. Senators serve four-year terms; roughly half the senatorial seats are on the ballot in 2022, and the other half will be up for election in 2024.
Nevada’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints
Nevada uses a biennial budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget, but it can carry a deficit over into the following year. Nevada further limits both spending and revenue with a budget formula based on inflation and population growth. The rules are binding and require a legislative supermajority or vote of the people to override. A two-thirds supermajority is also required for all tax increases. The state also limits total authorized debt and debt service incurred by the state.
(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)
Nevada’s recent fiscal debates
- In 2015, then-governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, signed a “historic” tax increase he pushed through the legislature as part of his plan to increase the state’s education spending. The tax package increased the state’s payroll tax—known as the modified business tax—and created a gross receipts tax. The payroll tax increase was set to expire, but 2019 legislation extended all the tax increases. However, the 2019 bill was passed with a simple majority, and Republicans are challenging the extension in court, claiming the legislation requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass.
- Nevada voters approved legal and taxable marijuana sales in a 2016 ballot initiative. Nevada levies both a 10 percent tax on the retail price of marijuana and a 15 percent tax on the wholesale transaction between cultivators and distributors or retailers. Originally, the revenue from the 10 percent tax went to the state’s rainy-day fund while the revenue from the 15 percent tax went to education spending. But legislation passed in 2019 diverted the 10 percent tax revenue to the state’s education fund as well. Nevada collected $87 million in marijuana tax revenue in calendar year 2018.
Nevada’s current budget
Nevada enacted its FY 2020-2021 biennial budget in June 2019. Over the two-year period, the budget approved $8.9 billion in general fund spending and $27 billion in total spending. Governor Sisolak did not propose a budget adjustment in 2020. However, after the state projected a $1.2 billion budget shortfall in June 2020, the legislature convened in July to make adjustments. The resulting FY 2021 budget reduction bill included $500 million in cuts to K-12 education, health programs, and other state agencies—including furloughs and salary freezes across government agencies.
Governor Sisolak released his FY 2022-2023 biennial budget proposal and gave his State of the State address in January 2021. Over the two-year period, the governor’s budget proposes $8.7 billion in general fund spending and $27.0 billion in total spending. In the speech, Governor Sisolak said the state was “in an improved, yet still difficult position.” The state collected $418 million more in tax revenue than it anticipated in the June 2020 forecast, and thus the governor was able to recommend reversing cuts to K-12 education and Medicaid made during the summer 2020 session. However, Governor Sisolak’s proposed general fund spending was still 2 percent lower than the previous biennial budget. To balance the budget, the governor plans to draw down the state’s rainy day fund, eliminate 152 vacant state positions, and use a significant amount of federal CARES funds.
For more on Nevada’s budget, see
Nevada’s economic trends
Nevada’s per capita income (per the Bureau of Economic Analysis) was $53,635 in 2020, ranking 30th among the states. It was below both the national average of $59,729 and the Far West regional average of $68,603. The state’s median household income (five-year estimate) was $60,365 in 2019, ranking 27th among the states and below the national average of $62,843. Nevada’s poverty rate was 13.1 percent in 2019 (five-year estimate), below the national rate of 13.4 percent.
Although Nevada’s averages tell a story about the entire state, Nevada is composed of diverse localities. For example, the city of Carson City’s median household income was $55,718, and its poverty rate was 11.3 percent; the city of Henderson’s median household income was $74,147, and its poverty rate was 7.9 percent.
Nevada’s unemployment rate historically tracks the national average. However, during the Great Recession, the state’s unemployment rate rose above the national rate. (See how COVID-19 is affecting state employment and earnings data.)
Unemployment rates (like other economic indicators) often vary significantly by race and ethnicity. In Nevada, the average unemployment rate in 2020 was 11.8 percent for white residents, 18.5 percent for Black residents, and 15.2 percent for Latino residents.