Nevada legislators sent a letter to Congress and President Trump this week, asking for more federal coronavirus relief to states.
The state lawmakers are meeting in Carson City as part of a special legislative session to address a $1.2 billion dollar budget hole created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) introduced the resolution to send the letter to Washington D.C. He told fellow legislators that the state needed more cash from the federal government because Nevada is required to balance its state budget — even during a crisis.
“Raising [tax] revenue is also an option,” he said. “But I think we can all agree that a special session is a less-than-ideal setting for these deliberations.”
Watts also voiced support for the HEROES Act, which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15, but has been blocked from a vote in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Watts added that federal relief provided during the recession of 2007-2009 helped relieve state budget deficits, but CARES Act money can’t be used to make up for the significant tax revenue losses that Nevada has suffered over the past several months.
According to the IRS, CARES ACT funds can only be used to cover medical and public health expenditures caused by COVID-19 or economic support of businesses and individuals, such as unemployment claims.
The state measure — which is a non-binding plea for more federal aid — passed with broad bipartisan support.
But Steve Sebelius, politics and government editor with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, says the letter doesn’t guarantee that federal aid will be released.
“This is a Hail Mary,” he told KNPR’s State of Nevada about the legislature’s actions Tuesday. “It may in fact be that this is what they do in lieu of raising taxes.”
Sebelius also thinks lawmakers could use the resolution to help make the case for raising taxes if the federal aid doesn’t come, because they would be able to say they exhausted all other options.
Still, Nevada Assemblywoman Dr. Robin Titus (R - Wellington), who represents a rural district in Northern Nevada, spoke in favor of the state funding request.
“If our president blesses us with more funding, I hope we spend it in the most transparent and responsible manner possible,” she said.
The only dissenting voice was Republican Senator Ira Hansen of Sparks, who opposed the measure because it asks Congress to spend more money on top of the $2 trillion CARES Act.
“This is a huge mistake,” he said.
Lawmakers continue to deliberate more than $500 million in proposed cuts to education, health care and other services.
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