CARSON CITY, Nevada — Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget for the next biennium will focus on policy initiatives and addressing needs neglected during the recession, administration officials said Thursday.
"We're not going to ask you to slash your budgets," state Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp told a packed room of state agency representatives.
Unlike past years when the recession gutted state coffers and agency heads were told to cut, the state's economy is on the upswing, albeit slowly, Mohlenkamp said.
The administration credited the return of the housing sector, improving tax revenues and general economic improvements.
Gerald Gardner, Sandoval's chief of staff, echoed Mohlenkamp's sentiment.
"There have been exceptional challenges," he said, adding that Nevada is "in better shape" as it begins plotting its fiscal course that will be presented to the 2015 Legislature.
Janet Rogers, the administration's chief economist, said Nevada is "clearly in recovery."
"We're out of the woods," she said, but stressed the state's economy is not growing as quickly as it once did.
"We are growing, we're not going negative, but we have a ways to go," she said.
"Slow and steady beats boom and bust."
But while Nevada is in better shape than it was two years ago, it lags other states that recovered from the recession much more quickly and now have budget surpluses or hefty rainy day funds.
"We are not one of those states," Mohlenkamp said. Nevada has $28 million in emergency funds.
He identified restoring employee pay, information technology upgrades and building maintenance as needs that need to be addressed.
"We have been just trying to keep the door open and the systems running," he said.
Another underlying issue — roughly $620 million in taxes that were supposed to expire in 2011 but were twice extended by Sandoval to balance the budget.
State agencies won't be told to cap their funding requests but were urged to prioritize and be fiscally prudent.
"We're asking you to be realistic," Mohlenkamp said. Agencies should "not create a huge wish list of things that can't be funded."
"We are not rolling in money in this state," he said.