Sisolak touts ARPA housing investments, says ‘minimum wage kind of took care of itself’

Sisolak touts ARPA housing investments, says ‘minimum wage kind of took care of itself’
Sisolak said he would be “happy to consult with anything the Legislature comes up with” on the minimum wage but then added “I can tell you when I drove by In-N-Out Burger on the way up here last week, the sign said $18 to start.” (Photo: Governor’s office)

by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current

CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak Tuesday acknowledged there is nothing the state can do to address rising gas prices, touted efforts to fix the housing crisis, and said he was open to working with lawmakers on increasing the state’s minimum wage and providing more tenant protections. 

Sisolak made remarks on those and several other subjects while meeting with reporters to provide an update of priorities laid out during a state of the state speech in February.

‘…the sign said $18 to start’

After saying he wanted to look at a wage increase for state police, Sisolak said he would be “happy to consult with anything the Legislature comes up with” on the minimum wage but then added the “minimum wage kind of took care of itself.”

“I can tell you when I drove by In-N-Out Burger on the way up here last week, the sign said $18 to start,” he said. “I don’t know anyone is getting hired at minimum wage anymore unless it’s a really tip intensive position.”

When later speaking on issues faced by renters, Sisolak acknowledged that some workers still aren’t making enough.

“I’ve talked to a lot of folks, especially our lower income workers that are working at the lower wages of $10, $15 an hour,” he said. “I’ve learned that there are two or three bedroom houses with two or three families living in them. The family each gets a bedroom and then there is a communal kitchen or living room or what not and they can’t make a go of it.” 

On July 1 Nevada’s minimum wage increased to $10.50, up from $9.75, for workers not offered health coverage. Employees offered health care now make $9.50, up from $8.75. Under legislation enacted in 2019 and additional provisions supported by legislators, both wages would increase until topping out at $12 an hour in 2024.

The housing crisis

Nevada’s housing crisis, which includes a deficit in affordable units and skyrocketing rental rates, has prompted calls for more state action. 

Among his pledges in the state of the state speech, Sisolak announced the launch of the Home Means Nevada initiative to invest $500 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding  to address the state’s housing crisis, including:

$300 million for developing multifamily units;$130 million to preserve existing affordable housing to prevent units from converting to market rates;$30 million to increase homeownership;$40 million for land acquisition. 

In April, lawmakers authorized the first half of that $500 million  to go to the Nevada Housing Division, which is reviewing potential housing projects that could receive allocations. 

Bailey Bortolin, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, said the Nevada Housing Division received 234 pre-applications, which were reviewed to make sure submissions met the criteria. Of those, 180 moved forward to the formal application process and are currently under review.

“We expect to have a deadline of mid-August for that so we will be able to start making awards with those dollars in September,” she said. “The second half of that $500 million investment we will request from the October IFC. You’ll see the other $250 million transferred to the Housing Division in the fall.” 

Nevada lawmakers have been meeting during the interim legislative session to discuss further protections for tenants, including reforms of the summary eviction process, which requires tenants make the first court filing. 

It’s the stupid economy

Sisolak, who faces Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in the general election, made clear Tuesday that he knows the issues on the top of people’s minds are the high costs of goods due to inflation, and gas prices, which have slowly decreased in Nevada and across the nation after quickly rising for much of the year. 

“There is nothing I can do as governor as it relates to fuel prices or groceries,” Sisolak said. “People ask me that question all the time, but unfortunately there is nothing we can do.”

Instead, he added, the state has looked at investing ARPA dollars to attempt to lower the cost of child care or provide universal free school lunch.

In the last six months, the state has invested $50 million into the “Nevada Child Care Fund” to expand eligibility for child care assistance, $75 million to provide universal free school meals in public schools and devoted $500 million to invest in broadband infrastructure, all made available from ARPA funding passed by Democrats in Congress last year. 

There are growing fears among lawmakers and economists on whether the country could go into a recession in the near future. 

Sisoslak said “economists are on the opposite side of this on whether we’re going to go into a recession or not” but the state is in a good position to deal with a potential recession.

“The economy is coming back very very strong,” he said. “We are at pre-pandemic levels when it comes to the economy. We have a budget surplus going into the next session. It’s yet to be seen how big that budget surplus will be.” 

Putting out the fires

On subjects other than the economy,  Sisolak noted Nevadans are experiencing severe problems and threats due to the climate crisis. He said a commission to address extreme heat, which will be compiling potential climate mitigation policy initiatives in the coming weeks. 

He anticipates the 2023 legislative session will address ways to reduce water consumption, deal with extreme heat and respond to the growing number of wildfires.

Sisolak also implored the Legislature to fix the low wages of incarcerated individuals who fight wildfires saying “we need to pay them more.”

“They put their lives in danger, and then when they are out once they are released they can no longer fight fires because they have a felony and it disqualifies them from getting an application,” he said. “Even when they are trained and fought side by side, suddenly when they are released they can’t fight fires anymore.”  

State Sen. Dina Neal proposed a bill during the 2021 legislative session to secure the minimum wage for people who working while incarcerated, but the bill failed to get a vote after it received a fiscal note from the Nevada Department of Corrections indicating the prison system couldn’t afford it.

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