CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval on Thursday vetoed a bid to raise minimum wages for the first time in his seven-year tenure.
Democratic lawmakers passed backup measures this session that would ask voters to, among other things, raise the wage floor. The earliest that question could get on ballots would be in 2020 and the earliest any initiative petitions could get a vote would be as Sandoval exits the Governor’s Mansion in 2018.
Sandoval said in a veto message that a wage hike would, at this point in time, threaten to undermine Nevada’s economic recovery.
Nevada is currently a national leader in job growth, which Sandoval attributed to a private-sector business community that has “overcome a turbulent and dramatic downturn through unrelenting persistence, innovation and optimism”
Mandating that employers pay their workers more would punish those economic drivers, especially small businesses, Sandoval said.
The measure he axed, Senate Bill 106, would have increased minimum wages to $11 an hour for workers insured through their employers and $12 an hour for those not offered health insurance.
Most employers must currently pay a minimum $7.25 an hour if they provide a health insurance option or $8.25 an hour if they do not.
The bill would have increased the minimums 75 cents annually through 2022.
Nevada’s Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II, a member of the Assembly representing Las Vegas, called the veto a crushing disappointment for people working full time, often juggling multiple jobs, but earning poverty wages.
“Nevada’s working families deserved this reasonable minimum wage increase,” McCurdy said in a written statement.
Anticipating the governor’s response, Democratic legislators passed a backup joint resolution that would ask voters to set one minimum wage. If lawmakers approve the same resolution next session, it would appear on the 2020 ballot.
Senate Joint Resolution 6 would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $14 an hour in 2026.
Initiative petitions can also be used to raise Nevada’s minimum wage, which is constitutionally tied to the cost of living and federal minimum but has not increased since 2010.
Municipalities in Nevada cannot independently raise minimum wages in their localities.
Sandoval said two weeks ago that he was considering raising the minimum wage, but he wanted the Democratic-controlled Legislature to rethink the state’s overtime laws in return.
That was a tough sell in a state with one of the most favorable overtime laws in the nation for workers — even before broader political negotiations fell apart between the two parties this session.
Currently, most employers must pay time-and-a-half to those who earn less than 150 percent of the minimum wage and work more than eight hours in a 24-hour period or 40 hours in a week.
Under current rates, it applies to anyone who earns less than $10.87 an hour with employer-backed health insurance or $12.37 an hour without.
Sandoval vetoed six other bills Thursday — for a total 33 this session — that included proposals for a partial ban on incarcerating Nevada inmates in private prisons and a mandate that at least two people crew any freight train that passes through the state.
Sandoval vetoed a measure that would have allowed local officials to mandate union-only construction workers at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
He shot down a proposal that would have attempted to cap surprise hospital bills by implementing a mediation process and mandating the resulting patient costs to be relatively low.
By forcing hospitals and doctors to accept below-market payments, the bill could result in providers fleeing the state, Sandoval said.
He vetoed a similar proposal in 2011, when he cited concerns about interfering in the hospital-insurer contracts that set in-network rates.
Democrats gave initial approval to an alternate measure , Assembly Joint Resolution 14, which aims to place a more specific but still low cap on out-of-network medical rates.