Archive for November, 2009

Nevada Assembly Minority Leader Supporting Sandoval in GOP Governor Primary

By Sean Whaley | 4:25 pm November 30th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Nevada Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said today she is supporting Brian Sandoval in the 2010 GOP primary race for governor.

Gansert made her comments during an interview on Nevada NewsMakers.

Gansert said Sandoval, who stepped down as a U.S. district judge to enter the primary against Gov. Jim Gibbons and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon, will help the Republican Party attract support from a broader base of voters.

Some members of the Republican Party will continue to support Gibbons because of his no new taxes pledge, Gansert said.

“But again, our tent needs to be bigger,” she said. “I think that Brian Sandoval really could help motivate people to come to the polls on behalf of Republicans in a future election.”

Gansert said she believes there would be an advantage for a Republican candidate in the general election who appeals to the masses, not just to far right conservatives.

“I think there are many Republicans who are looking for a new type of leadership, someone who is a consensus builder, someone who will reach out for solutions, someone who is not going to stand on just one pledge,” she said. “And I think that we have that in Brian Sandoval.”

Gibbons Criticizes Legislature for Inaction on Unemployment Benefits, Lawmakers Say Gibbons “Disingenuous”

By Sean Whaley | 2:52 pm November 30th, 2009
(Updated at 4:38 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2009.)

CARSON CITY – Because of what he called callous disregard by the Legislature, Gov. Jim Gibbons today announced he is working with his staff to craft emergency regulations to ensure the continuation of unemployment benefits to Nevadans next year.

Last week, the Nevada Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Review Regulations refused to approve new regulations regarding the unemployment insurance taxes paid by Nevada businesses, Gibbons said. Because of this inaction, the federal government could cut off funding for unemployment benefits for nearly 120,000 Nevadans beginning January 1, 2010.

In response, Assemblyman and subcommittee Chairman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, said Gibbons was in error in suggesting the panel failed to act or that unemployment benefits were at all jeopardized.

The panel told the unemployment division to approve emergency regulations on unemployment benefits to ensure payments were not interrupted, to hold full public hearings on the proposed regulations as the department is required by law to do, and then to bring the regulations back to the subcommittee for final approval after public input had been received, he said.

Gibbons said the Nevada Employment Security Division had requested a pre-approval hearing last week so members of the Legislature could approve regulations to ensure unemployment benefits would continue to Nevada’s needy families without risk of interruption.

“I am stunned that the Legislature would show such callous disregard for Nevada families,” Gibbons said. “I plan to endorse the emergency regulations that will save the people of this state who are relying on these unemployment benefits during this difficult economic time.

“Legislators should be ashamed of themselves for their inaction on this matter,” he said. “They held a hearing and their approval of this matter should have been routine, but they are simply out of touch with the misery that some of our Nevada families are dealing with every day. I believe they are playing just politics with the pain and suffering of Nevada citizens.”

Unemployment insurance rates were set by Nevada’s Employment Security Advisory Council in October, and should have been routinely approved by the Legislature last week, Gibbons said. Instead, the legislative panel took no action, recommending instead that emergency regulations be adopted.

Assemblywoman and panel member Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said if the request had been approved, the regulations would have been put into effect before the public had a chance to comment on them.

“They had plenty of time to do this,” she said. “There is no reason to put the regs into place without the public process.”

Kirkpatrick said she was concerned that if valid issues were raised during a public hearing, there would be no way to address them. That is why the emergency regulation process was recommended instead, she said.

Emergency regulations last for 120 days. If the panel had given pre-approval and a concern was identified at the public hearing, no changes could be made until the next legislative session, Kirkpatrick said.

Cindy Jones, administrator of the Employment Security Division, said the pre-approval request was simply a timing issue and that she wanted to be “safe rather than sorry.”

The agency has a public hearing on the regulations scheduled for Dec. 7, and they have to be approved by the Legislature no later than Dec. 22, she said.

Since there was no meeting of the panel or the Legislative Commission after the public hearing date to give final approval to the regulations, there was a concern about whether they could take effect in time to ensure continued federal support of the state’s unemployment insurance program into 2010, Jones said.

The agency will have its hearing as scheduled and then seek approval from Gibbons for the emergency regulations, she said. The emergency regulations will be adequate to ensure the continuation of benefits for out-of-work Nevadans, Jones said.

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, who chairs the Legislative Commission, said the bottom line is the administrative agency failed to do its job in a timely manner, and the subcommittee took steps to ensure the public has a voice in final regulations.

“For the governor to suggest the subcommittee failed to take action, when the subcommittee’s legislative record clearly shows that is not the case, is totally disingenuous,” he said.

Ensign Says He Will Complete His U.S. Senate Term

By Sean Whaley | 10:46 am November 30th, 2009

U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., today reiterated his intention of completing his term of office despite having acknowledged earlier this year that he had an extramarital affair.

Ensign gave an exclusive interview to Alan Stock of KXNT News Radio 840 in Las Vegas.

In the one-hour interview, Ensign also said he followed Senate ethics rules and applicable laws in assisting his former senior aide Doug Hampton in getting another job. Ensign had his affair with Hampton’s wife, Cynthia Hampton, who was the treasurer of Ensign’s political action committee.

Ensign admitted the affair in June, saying it occurred in 2008. There have been some calls for Ensign to resign for his admission and because of concerns he can’t be effective because of the incident.

But Ensign, who is up for reelection in 2012, said he will serve out his term.

Ensign said he campaigned on conservative principles and fiscal responsibility, and that he has upheld those principles while in office. While constituents have expressed disappointment by his personal conduct, Ensign said they also want him to speak up more on the issues, particularly the health care bill under consideration in Congress.

Ensign also said a resignation would create a second Senate race in 2010, diluting Republican resources which could favor Democrats.

Ensign again expressed disappointment in himself for engaging in the affair.

“As I said back in June it is the worst thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It was a huge mistake. It was a terrible thing and there is no way I can justify it. There was a lot of pain I caused to a lot of people.”

Ensign said he does not believe he is a distraction for the GOP because a number of candidates have asked him to be involved in their political campaigns in the 2010 election cycle, although he did not identify any by name.

“It isn’t about me, it is about the principles of freedom, it’s about the principles of fiscal responsibility, it is about the principles, really, that are enshrined in our Constitution that I believe in,” he said.

Asked if he regrets his involvement with the Promise Keepers because of his conduct, Ensign said no. Promise Keepers is a Christian men’s fellowship.

Ensign said that just because he has not met the standards of Promise Keepers does not mean the standards are wrong.

“I still believe in fidelity in marriage,” he said. “I violated that. My wife and I have worked out, since this time we‘re actually doing better than we‘ve ever done before.”

The key is to learn from your mistakes, Ensign said.

Most of the interview was on issues facing Congress, as requested in a poll of Stock’s listeners.

As to the Senate health care bill, Ensign said he will speak out during the debate and seek amendments to make it better, calling it “a terrible piece of legislation.” As it is, Ensign called it a “massive takeover of our healthcare system by the government.”

He rejected any claim by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that the plan will reduce medical costs, saying the government has never run a program more cheaply or efficiently than the private sector.

Ensign said he wants to focus on changes that actually will lower health care premiums, such as discounts for people who engage in healthy behavior.

He also said all options should be on the table, including the military option, to deal with Iran and its work on producing nuclear weapons.

“The world cannot afford to have Iran get nuclear weapons,” he said.

Criticized by one caller for voting for big government as a GOP, Ensign said he believes his vote for the first round of private sector bailouts last year was one of the worst votes he ever made. Ensign consistently voted against other bailout and stimulus measures that passed Congress.

State Treasurer Completes Bond Refinancing That Will Bring $850,000 to General Fund

By Sean Whaley | 8:05 am November 25th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Nevada Treasurer Kate Marshall has generated some good financial news for the state by completing a bond sale refinancing that will bring in just over $850,000 to the beleaguered general fund this biennium.

The refinancing was for bonds originally sold in 1999 to build the Summit View Youth Correctional Center in Las Vegas which houses high-risk juvenile offenders.

“Today’s sale is essentially refinancing the mortgage on this project at a lower interest rate, which will result in a savings to the general fund of more than $850,000 over the
2010-2011 biennium at a time when state government is looking for every dollar possible,” Marshall said.

“In our opinion, it was a wise financial move to conduct this sale during the present economic conditions facing the state, with the net result being upfront savings that will help fill present budget gaps,” she added.

Marshall’s office also recently completed the successful sale of five series of general obligation bonds totaling $130.9 million.

The average interest rate was 3.69 percent, one of the lowest interest rates the state has received and significantly lower than the 4.3 percent sale of similar bonds in July 2008. The lower rate means lower borrowing costs to the state. The sale was managed by Barclays Capital and Merrill Lynch.

Of that total, $68 million were Build America Bonds, which will result in a savings to the state of approximately $4.6 million over the term of the bonds as compared to tax-exempt financing. As part of the Build American Bonds program, the state receives a 35 percent interest subsidy from the federal government.

“So if people say to you, what is the stimulus doing for me today, today it saved you $4.6 million on the life of these programs,” Marshall said. “People need to realize these things.”

The money will be used to stimulate Nevada’s economy and create jobs. Of the $130.9 million total, $75 million will be spent on capital improvement projects. Another $3 million will be spent on the state Cultural Affairs Grant Program. There is also $13 million for Lake Tahoe improvement projects and $13 million for state park and wildlife projects. The remainder was another refinancing at a lower interest rate.

Evan Dale, deputy manager over fiscal for the state Public Works Board, said some of the 54 projects receiving funds from the bond sale include a medical education learning lab at the University of Nevada, Reno totaling $20 million; a new readiness center in Southern Nevada, $1.3 million; exhibits for the Las Vegas Springs Preserve Museum, $5 million; and the Southern Nevada Veterans Cemetery in Boulder City, $780,000.

The projects are designed and constructed by private companies generating jobs for Nevada residents, he said.

“Construction and infrastructure are pretty good stimulus expenditures,” Dale said.

The projects were all authorized by the Legislature.

Marshall said another reason for the low interest rate in the bond sale was because the state has been able to successfully maintain its strong credit rating.

Following a review of the state’s financial stability by the three rating agencies last month, Nevada maintained its high AA credit rating, she said.

Former Nevada Congresswoman Talks Bluntly About Nevada Politics

By Sean Whaley | 5:08 pm November 24th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Former Rep. Barbara Vucanovich offered some blunt assessments of Nevada’s political landscape today, praising Gov. Jim Gibbons for his stand against taxes in the 2009 legislative session and suggesting that it will be tough for any Republican to beat U.S. Sen. Harry Reid next year.

Vucanovich, who served as a Republican in Nevada’s Congressional District 2 from 1982 to 1996, was interviewed on Nevada NewsMakers.

Of Gibbons, she said: “Nobody’s perfect but I’m certainly not going to help anybody who is running against him.”

Vucanovich called GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval a very fine man, but that when he called her recently to talk about the race, “I told him where I was.”

Of Gibbons, Vucanovich said: “I think he stood up for what he believed and he took some beatings but I think he did what was right.”

As to the U.S. Senate race, Vucanovich said she may be in the minority but noted that Reid has used his position to benefit Nevada. Vucanovich said she disagrees with Reid on many issues.

“But I think that there are some prominent Republicans who are supporting him, . . . they say it’s business, that he is strong enough to help them and that’s what they are going to do.”

When asked if any of the Republican candidates vying to challenge Reid “strikes your fancy,” she replied: “Not really.”

Vucanovich said she does not believe John Chachas, a Wall Street banker originally from Ely who is in the Republican race for Senate, will be a viable candidate.

“No, I don’t think he has a chance,” she said.

The carpet bagger label will be applied to him, Vucanovich said.

For all Republicans in the race, she said: “I think it’s an uphill climb.”

Reid’s war chest is formidable, but there are other issues as well, such as candidate Sue Lowden’s handling of the Republican convention last year, she said.

Lowden has been attacked by conservative Republicans who say as state chairwoman she cheated supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul out of their place at the Republican National Convention.

Vucanovich also criticized U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev, who earlier this year admitted having an extramarital affair.

“Go back and start over,” she said. “I’m very, very disappointed.”

Ensign will face a tough reelection campaign in 2012 if he remains in the Senate, Vucanovich said.

In the interview Vucanovich took aim at Democrats as well. Of President Obama’s performance, she said: “I think he’s been a disaster.”

Poll Shows Sandoval Benefiting in Three-Way Race for Governor

By Sean Whaley | 9:32 am November 23rd, 2009

(Updated at 2:14 p.m. on Nov. 23.)

CARSON CITY – If Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman runs as an independent candidate for governor, he would pull more support from Democrat Rory Reid than Republican Brian Sandoval in a three-way match up, a Nevada News Bureau poll shows.

The automated poll of active voters conducted Friday and Saturday generated 3,080 responses, with 35 percent supporting Sandoval, 28 percent supporting Goodman, 21 percent supporting Reid and 16 percent preferring some other candidate.

Goodman has not decided yet whether to run for governor, and if so, as a Democrat or independent.

The poll shows Sandoval received 76 percent of his support from Republicans, 15 percent from Democrats and the remainder from other parties and nonpartisan voters.

Goodman saw his support come from Democrats, 49 percent; Republicans, 36 percent; and the remainder from other parties and nonpartisans

Reid received 78 percent of his support from Democrats, 13 percent from Republicans and the remainder from other parties and nonpartisan voters.

The poll, conducted by P.M.I. Inc., has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. Twenty percent of those responding were in Washoe County, 57 percent were in Clark and the rest were in the rural counties.

In Clark County, Goodman received 41 percent, Sandoval had 26 percent, Reid had 21 percent and the rest preferred someone else.

In Washoe, Sandoval had 47 percent, Reid had 29 percent, Goodman had 8 percent and the rest preferred someone else.

Sandoval pulled the best numbers in the rural counties.

Jerry Dorchuck, chairman and CEO of P.M.I. Inc., said the results clearly show Goodman would be a significant factor for Reid if he ran as a nonpartisan in the general election.

“If you’re Sandoval, you would love to see Goodman in the race as an independent,” he said.

Based on a Nevada News Bureau poll from last week, which showed Reid and Goodman in a neck-and-neck race in a Democratic primary, Dorchuck said he does not believe Goodman would win in a Democratic primary contest with the Clark County Commission chairman and son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

“So if he is going to do this as an Independent, Goodman has to make a decision pretty soon,” he said. “I don’t see Rory Reid stopping at anything to win the primary.”

Goodman is a registered Democrat. He would have to change his voter registration by the end of December to run as an Independent.

Mike Trask, press secretary to Reid, said there will be multiple polls between now and election day and, “all we can do is to keep sharing Rory’s vision with the voters and work hard to make him our next governor.”

As to Goodman’s plans, “we have no idea what Oscar plans to do,” Trask said.

Mary-Sarah Kinner, a spokeswoman for the Sandoval campaign, said: “We continue to be encouraged by the support we are getting across Nevada.”

Goodman had no comment on the results.

In a separate poll in which 1,672 people responded, the Nevada News Bureau gauged the views of the three-way race among registered voters who have not voted in the past five years.

The results of the statewide poll were similar to the survey of active voters, with 34 percent supporting Sandoval, 29 percent supporting Goodman, 19 percent supporting Reid and 18 percent preferring some other candidate.

In Clark County, Goodman led among those inactive voters surveyed with 59 percent, Sandoval had 25 percent and Reid had 19 percent. In Washoe County, Sandoval led with 48 percent, followed by Reid with 22 percent and Goodman with 10 percent.

The survey respondents were 59 percent from Clark County, 20 percent from Washoe and 21 percent in the rural counties.

Nevada Teachers Union Endorses Rory Reid for Governor

By Sean Whaley | 9:00 am November 21st, 2009
CARSON CIY – The Nevada State Education Association Board of Directors has unanimously voted to endorse Democrat Rory Reid for governor in the 2010 election.

“The board was overwhelmingly amazed at Mr. Reid’s response to our association candidate questionnaire, as well as his face to face interview with the member leaders representing all areas of Nevada,” said NSEA President Lynn Warne. “His commitment to K-12 public education in Nevada is admirable and we are excited we have a candidate committed to fighting for our issues in and out of Carson City. It will be our distinct pleasure to work with him as he shapes his education policy and campaigns throughout this great state.”

In addition to Reid, Republican contender Mike Montandon submitted a questionnaire and was interviewed. Gov. Jim Gibbons also submitted a questionnaire but declined the interview.

“The choice was clear. Rory Reid had specifics on what he plans to do for K-12 public education and supports the issues we fight for every day,” Warne said.

Nevada’s October Jobless Rate Declines for First Time Since 2008

By Sean Whaley | 11:03 am November 20th, 2009
(Updated at 11:51 a.m. on Friday.)
 
CARSON CITY – Nevada received some rare good news on the economic front today as a state agency reported that in October, the state’s jobless rate declined three-tenths of a percentage point to 13 percent from September.

The reasons for the decline tempered the good news to some extent, however.

Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation attributed the lower seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to a decline in the state’s labor force and “some” stabilization in the employment situation.

Until today’s report, Nevada’s unemployment rate had risen, uninterrupted, since 2008.

“As we head into the holiday season, this is welcome news; however it is not a reason to be overly optimistic,” he said. “The state’s well chronicled economic difficulties are far from over. We expect the unemployment rate to continue to rise over time, but we are seeing some signs of stabilization.”

Anderson said the decline is due more to a stagnant or declining labor force than an improvement on the employment front.

“At best, October’s trends, coupled with a growing belief that national conditions are (tentatively) on the mend, suggest that the economy may be in the process of stabilizing, but at a level which will still result in continued hardships for many Nevadans,” he said.

Gov. Jim Gibbons said in a statement he believes the drop in the rate is only temporary.The jobs report said there were 175,300 state residents officially counted as unemployed in October.

“The decline in unemployment has not been followed by an increase in the employment base,” he said. “Clearly the federal stimulus dollars have been better at retaining existing jobs rather than creating new jobs.”

Gibbons said unemployment rates are expected to rise during the month of November and again in December when the completion of several Las Vegas Strip construction projects including City Center will result in a significant loss in construction jobs.

“My office continues to receive reports from businesses who regretfully must implement additional employee layoffs,” Gibbons said. “We are working diligently on all fronts to bring new businesses to Nevada and to develop a new renewable energy industry in Nevada to create green jobs. I will continue to fight for new jobs for Nevadans.”

 

Although the unemployment rate actually increased by four-tenths of a percentage point at the national level in October (to 10.2 percent, seasonally adjusted), it is still 2.8 percentage points lower than in Nevada. Nevada’s October reading is up from 7.7 percent in October 2008.

Within the state, the unemployment rate fell approximately one full percentage point relative to September in each of Nevada’s metropolitan areas. The rates in the metropolitan areas are not seasonally adjusted.

Las Vegas’ unemployment rate came in at 13 percent in October, down from 13.9 percent in September. In the Reno-Sparks region, the jobless rate settled at 12.2 percent for the month, down from 13.1 percent.

“Economic conditions in the near-term are likely to be quite volatile, with some months (such as October) being better than others, while in some months we will likely take a step back,” Anderson said.

All told in October, there were 1.18 million jobs in Nevada public and private sector establishments, essentially unchanged from the previous month. However, measured relative to a year ago, payrolls in Nevada have been cut by 75,100 jobs, a six percent decline. October job readings in 2009 are nearly identical to those from the same month in 2004, suggesting that that the current economic downturn has erased five years of expansion, Anderson noted.

The construction sector’s difficulties are well-documented. Statewide job levels peaked at close to 150,000 in mid-2006. October 2009 job levels came to just 83,700.

The state’s largest employer, the leisure and hospitality sector, continues to struggle. An additional 2,000 jobs were cut relative to September. At 307,700, October job readings were down by nearly 20,000 relative to a year ago.

Raggio Recall Effort Underway in Reno

By Sean Whaley | 5:06 pm November 19th, 2009

RENO – Only a handful of Reno residents attended the first meeting today of a group seeking to recall veteran state Sen. Bill Raggio, but organizers say the response by phone and email suggests the volunteer effort will soon gain momentum.

Organizer Dana Allen, a businessman who has been active in Tea Party rallies, said he would like to get about 250 volunteers to circulate recall petitions against Raggio, a Republican who has served in the Senate since 1973. Raggio is in the middle of his final term in the state Senate.

But Allen and other members of the Recall Raggio campaign believe they can get the job done in 30 days or less with 100 volunteers. They will have 90 days once a recall notice is filed with the Secretary of State.

The group will need to gather just over 18,000 signatures of registered voters in Raggio’s Senate District 3, which encompasses western Reno and Washoe County, to force a recall. The number is 25 percent of those who voted in the 2008 general election in the district. Those who sign must be residents in the district.

Allen said he believes Raggio misled voters in his 2008 reelection bid when he defeated conservative Republican Sharron Angle in the GOP primary.

Raggio was quoted as saying: “This is not the time to start talking about raising taxes. It is something we can’t even consider.”

Allen said Raggio, who later voted for a $780 million tax increase to fund the 2009-2011 budget, would not have won the primary if not for his verbal no taxes pledge.

Raggio said today he would not dignify the recall effort by offering any comment. He did say it is the first recall effort aimed at him in his state Senate career.

Raggio was one of a majority of lawmakers who voted for the tax hike, most of which will expire on June 30, 2011 unless re-implemented by lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session. The Legislature voted to raise sales and business taxes as well as vehicle registration fees. Gov. Jim Gibbons vetoed the tax increase but was overridden by the Legislature.

Allen, a Reno resident for four years, said Raggio deceived and is now ignoring his constituents.

“What we’re doing is very positive,” Allen said. “It will get politicians to pay attention to average citizens.”

Allen acknowledged he was disappointed by the turnout at the first meeting, but said the Thursday afternoon meeting time was likely a factor. Fewer than 10 people showed up to discuss the recall.

But Debbie Landis, a Reno resident who is assisting the recall organizers, said she has received 100 emails from people interested in volunteering to gather signatures.

Allen said he expects to file a recall notice in about two weeks, once the effort is organized and ready to go forward.

Makeup of Revenue Study Citizen Panel Criticized

By Sean Whaley | 1:31 pm November 19th, 2009
CARSON CITY – The makeup of a 19-member panel selected to participate in a study of Nevada’s revenue structure was approved today, but not before it came in for criticism from some lawmakers for not fully representing the varied interests of the state.

A member of the public also criticized the panel makeup, saying it will inevitably generate a call for higher taxes.

The panel membership was decided Monday by a subcommittee of the lawmaker panel overseeing the study of Nevada’s revenue structure.

Even Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, who participated in the selection on Monday, acknowledged the membership of the “Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group” will have credibility issues as the tax study gets under way.

The panel is not representative of rural Nevada, he said.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, agreed, saying the panel is not representative of the general public, small business or rural interests.

Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he has issues with a panel that does not include any representation from the Reno-Sparks or Las Vegas chambers of commerce.

The panel is composed of competent people, but it appears biased in favor of those interests that consume tax revenue rather than those who have the responsibility of providing revenue, he said.

Raggio said it is critical that a tax study to be undertaken at the request of the Legislature have credibility or the results won’t be accepted.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, the chairman of the subcommittee that made the selections on Monday, defended the panel makeup, saying it has a large number of business representatives. The panel includes Joe Dini with the Nevada Mining Association, Alan Feldman with the MGM Mirage and many others, he said.

“You look down the list of people that we’ve put on here and I think it is incredibly representative,” Conklin said.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he believes the panel is well represented by business as well as other varied interests throughout the state.

Geoffrey Lawrence, a fiscal policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, also criticized the makeup of the panel for being a “collection of cherry-picked special interests.” He was the only member of the public to speak at the meeting.

“The group includes no explicit taxpayer advocate,” he said. “It includes no explicit small-business advocate. It is composed primarily of public employees, union representatives and other recipients of state funds as well as large gaming and mining interests.”

The result will predictably be a call for higher taxes, Lawrence said.

Ultimately the panel was approved by the Interim Finance Committee’s Subcommittee to Conduct a Review of Nevada’s Revenue Structure. Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, Raggio, Settelmeyer and Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, voted no.

The panel also voted, with some opposition, to make Robert Lang, representing the Brookings Mountain West/University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Sociology, as the nonvoting chairman of the panel. Lang had been named by the subcommittee on Monday as an alternate.

The alternate spot was filled by Jacob Snow, representing the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.

Horsford, chairman of the lawmaker panel overseeing the study, said all stakeholder meetings will be noticed and open to the public.

The panel will work closely with Moody’s Analytics, the West Chester, Penn., based firm selected by lawmakers last month to perform the revenue study at a cost of $253,000. The firm has until July 1 next year to complete its review.

Lawmakers have sought the revenue study because of the likelihood that the next state budget will be out of balance by as much as $2.4 billion. This is due in large part to tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature that will expire in two years, and the likelihood that federal stimulus funds will no longer be available to the state.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has opposed the study, saying it will only result in a call for higher taxes.

Questions Raised About Qualifications of Nevada Child and Family Services Chief

By Sean Whaley | 7:03 pm November 18th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Questions are being raised about whether the head of the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services is qualified for her job, but the performance of Diane Comeaux, appointed as administrator in June 2008, is being defended by her boss and lawmakers.

An individual interviewed by the Nevada News Bureau, who asked to be identified only as a “concerned citizen,” said the person in charge of such an important agency should have an advanced degree and years of experience working on child welfare issues.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” the person said. “This is the type of position where a national search is performed. We need the best person available. She is not the best available.”

The individual said several people have brought the concerns to the attention of the governor, lawmakers and Comeaux’s boss with no response.

Comeaux does not have a college degree. She declined to comment on the concerns. She earns $112,000 a year in the position.

She does have the strong support of her boss, Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden, and lawmakers who have been made aware of the concerns over her qualifications.

Gov. Jim Gibbons said he too is aware of the concerns but is deferring to Willden, who said Comeaux has performed well in the job over the past 16 months.

“Simply having a degree in sociology or social work doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be a good manager or a bad manager,” Gibbons said. “I’m aware of the concern but I don’t micromanage decisions made by department heads.”

The concerns appear to receive some backing, however, from Richard Klarberg, president of the Council on Accreditation. COA is an independent, not-for-profit, child- and family-service and behavioral healthcare accrediting organization based in New York. COA currently accredits 38 different service areas and over 60 types of programs.

While not commenting on the specifics of the Nevada situation, Klarberg said to be accredited with COA, an agency would have to be overseen by a person with an advanced degree in a field related to the agency’s mission. A minimum of five years of experience would also be required.

“There needs to be at the head of the agency someone who is qualified, who is a degreed person,” he said. “This doesn’t mean that someone who does not have such a degree might not be a successful and highly competent person.”

But trying to change the lives of vulnerable children and families is a challenging and difficult job that requires such experience, Klarberg said.

COA can accredit an agency in several ways, he said. Sometimes a legislature mandates agency accreditation. Sometimes it is required to settle litigation over the provision of services. Or an agency can seek it out voluntarily. Nevada’s program is not accredited.

“When someone in charge has no experience in this area and lacks credentials, it makes you wonder,” he said. “Potentially it has a demoralizing impact on the line workers. It is an area of concern.”

Willden said Comeaux has served successfully in the No. 2 positions at both Medicaid and Child and Family Services prior to her appointment, although both positions were budget and fiscal in nature and not related to the delivery of services to clients.

“I looked at her skill set and her ability to run large government organizations,” he said. “For years, DCFS was not able to solve the fiscal nut. They ran in the red and didn’t have good controls. It was important to bring in someone with the discipline on the fiscal matters.”

Her counterparts in Clark and Washoe counties also say she is doing a good job, Willden said.

The agency in the past has been run by individuals with the credentials cited by the critic, but for various reasons the past three administrators did not stay, he said.

Comeaux meets the qualifications under state law, which says only: “The administrator must be appointed on the basis of his education, training, experience, demonstrated abilities and his interest in the provision of services to children and families and related programs.”

“I have full confidence in her abilities,” Willden said.

As further evidence of Comeaux‘s lack of experience, the person who has raised the concern points to a $110,000 contract approved in September by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee to hire a consultant to assist the agency, “on issues related to child welfare including federal and state legislation, professional skills development, organizational improvement and policy development.”

If Comeaux can do the job, why the need for the consultant, the person asked.

Willden said such contracts are routine for his agency, and are implemented when a lot of work needs to get done in a limited amount of time. The contract in question is bringing in a highly qualified person with 25 years of experience to help implement an improvement plan required by federal officials, he said.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she believes Comeaux is doing a good job in the position.

“I’m more interested in performance than a degree,” she said.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the selection of Comeaux has brought some stability to an agency that has seen a number of different administrators in recent years. Buckley said she is aware of the concerns, and that the licensed social worker staff in the agency would prefer to have such a professional in the top position.

“But we need someone good and we need stability at the top,” she said. “And that is what we have.”

But the concerned citizen who raised the issue said none of the arguments presented by Willden or lawmakers make Comeaux qualified to run the agency.

“Gibbons does not understand how serious this is,” the source said. “Comeaux was over fiscal. She has no experience at all. And as a taxpayer it is infuriating to be asked to shell out ($112,000) plus benefits for someone who is not qualified for the job.”

Opposition to Personhood Amendment Puts Nevada Anti-Abortion Groups in Unusual Company

By Sean Whaley | 5:28 pm November 18th, 2009
CARSON CITY – It isn’t every day that Nevada anti-abortion groups find themselves on the same side as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU in a political dispute, but that is what happened this week in regard to the proposed “Personhood Nevada” ballot initiative.

If approved by voters, the state constitutional amendment being pushed by a conservative Nevada group would define “a person” as anyone having a human genome. The goal is to protect all human life, from conception to death, by prohibiting abortion and assisted suicide.

The wording of the measure has been challenged in Carson City District Court by the ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood for being too vague.

On Tuesday, two anti-abortion groups, Nevada Life and Nevada Eagle Forum, announced their opposition to the measure, which was filed in October by Richard Ziser, chairman of a group called Nevada Concerned Citizens. The measure, which would require nearly 100,000 signatures to get on the ballot, is modeled after similar proposals pushed by anti-abortion advocates in other states.

Don Nelson, president of Sparks based Nevada Life, said being on the same side of the abortion debate as Planned Parenthood is just an unfortunate circumstance.

“They are against the petition because they want to destroy the pro-life movement,” he said of Planned Parenthood. “We are against it because we want to save the pro-life movement.”

Nevada Life embraces the concept of the personhood movement, but not the strategy of putting a measure on the ballot, Nelson said.

The Personhood Nevada initiative is misguided because it runs contrary to current U.S. law as embodied in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. As a result, it will be struck down in an inevitable legal challenge and so not stop even a single abortion, he said.

It could also give activist judges in states where it may be approved by voters the chance to make rulings that could weaken existing protections designed to limit abortions, Nelson said.

The number of abortions has come down in the U.S. in the past two decades despite a huge population increase, the result of successful efforts by Nevada Life and Nevada Eagle Forum and similar groups in changing public opinion, he said.

Rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an imitative fraught with legal problems, the money could be better spent electing anti-abortion candidates to elective office, Nelson said.

The opposition of the two groups should make it more difficult for Ziser to qualify the Personhood measure for the ballot, he said.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, said the opposition of the two groups did come as a surprise. But the concerns are similar, she said. The ACLU legal challenge is based on the belief that the initiative is so vague and open to interpretation as to make it impossible for voters to know what they are actually voting on.

“It is certainly heartening that even groups who are firmly pro-life believe that this particular initiative is vague and misleading and could lead to a poor interpretation that the voters could never expect,” Rowland said.

Elisa Maser, president & CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said voters have the right to know exactly what they are voting on and the proposed initiative does not make it clear what the full impact would be.

Ziser could not be reached for comment on the announcement by the two groups.

The group has until May to qualify the measure for the ballot. Voters would have to approve it twice, in 2010 and 2012, before it could take effect.

Gibbons Says He Will Hold Off On Special Session If At All Possible

By Sean Whaley | 12:15 pm November 17th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons said today he continues to evaluate whether a special session of the Legislature will be needed to balance the state budget, but added he will avoid such a costly move if possible.

Gibbons said he can borrow money authorized to be spent next fiscal year to keep programs running this year as an option to avoid a special session. If this is a viable short-term solution, decisions on how to balance the current two-year budget could be put off until the Legislature convenes in February 2011.

“We can do some things that could hold off the requirement for a special session,” he said. “All of those are calculations we have to look at between now and beginning of December.”

Gibbons said he would like to keep state government spending as low as possible, and calling a special session, “costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The costs are primarily to hire additional legislative staff and pay lawmakers for serving in a session.

“We still want to make sure that we can keep the budget balanced without unnecessary expenditures,” Gibbons said.

But he also noted that if state revenues are expected to continue to deteriorate for several more months, action to bring the budget into balance may be needed now. If budget reductions are needed it is better to make those decisions as early on in the spending year as possible, he said. The current fiscal year, the first of the two-year budget, began July 1.

Gibbons took action early on in the previous budget to reduce spending when it became clear the economy was deteriorating.

Gibbons said he is still waiting on revenue data due at the end of the month before making a decision on a special session. That data will include the first quarter of information on the modified business tax and the real estate transfer tax.

“We want to see what the overall trend is,” Gibbons said. “We’re doing the best we can with the limited information we have. But we look at those trends, we look at those seasonal adjustment for those trends, and make a projection.”

If a special session is deemed to be needed, then the timing of it, and the agenda, will have to be finalized, he said. One issue Gibbons said he would like to take up in a special session would be to change Nevada law to allow the state to apply for federal stimulus funds aimed at improving student achievement.

Nevada cannot apply for a share of the $5 billion in “Race to the Top” funds because of a state law that does not allow student achievement data, such as test scores, to be used in evaluating teacher performance.

The law was passed by the Legislature in 2003 and Gibbons said changing it would be a “high priority” for him.

Only Gibbons can call the Legislature into session. He can limit the topics of discussion, but he cannot limit its length.

New Poll – Reid, Goodman in Dead Heat in Democratic Primary for Governor

By Sean Whaley | 4:05 pm November 16th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is in a dead heat with Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid as the choice of Democrats in the Nevada governor‘s primary race, a Nevada News & Views poll shows.

The automated poll generated responses from 3,630 likely Democratic voters on Friday and Saturday. It shows 34 percent supporting Reid, 33 percent supporting Goodman and 33 percent preferring some other candidate if the election were held today. The poll, conducted by P.M.I. Inc., has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Those responding were equally represented from both the 702 area code for southern Nevada and the 775 area code for northern and rural Nevada.

Goodman has indicated he might run for governor, but as an independent. If so, he would have to change his voter registration from Democrat to nonpartisan by Dec. 30. His final term as mayor ends in 2011.

Despite Goodman’s strong showing with Democrats, Jerry Dorchuck, chairman and CEO of P.M.I. Inc., said he believes Reid has the edge if there is a primary contest between the two candidates.

“Rory should have easy access to his dad’s get-out-the-vote machine,” Dorchuck said. “And not all of organized labor loves Oscar.”

Reid’s father is U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is running for reelection.

Dorchuck said a Goodman candidacy would resonate with voters in both parties who appreciate his honesty and straight talk.

“If Oscar tells me something I’m going to take it to the bank,” he said. “I respect that.”

Goodman through a spokeswoman offered no comment on the poll numbers.

Mike Trask, press secretary to Reid, said the campaign isn’t spending much time analyzing poll results.

“The election is a year away,” he said. “It’s not the first poll and it won’t be the last. We’re just running our campaign and talking to voters.”

Lawmakers Select Citizen Panel to Advise on Study of Nevada Revenue Structure

By Sean Whaley | 1:27 pm November 16th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Lawmakers today picked the 19 members of a “Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group” that will participate in a review of the state’s revenue structure.

The panel charged with selecting the names hit a brief impasse over who would serve in the area of infrastructure, but agreement was finally reached, paving the way for the list of names to go to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee for final approval later this week.

In addition to the 19 members, six alternates were also named by lawmakers to serve as nonvoting members. Lawmakers agreed up front not to include any elected officials or full-time lobbyists on the panel.

Serving on the Vision Stakeholders Group will be:

In the area of Commerce and Industry – Joseph Dini Jr. – Nevada Mining Association; Keith Smith – Boyd Gaming Corp.; Alan Feldman – MGM Mirage; Boyd Martin – Associated General Contractors, Las Vegas Chapter; Donald Snyder – The Smith Center for the Performing Arts; and Douglas Dirks – Employers Holdings Inc. Alternates are Doug Busselman – Nevada Farm Bureau Federation; and Devin Reiss – Nevada Association of Realtors.

In the Education area: Paul Dugan – Washoe County School District; Rene Cantu Jr. – Latin Chamber of Commerce; Marsha Irvin – Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy; and Brian Rippet – Nevada State Education Association. The alternate is John Packham – University of Nevada School of Medicine.

The Health and Human Services area will include: Peter Bernhard – Cleveland Clinic Nevada; Sylvia Young – Sunrise Health; Susan Rhodes – National Association of Social Workers, Nevada Chapter; Denise Tanata Ashby – University of Nevada Las Vegas, Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy. The alternate is Dan Goulet – United Way of Southern Nevada.

In Infrastructure, the committee will include: Thomas Perrigo – City of Las Vegas, Department of Planning and Development; Robert Lee Potter – American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Nevada Department of Transportation; and Terry Reynolds – Reynolds Company. The alternate is Robert Lang – Brookings Mountain West/University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Sociology.

Public Safety will be represented by Katy Simon – Washoe County; and Cedric Williams – North Las Vegas Fire Department. The alternate is Janelle Kraft Pearce – Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

The panel will work closely with Moody’s Analytics, the West Chester, Penn., based firm selected by lawmakers last month to perform the revenue study at a cost of $253,000. The firm has until July 1 next year to complete its review.

Lawmakers have sought the revenue study because of the likelihood that the next state budget will be out of balance by as much as $2.4 billion. This is due in large part to tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature that will expire in two years, and the likelihood that federal stimulus funds will no longer be available to the state. Lawmakers say there is no preconceived plan to increase taxes as a result of the review.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has opposed the study, saying it will result in a call for higher taxes.