Archive for November, 2010

Rep. Heller Urges House To Restore Geothermal Royalties To Local Counties

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:57 pm November 30th, 2010

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., today urged his colleagues to ensure that any Continuing Resolutions passed by the House include provisions to restore geothermal royalties to local counties.

The Office of Management and Budget has determined that under current funding legislation, local counties can no longer receive their share of geothermal royalties established under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

In a letter to House leaders, Heller said counties were stripped of their 25 percent of the geothermal royalties because of a provision “hidden” in Section 423 of the fiscal year 2010 Interior Appropriations legislation.

“This section robbed counties of their 25 percent share, which they depend upon to provide services,” Heller said in his letter. “To correct this, the Nevada delegation and others successfully worked to retroactively repeal the provision that stripped counties of this vital revenue as part of the Supplemental Appropriations Act.”

Because the current Continuing Resolution for FY 2011 refers to the FY 2010 Appropriations Act for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies and not the Supplemental Appropriations Act however, counties are again going without revenue sharing, Heller said.

This problem needs to be addressed in the upcoming Continuing Resolution and/or any other longer term funding bills, he said.

“Some of our western counties have as little as 2 percent taxable land base, and geothermal revenue sharing provides a funding stream that allowed communities to fund vital services such as law enforcement, emergency health care and search and rescue,” Heller said. “The repeal of geothermal revenue sharing is yet another problem for our public lands communities who bear the unique burdens of high federal land ownership. During these difficult economic times, the addition of this language, which has already been approved once by the House, is vital.

“Again, I strongly urge you to include language related to geothermal revenue sharing in the final version of the continuing resolution that the House will consider this week,” Heller concluded.

Nevada Information Technology Director Retires After 47 Years In Field

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:12 pm November 30th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons announced today the retirement of Information Technology Director Dan Stockwell after 47 years in the field, including 14 years with the state of Nevada.

“I consider Dan Stockwell a consummate professional and a good friend,” Gibbons said. “He can be proud of his service to the citizens of Nevada.”

“I would like to thank all of wonderful public service professionals I have worked with over the years with the State of Nevada,” Stockwell said. “We have truly laid the foundation for a bright future for our state.”

He began his career in the information and technologies field as data processing manager for the Nevada Air National Guard. Stockwell went on to establish a private business partnership with IBM Corp. and helped develop computer systems for the state’s hotels and casinos before moving to the state’s IT department.

To ensure a smooth transition at the Department of Information Technology (DoIT), Gibbons has appointed David Gustafson as acting director upon Stockwell’s departure. Gustafson is presently the agency’s deputy director. Gustafson has over 15 years of information technology experience and has worked for several Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft.

Stockwell’s last day will be Dec. 10.

Dan Stockwell

Gov.-Elect Sandoval Names 29-Member Transition Advisory Team

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 11:02 am November 29th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada Republican Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval announced today his selection of 29 Nevadans to serve on his transition advisory team, including Bill Bible, former president of the Nevada Resort Association, and state Sen. Dean Rhoads, who backed Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election bid.

The diverse group of community leaders from across Nevada will provide input and feedback to Sandoval on a wide range of issues.

“I want to thank each and every member of the Transition Advisory Team for stepping forward and agreeing to help me get Nevada working again,” Sandoval said. “As I’ve said before, it will take a tremendous amount of effort and teamwork to get the job done, and I believe this team will help us get off to a great start.”

The advisory team, drawn from across the state, includes individuals from the fields of education, budget, gaming, business, construction and economic development, among others.

The advisory team includes: Aldo Aguirre, principal, Alianza Consulting Group; Barbara Smith Campbell, former chairwoman of the Nevada Tax Commission; Bible, who also formerly served as a state budget director and as the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board in the Gov. Richard Bryan and Gov. Bob Miller administrations; and Brett Coleman, venture capitalist, investor-owner, Mercedes Benz of Reno.

Other members include Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki; Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association; Rhoads, a rancher and Republican representing much of rural Nevada; Denny Voreck, a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing at Liberty High School in Henderson and founder of the Clark County Democratic Deaf Caucus; and Duncan Lee, president of RDL Investments and trustee and advisor to the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Also serving are Estela Gutierrez, president of the Washoe County School Board; Dr. Gail Jaquish, co-founder of the Jaquish & Kenninger Foundation; Washoe County Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison; Jay Barrett, officer and board member of the Marnell Companies; former Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson; and Joe Crowley, former president of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Other members include Ken Wiles, managing director of the Acceleron Group; Michael Yackira, president and CEO of NV Energy and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce; Monte Miller, CEO of Key-State Corporation Management and treasurer of the conservative political action group the Keystone Corporation; Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority; and Rick Reviglio, owner of Western Nevada Supply.

Also serving are Rick Trachok, shareholder with the Jones Vargas law firm; Scott Nielsen, executive vice president and chief development officer for Station Casinos; Somer Hollingsworth, president and CEO of the Nevada Development Authority; Steve Hill, senior vice president of the CalPortland Company and member of the Board of Trustees of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce; and Tammy Dermody, owner of Walton’s Family of Funeral Homes.

Rounding out the panel are Terri Janison, president of the Clark County School Board; former state Labor Commissioner Terry Johnson; Tom Kerr, senior vice president of North American Operations for the Newmont Mining Corp.; and Tony Alamo Sr., a former executive with the Mandalay Resort Group.

The team is expected to meet about three times with Transition Director Heidi Gansert and Assistant Transition Director Dale Erquiaga.

State Senate Democratic Campaign Report Shows Return Of Contributions From ‘Pay To Play’

By Sean Whaley | 10:37 am November 27th, 2010

CARSON CITY – A campaign report filed by the Senate Democratic Caucus shows the group’s political action committee received about $20,000 before ending a short-lived proposal to give lobbyists access to lawmakers in exchange for campaign contributions.

The report filed Oct. 26 by state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford shows that 15 contributions by groups and individuals made to the Victory 2010 PAC in August were returned. A $10,000 donation by Newmont USA Ltd. on July 21 was not returned.

The only other contribution reported as being received by the PAC after Horsford, D-Las Vegas, abandoned what was called a “pay to play” effort, came Oct. 26 from the Nevada Senate Democrats.

The July email soliciting contributions from lobbyists did not include a date so it is not clear exactly when it was sent out. The Nevada News Bureau first reported the pay-to-play plan on Aug. 17. Horsford announced he was ending the solicitation the next day.

The return of the contributions is reported on the Victory 2010 contribution and expense report filed with the secretary of state’s office. The donations are listed both as contributions and expenses because they were returned to the contributors.

But the number and amount of contributions received before the pay-to-play plan was abandoned may not be fully disclosed on the report. Campaign contributions returned within 14 days do not have to be reported according to Nevada law.

Horsford, D-Las Vegas, declined to comment for this story.

Horsford offered different levels of access depending on the size of the contribution. A $25,000 contribution would have given the donor a private dinner with Horsford and the chairs of the standing committees.

State Republican leaders criticized the fund-raising effort as being inappropriate.

In abandoning the effort, Horsford said it was “a poor action” and took responsibility. He said it was not his intent to send a message that access to the Senate Democratic leadership required campaign donations.

Horsford told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Aug. 20 he would return all contributions made to the PAC as a result of the letter. Those who contributed before the letter was sent out were given the choice of having the money returned.

An anonymous ethics complaint has been filed against Horsford alleging the solicitation violated Nevada state law by securing unwarranted privileges for himself and his Democratic caucus members. The complaint also says Horsford violated a provision prohibiting the acceptance of a gift that could improperly influence his actions as a lawmaker.

The filing of the complaint with the Ethics Commission was first reported by political commentator Jon Ralston in late October.

The campaign report showed the largest contributions, besides the Newmont donation, were in the $5,000 range. The Consumer Lending Alliance in Crawfordville, Fla. Donated $5,000 on Aug. 11. Tiger Financial Management of Wichita, Kan., gave $5,000 as well. Others were for smaller amounts and all were returned.

Horsford was seeking financial support for Senate Democrats in an effort to build a veto-proof 14-seat majority in the 21-member upper house for the 2011 legislative session. Instead, Democrats lost ground, losing one seat and reducing their majority to 11-10.

Reno Mayor Cashell Defends Reid, Criticizes Extreme Right Element In GOP

By Sean Whaley | 9:00 am November 26th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Reno Mayor Bob Cashell said this week he expects to see Harry Reid continue to help northern Nevada in a variety of ways now that he has won re-election in a bitterly contested Senate race.

Cashell, interviewed Wednesday on the Nevada NewsMakers television program, is a Republican who supported Reid, D-Nev., in his bid for another term over GOP rival Sharron Angle.

“He’s done an outstanding job,” Cashell said. “Do I like everything going on in Washington, DC, no I don’t. But I didn’t like the alternative.”

Reid helped with Reno’s efforts to build a trench for the railroad to improve downtown and helped craft a water-sharing agreement with California over the use of Truckee River water, he said.

Cashell, elected as mayor for a final term, said Reid can help Nevada in a number of ways, including finding potential new uses for Yucca Mountain rather than the proposed nuclear waste dump. One alternative being discussed is a research center, including ways to reprocess nuclear waste, that could bring much-needed jobs to the state, he said.

Cashell said he switched to the Republican Party after a conversation with President Ronald Reagan who said the GOP can accommodate multiple points of view. He called the extreme right element of the current GOP party the RINOs, not himself or Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who also endorsed Reid over Angle.

RINO is a term meaning “Republican In Name Only.”

The extreme element of the GOP is excluding moderates and as a result is hurting the party, he said.

Cashell also defended Raggio, who lost his job as state Senate minority leader after lending his support to Reid’s re-election bid. Cashell said Raggio’s leadership will be missed in the upcoming 2011 session where redistricting, the budget and taxes will all be critical issues for the state.

Cashell called Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, who took over the minority leadership position in the state Senate from Raggio, a “good guy.” But he said Raggio’s replacement was “petty and vindictive.”

“To call Bill Raggio a RINO is probably the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard with what he’s done for the party and how he’s helped,” Cashell said. “He’s been a great Republican.”

Raggio was blamed for supporting a tax increase in the 2009 session of the Legislature, but without him the increase would not have come with a sunset clause, he said. The tax increase will expire next June 30 without an extension by lawmakers.

“I think they are going to miss his leadership,” Cashell said.

Audio clips:

Reno Mayor Bob Cashell says Sen. Reid has done a good job for Nevada:

112410Cashell1 :10 like the alternative.”

Cashell says extreme right in GOP are RINOs:

112410Cashell2 :12 they’re the RINOs.”

Cashell says calling Sen. Raggio a RINO is ridiculous:

112410Cashell3 :19 miss his leadership.”

FEC Dismisses CREW Complaint Against Ensign

By Elizabeth Crum | 4:16 pm November 19th, 2010

Three days after Senator John Ensign announced that he plans to run for re-election in 2012 despite ongoing ethics investigations into his conduct, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has dismissed a watchdog group’s complaint against Ensign re: a $96,000 payment his parents made to the family of his former mistress, Cynthia Hampton.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) had contended in its compliant that the transfer of money amounted to an illegal political donation. The group is not happy that the FEC (according to the statement on the CREW website) “ignored evidence that the Hamptons themselves considered the payment to be severance, including Mr. Hampton’s contemporaneous notes from conversations he had in which he had referred to the payments as severance.”

The FEC based its decision on the fact that Sen. Ensign’s parents submitted affidavits stating they had intended the money as a gift, not as a severance payment.

Despite escaping sanction by the FEC, Ensign still needs to survive the investigations by the Senate ethics committee and Justice Department and overcome a shortage of campaign cash if he hopes to hold onto this seat for a third term.

IF Ensign runs — it is possible an indictment may yet force a resignation or change of heart — he will almost certainly find himself challenged in the GOP primary, possibly (among others) by Rep. Dean Heller who has not ruled out the option. Sharron Angle might also take a stab at it, having recently said she “can’t stop” believin’ running for office.

(Sidebar: If Angle does challenge Ensign, will he agree to play himself when it comes time for candidate debate preparation? I ask because earlier this week Jon Ralston found out that Ensign played the part of Harry Reid in order to help Angle prepare for her debate with the majority leader.)

(Sidebar 2: Steve Sebelius wondered whether Ensign’s active help for Angle effectively ended the long-standing non-aggression pact between Ensign and Reid. Good question.)

Ensign has repeatedly insisted that he broke no law or Senate rules, a contention in question ever since the New York Times obtained emails showing that Ensign appeared to help get Doug Hampton a job as a lobbyist after his affair with Cindy Hampton was discovered.

Ensign’s most recent federal campaign report showed he had spent over half million dollars on his legal defense and had about $280,000 cash on hand.

Heller Supports Extension of Unemployment Benefits

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:51 pm November 18th, 2010

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Congressman Dean Heller today came out in support of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Continuation Act (H.R. 6419) which would extend unemployment benefits for an additional three months.

“I continue to fight for Nevadans who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Heller. “It is not their fault that the economic policies of the past two years have failed to bring jobs to Nevada. Unfortunately, the Majority Party has repeatedly refused to pay for these extensions. There are ways to pay for unemployment benefits, and help the unemployed, without contributing to the deficit.”

H.R. 6419 would extend Federal unemployment insurance programs set to expire on November 30, 2010 through February 2011. These programs make available up to 99 weeks of total unemployment benefits per person in most states, including Nevada.

Update: Heller was one of 21 Republicans who joined with Democrats in favor of the measure, which fell short of the two-thirds needed for passage. Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus also voted for the bill.

Nevada Army Guard Retirees to be Honored in Las Vegas

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:10 pm November 16th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The long-time military service of all recently-retired Nevada Army Guard Soldiers will be recognized December 5 in Las Vegas during the annual Retiree Appreciation Day. The event includes a retiree ceremony honoring the Nevada Army Guard’s 2010 retirees at 2:30 p.m. at the Las Vegas Readiness Center on Sunday, December 5.

The day’s events begin at 10 a.m. and will include a retiree briefing, identification card and defense enrollment eligibility updates, and the Hall of Fame retiree awards ceremony.

Organizations attending the event and able to provide additional information include Tricare, Job Connect, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, Veterans of  Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Red Cross of Southern Nevada, and the Nellis Retiree Activities Office.

Public Pension Reform Will Be Issue in 2011 Legislative Session

By Sean Whaley | 3:11 pm November 12th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Newly named state Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness is adding his name to the list of Nevada policy makers who believe the state retirement system needs major change to head off a growing unfunded liability.

McGinness, R-Fallon, said he agrees with GOP Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval that the retirement plan now covering 103,000 active public employees across the state needs to switch to a “defined contribution” plan for future hires.

McGinness said the switch would at least keep the long-term unfunded liability of the retirement system from growing larger.

“I pretty much agree with that idea,” he said. “Otherwise we will continue to build on the problem we have now.”

McGinness said his views are his own. The possibility of reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System in the upcoming legislative session have not yet been discussed by the Republican Senate Caucus as a whole, he said.

State Sen.-elect Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the unfunded liability is clearly an issue that needs to be discussed in the upcoming session, but that it is more of a long-term policy question than one requiring immediate action.

There is no suggestion that the retirement plan be changed for people already in the system, she said.

“We’re not going to take away benefits that have been promised to people,” Leslie said. ‘It’s more of a conversation we need to have as we hire new employees, whenever that’s going to happen. It is a topic that needs to be considered for the long-term fiscal stability of the state.”

Senate Democrats have not yet discussed the issue as a caucus either, she said.

At a meeting of the PERS board on Wednesday, it was announced that the system’s long-term unfunded liability hit $10 billion as of June 30, 2010, up from $9.1 billion as of June 30, 2009. The plan was 70.5 percent fully funded on June 30, 2010, down from 72.5 percent in the previous year. At its high point in 2000 the plan was 85 percent funded.

The PERS board recommended increases in the contribution rates paid by public employers and their employees to maintain adequate funding for the retirement system

While there is interest in considering a major change to PERS, no bill drafts calling for reforms have yet been requested by lawmakers.

The PERS board did authorize an analysis of what a conversion to a defined contribution would mean in terms of cost and required regulatory changes because of the interest in the issue. The report is expected to be discussed by the board next month.

There are court rulings saying that public employees already in the retirement plan have a legal right to the benefit that cannot be taken away, so any changes would have to be applied to future employees.

Some changes were made to the retirement system by the 2009 Legislature, including raising the retirement age to 62 from 60 for an employee with 10 years of service. An employee can still retire at any age with 30 years of service.

It is expected to be a topic of discussion, however, given Sandoval’s views on the need for more fundamental change. The existing “defined benefit” retirement plan provides a guaranteed pension to a retiree based on salary and years of service. A defined contribution plan would provide no such guarantee, and would not create an unfunded long-term liability.

Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President Matt Crosson said in an interview in August that the organization wants retirement system reforms to be part of a package of changes to be considered by the 2011 Legislature. He did not specify what changes are needed to the retirement system.

“We have to take advantage of the crisis that we are in right now to set the state on the right course into the future,” Crosson said. “And in part that requires reform.”

The SAGE Commission, a panel created by outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons to look for efficiencies in state government, also recommended changes to the retirement system but did not advocate a change to a defined contribution plan.

Recommendations from the Spending and Government Efficiency panel include setting a minimum retirement age of 60 before benefits can be paid out. Other recommendations include calculating the retirement benefit over five years of pay, not the current three highest pay years, and imposing a moratorium on any benefit enhancements until the plan is fully funded.

State Assembly Democrats Name Leadership, Committee Appointments

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 11:48 am November 12th, 2010

Assembly Speaker-elect John Oceguera has announced the Assembly Democratic leadership team and the chairs of the nine standing committees.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith will serve as speaker pro tempore, while Assemblyman Marcus Conklin will serve as majority leader. Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick will serve as assistant majority leader. Assemblyman William Horne will be the majority whip, with Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson serving as senior chief deputy whip. Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce and Assemblyman David Bobzien will serve as chief deputy whips.

One structural change in the Assembly schedule is that the Government Affairs and Taxation Committees will have the same membership and will meet in the morning, with Government Affairs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Taxation on Tuesday and Thursday. The Taxation Committee has previously met in the afternoon.

Chairs of the three morning committees are: Government Affairs and Taxation – Kirkpatrick; Judiciary – Horne; Ways and Means – Smith.

Chairs of the afternoon committees are: Commerce and Labor – Atkinson; Education – Bobzien; Health and Human Services – Assemblywoman April Mastroluca; Legislative Affairs – Assemblyman Richard “Tick” Segerblom; Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining – Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton; Transportation – Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop.

Democrats control the Assembly with a 26-16 majority and so will run all committees.

Oceguera said that with so many new legislators and so many challenging issues facing the state, leadership and committee chairs are already at work preparing for the legislative session. He has instituted additional trainings for freshmen legislators beginning Nov. 17.

“We recognize how important it will be for all legislators, from both political parties, both houses and all regions of the state, to work together to find real solutions to the incredible challenges facing our state,” Oceguera said. “The Nevada Legislature has a rich history of working in a cooperative, bipartisan manner. Under this new leadership team, we are committed to continuing that tradition.”

Sharron Angle: I Can’t Stop

By Elizabeth Crum | 9:33 am November 11th, 2010

Sharron Angle is by no means done with politics. So she said to a crowd of 70 conservative grassroots activists during a surprise visit to a Republican town hall meeting Wednesday evening in Las Vegas.

“I have a lot of options,” said Angle. “I am looking at these options. I can’t stop.”

When the crowd welcomed her with a standing ovation and loud cheers, Angle’s eyes filled with tears. She expressed her gratitude to the small group in a voice filled with emotion.

“Thank you so much,” said Angle quietly. “That means so much to me.”

Angle talked very little about the 2010 elections in her remarks, instead focusing on the upcoming legislative sessions both in D.C. and Carson City. She reiterated that repeal of health care reform bill and extension of tax cuts should be top national priorities.

She also specifically addressed taxes as well as redistricting in Nevada, talking about strategies for avoiding excessive gerrymandering.

“We need to have square districts,” said Angle, referring to the strategic spoking of districts into urban areas which tends to benefit Democrats and impede the efforts of rural, conservative state legislators to get elected.

When asked if she may consider running for Rep. Dean Heller’s NV-2 seat should the congressman opt to challenge John Ensign — either in the primaries or in the case of an Ensign indictment and/or resignation — Angle would neither confirm nor deny her future ambitions.

Whatever her next run at elected office may be, Angle made it clear during conversations with attendees and event organizers that she will continue to work to help Republicans around the state in the months to come. She offered advice on citizen lobbying, grassroots organizing and party precinct leadership, saying she would gladly provide training and help as needed.

Gov.-elect Sandoval Says Attracting New Businesses To Nevada A Top Priority

By Sean Whaley | 4:56 pm November 10th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval said today he will make it a priority as governor to encourage businesses to relocate to Nevada from neighboring states where taxes have been raised to deal with the economic slowdown.

In order to bring those businesses and jobs to Nevada, the state has to live within its means and maintain its minimal tax and regulatory environment, he said.

That means Sandoval, who takes office in January, will present a balanced budget to the 2011 Legislature that contains no tax or fee increases.

“Raising taxes and fees is the worst thing we can do when our economy is struggling,” he said.

Sandoval mentioned a recent report naming Nevada as the 5th best state in the country to do business, and he said preserving that ranking and capitalizing on it will be a priority of his administration. California ranked 50th in the same survey.

“I think we have a great opportunity to bring new businesses from the states of California and Oregon where they’ve chosen to raise taxes and where they over-regulate,” he said. “And so there are a lot of prospects out there. In fact I’m already beginning to make phone calls in terms of businesses that are looking at the state of Nevada to tell them that we have a very strong business environment. That this is a great place to live.”

Sandoval said Nevada has challenges with its education system, but that he will address that as well to ensure the state is attractive to new business.

“You know, it is no myth,” he said. “There are a lot of significant companies that are making serious consideration about relocating to the state of Nevada, and I’m going to be personally involved. And I’m going to make the phone calls, I’m going to make the visits, I’m going to sign the letters. I’m going to do whatever it takes because the bottom line is, is we need to bring more jobs to the state of Nevada and get people back to work.”

Sandoval met Tuesday with state Budget Director Andrew Clinger, getting his first review of the state revenue and spending picture. Today he also reappointed Clinger as budget director, and named former state Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert as chief of staff. He also named Dale Erquiaga, a former Clark County School District official, as senior adviser. 

Clinger said prior to the Tuesday meeting he anticipates the state will receive about $5.3 billion in tax revenues in the coming two-year budget that will begin July 1, 2011. The precise number will be set by the Economic Forum on Dec. 1.

The current two-year budget will see about $6.4 billion in general fund spending, although this does not include about $1.1 billion in revenue being spent in the current budget that will go away in the new budget, including $600 million in federal stimulus funds.

State agencies and higher and lower education have submitted budgets totaling $8.3 billion.

Sandoval called the budget meeting productive but preliminary, saying he is a long way from making decisions on how to balance the budget with only about $5.3 billion in revenue.

“There are still a lot of hard choices that have to be made,” he said. “There are going to be some budget reductions which I take very, very seriously.”

Audio clips:

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval says cuts will be needed to balance the budget:

111010Sandoval1 :08 very, very seriously.”

Sandoval says Nevada has a great opportunity to attract new businesses from neighboring states:

111010Sandoval2 :09 and over regulate.”

Sandoval says he is already making calls to businesses to lure them to Nevada:

111010Sandoval3 13 place to live.”

Sandoval says there are major companies seriously considering relocating to Nevada:

111010Sandoval4 :22 back to work.”

Nevada Public Employee Retirement Contributions To Increase, Unfunded Liability Climbs To $10 Billion

By Sean Whaley | 12:57 pm November 10th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s public employee retirement system will require increased contributions from the state and local governments next year to maintain the long-term financial health of the defined benefit plan, the board overseeing the program was told today.

The contribution rate for regular employees will have to increase by 2.25 percentage points to 23.75 percent in the coming two years. The retirement system covers 103,000 active public employees, including state workers, teachers and local government employees.

Police and fire fighters will also see an increased contribution rate of 2.75 percentage points to 39.75 percent. This group of workers is evaluated separately.

The increases, recommended by an independent consulting actuary, were adopted by the Public Employees Retirement System Board and forwarded to the state budget director and Legislature.

The 2011 Legislature will be asked to fund the increased retirement costs. Lawmakers in past sessions have fully funded the contribution rates recommended by the actuary and the retirement board.

The increases will be shared by employees and employers. Regular state employees who pay half of the total contribution will see 11.875 percent of their salary go to their retirement starting July 1, 2011, up from the 10.75 percent now.

The increase will mean a slight salary reduction for state workers at a time when cost-of-living increases have been eliminated and unpaid furloughs implemented because of the state’s dire budget situation. These cost-cutting measures are expected to continue in the next two-year budget.

The amounts paid by school district and government employers and their employees depend on the results of collective bargaining negotiations. A 50-50 employee-employer match is required, but local governments have in the past paid a bigger share of the contributions in lieu of salary increases. State employees do not have the right to collective bargaining.

Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS, said the actual cost of the increase to the state and state employees will be $8.7 million each in fiscal year 2012 and 2013 based on estimates by her agency. This compares to an annual $9.3 billion state budget in 2010 when all funds are included, she said.

For the entire system statewide, the cost of funding the program equates to 2.4 percent for public employers and another 2.4 percent for public employees based on total public government budgets of $27 billion, Bilyeu said.

Claims that public employee pension costs are going to sink government budgets are exaggerated, she said.

The PERS board was also told, however, that the long-term unfunded liability of the state public pension plan grew in the fiscal year that ended June 30, to $10 billion from $9.1 billion as of June 30, 2009.

The plan was 70.5 percent fully funded on June 30, 2010, down from 72.5 percent in the previous year. At its high point in 2000 the plan was 85 percent funded.

These long-term unfunded liabilities of the PERS plan and for public employee pension plans nationwide are generating concern from policy makers.

Nevada Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval said today he remains convinced the PERS system needs to change from a “defined benefit” plan where retirement payments are guaranteed based on salary and years worked, to a “defined contribution plan” where public employers contribute to employee retirement without any guarantees of pension amounts upon retirement.

Such a change would eliminate the unfunded liability for future hires. There is a current legal prohibition for changing the plan for workers currently in the system.

A report on a shift to a defined contribution plan for future hires will be presented to the PERS board in December.

Bilyeu is not advocating such a change to the board or to the Legislature but recommended the analysis to provide the information to lawmakers and the governor.

Not all elected officials are convinced Nevada’s public pension plan needs such a change.

Lawmakers in 2009 did make some changes to the PERS system to control costs, including raising the retirement age for new employees to 62 from 60.

But there is a growing chorus of critics who say more drastic changes are needed to reign in pension costs or government entities will soon face bills they cannot pay.

A study of state and local government pension funds by the Pew Center on the States released in February identified Nevada as one of 19 states where “serious concerns” exist about the long-term health of the retirement plan.

Geoffrey Lawrence, a fiscal policy analyst with the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said in an article this week that PERS officials are understating the implications of the unfunded liability.

“In the event that PERS’ assets become insufficient to make the promised benefits payments to retirees, the shortfall would almost certainly be filled using tax dollars,” he said.

Lawrence noted that between fiscal year 2000 and fiscal year 2009, PERS’ unfunded liability nearly quadrupled, growing from $2.3 billion to $9.1 billion.

“Moreover, as NPRI has noted, even this amount is dramatically understated because PERS accounting methods fail to consider the price of risk or instability in the marketplace,” he said. “PERS administrators assume that, like clockwork, they will be able to realize an 8 percent annual return with zero risk in the portfolio.”

Bilyeu said the PERS investments do assume an annual rate of return over time of 8 percent. The plan has averaged a 9.3 percent rate of return over the past 25 years, she said. The 8 percent rate of return on investments assumption will be evaluated in 2012.

Bilyeu acknowledged the concerns over the solvency of public employee retirement plans nationwide, but said Nevada’s plan has been regularly funded based on the independent actuarial valuation performed every two years.

Pension funding concerns are legitimate for those plans that are not fully funded every year based on actuarial analyses, such as those in Illinois, New Jersey and some other states, she said.

Nevada Lawmaker Proposes Repeal Of State’s Minimum Wage Law

By Sean Whaley | 4:26 pm November 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Newly elected state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, has requested the drafting of legislation to repeal Nevada’s minimum wage law.

A repeal would have to go to voters, who approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 to set the minimum wage at a higher rate than the federal rate. The current minimum wage in Nevada is $8.25 an hour and took effect on July 1. The federal rate is $7.25 an hour.

If a Nevada employer offers a qualified health plan, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

The Nevada Legislature would have to approve a proposed constitutional amendment repealing the minimum wage twice, in 2011 and in 2013, before it could go to a vote of the people in 2014.

Hardy, who has been serving in the Assembly, could not immediately be reached for comment on his purpose for the repeal, although the minimum wage has been blamed by some for stifling job creation, particularly in the current economic slowdown.

Nevada leads the nation in the unemployment rate, which remained at 14.4 percent in September.

Democrats are in control of both the Senate and Assembly in the upcoming session, making passage of such a proposal questionable.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, the group that put the minimum wage measure on the ballot through the initiative petition process, said the vote in favor of the measure in 2006 was higher than for any other candidate or issue on the ballot that year.

“On its face it is shortsighted,” he said of the proposed repeal. “People need to make a livable wage.”

Thompson said $8.25 an hour is not a living wage but is an improvement over previous rates. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

“Truly this thing is the will of the people,” he said. “To go against that flies in the face of our system.”

Thompson said if there is a desire by some to repeal the minimum wage law, they should use the initiative petition process and collect signatures from registered voters to put the proposal on the ballot like proponents of the current law did years ago.

“If they want to overthrow the minimum wage go back to the people.,” he said.

Thompson said any suggestion that Nevada’s minimum wage is having a chilling effect on job creation is not true.

“If anything, it levels the playing field for employers,” he said. “No one is getting rich off that wage.”

Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the Washington, DC-based Employment Policies Institute, said in June that Nevada’s minimum wage was making it particularly tough for teens to find jobs and that the increase on July 1 would make it even worse.

Audio clips:

Danny Thompson of the AFL-CIO says a legislative effort to repeal the minimum wage would thwart the will of the voters:

11910Thompson :10 of our system.”

Initiative Petitions Proposing To Change Nevada Law Fail To Move Forward

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 5:27 pm November 8th, 2010

CARSON CITY – An initiative petition proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons to require public employee union negotiations to be subject to Nevada’s Open Meeting Law will not be turned in Tuesday.

Gibbons said his OPEN Government Plan will be introduced as a bill in the 2011 legislative session instead.

Gibbons had organized a committee to gather the required number of signatures to force the issue to go before the Legislature. The efforts have been suspended because of legislative support for the issue from the state Senate Republican caucus.

An initiative petition would have either required positive action by the Legislature or a vote of the people in 2012, however. If introduced as a bill, there is no guarantee the measure will be approved by the Legislature.

Other proposed initiative petitions won’t be turned in either.

Groups seeking to legalize marijuana for adults and require votes to unionize to be by secret ballot said today they do not have enough signatures from registered voters to pursue their proposals in the 2011 session.

David Schwartz with Nevadans For Sensible Marijuana Laws, affiliated with the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, said the group will continue to review its options in its ongoing legalization effort.

Voters in California on Tuesday rejected a legalization effort, although Schwartz said he was encouraged by the amount of support for the proposal. Proposition 19 received 3.7 million votes, or 46 percent.