Archive for December, 2010

Happy Holidays

By Elizabeth Crum | 2:53 pm December 23rd, 2010

We will be running light on stories here from now through the New Year unless some earth-shattering government or political event occurs.

We’d like to thank all our readers and supporters for their emails, comments and story suggestions. This was a fun year in Nevada government and state politics, and next year is shaping up to be another  fun one.

See you in 2011!

Sandoval Administration Confirms No Fee Increases In Proposed Budget

By Sean Whaley | 2:24 pm December 22nd, 2010

CARSON CITY – There will be no fee increases of any kind in Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval’s budget when it is presented to lawmakers next year, Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert has confirmed.

“Given the state of our economy, the governor-elect has decided there will be no new fees or taxes in the budget,” she said. “We don’t want any obstacles to an economic recovery. We want as much money as possible spent in the private sector.”

Gansert said Sandoval’s staff is working with Budget Director Andrew Clinger to go through the budget prepared by outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons in-depth to ensure any fee increases included in the plan are eliminated.

Gansert was asked to comment about the potential of fee increases in Sandoval’s budget after Robin Reedy, chief of staff to Gibbons, said a case could be made to seek fee increases for services provided by the state that are not fully covered by current assessments.

Reedy talked about the potential for fee increases in Sandoval’s budget in an interview Tuesday on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

Reedy said she believes the next two-year budget can be balanced without new taxes, but added: “A lot of people confuse taxes and fees. And I am not one to say, and this is where the governor (Gibbons) and I do tend to disagree and we have our debates, is a fee is not a tax. If a fee is for a service that is basically helping a segment of either society or business, capitalism means they should pay that cost of doing business.

“So there are fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles and various other areas that deal with either car sales or other areas that are business, that what they pay in fees do not compensate what we pay in salaries and the cost of doing business,” Reedy said. “The government should not be subsidizing any part of the economy.”

Reedy said it will be up to Sandoval and his administration, however, to determine whether to include fee increases in the budget.

But Gansert made it clear that Sandoval’s budget won’t include fee increases.

“We’ve ruled out new fees and taxes,” she said.

Sandoval said in an interview earlier this year that a major focus of his administration will be on job creation to get Nevada’s economy on track, and that any tax or fee increases in his budget would only harm that effort.

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

Sandoval’s position is at odds with some lawmakers who have suggested tax increases will be needed to balance the state budget.

The National Conference of State Legislatures recently reported that Nevada will have the largest percentage general fund budget gap of any state in both fiscal year 2012 and 2013.

The Nevada Economic Forum projected the state general fund would see $5.3 billion in revenues in the coming two years, well below current spending levels because of the loss of federal stimulus funds and temporary taxes that will expire on June 30, 2011.

Sandoval said after the projection was made Dec. 1 that the revenue level would require agencies to cut $1.2 billion from already reduced budgets submitted this fall to Gibbons.

Audio clips:

Gibbons Chief of Staff Robin Reedy says she believes fees should cover the entire cost of some state services:

122210Reedy1 :29 of doing business.”

Reedy says government should not be subsidizing any part of the economy:

122210Reedy2 :09 of the economy.”

Gov.-elect Sandoval Names General Counsel, Other Staff Appointments

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:51 pm December 22nd, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval today announced he will appoint Lucas Foletta as his general counsel.

As a former assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Nevada, Foletta has prosecuted mortgage fraud and identity theft matters on behalf of the U.S. government. A graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law, Foletta is also a former law clerk to Sandoval when he served previously as a federal judge.

A former summer associate with a firm in Napa, Calif., Foletta was a staff editor for the Wake Forest Intellectual Property Law Journal. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California.

“I am thrilled that Lucas is joining my team,” Sandoval said. “He has one of the finest legal minds I know. His experience at the federal level will provide me with a trusted and important perspective on the issues.”

Sandoval also announced that Dana Bennett will join Sandoval’s office as senior researcher and Judy Osgood will join as policy analyst.

“Dana has a strong background in legislative research and as a policy analyst and I know her intimate understanding of the research process will be an invaluable resource to me and my team,” Sandoval said. “Judy will work closely with the general counsel to provide important information on the implications of legislative proposals.”

Bennett, a doctoral candidate in history at Arizona State University, also has a master’s in women’s history from the State University of New York at Binghamton. Currently an independent historian, Bennett was formerly employed by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau.

Osgood, also a former law clerk to Sandoval, is also a former contract attorney. In addition to formerly being in private practice, Osgood was a judicial law clerk to Washoe District Judge Janet Berry. Osgood received her law degree from Syracuse University, and her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.

Nevada Gains 4th Congressional Seat In 2010 Census Count

By Sean Whaley | 2:01 pm December 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – Despite a dramatic slowdown in Nevada’s population growth, and even some net out-migration for the first time in recent memory, the U.S. Census Bureau report today shows the state will gain a fourth congressional seat in 2013.

Nevada led the nation in the percentage increase in its population since the 2000 census at 35.1 percent to 2,700,551, even with some population loss during the current economic slowdown.

It will be the third new seat added in the past four census counts. Nevada added its second seat in 1983 and its third in 2003.

Now the Nevada Legislature will have to redraw the district boundaries to generate four congressional seats instead of three. This effort, and the redrawing of the legislative boundaries, will be a major issue for lawmakers in the 2011 session.

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval said the gain of a seat in congress will be critically important to addressing the issues facing Nevada, particularly those at the federal level, and he asked for a fair redistricting process in the 2011 session.

“As the Legislature looks to take up reapportionment during the upcoming session, it is my hope the process will proceed in an orderly manner on behalf of the voters and not politics,” he said. “I plan to work with both the Assembly and the Senate to ensure the process is fair and balanced.”

Rep. Dean Heller, R-NV, who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, welcomed the news from the Census Bureau.

“After much speculation, I am pleased Nevada will be receiving an additional congressional seat,” he said. “The Nevada delegation works closely together on issues important to our state and adding another voice to the congressional delegation will greatly benefit the state of Nevada.”

Secretary of State Ross Miller today said it was the strong response by Nevada residents that helped ensure the creation of Nevada’s fourth seat.

According to the census data, Nevada’s total 2010 population is 2,700,551, up 35.1 percent from 2000. The rate of growth in the last decade was just more than half of the 66.3 percent rate of population growth in Nevada from 1990 to 2000.

“The 2010 Census turned out to be a great civics lesson in Nevada,” said Miller, who served as chairman of the Nevada Complete Count Committee. “The outcome could have been very different had just a few more Nevadans neglected to fill out their census forms.”

For many years following the 2000 Census, as the population grew faster in Nevada than in any other state, most observers assumed that Nevada would gain another seat in Congress in 2010. But the demographics changed in 2007 as Nevada suffered some of the worst fallout of the economic recession. The state lost thousands of jobs and, as a result, actually lost population for the first time in decades. The state demographer estimates the state lost nearly 100,000 residents in the last two years, about a 5 percent decline since 2000.

“This turned out to be a closer call than we thought just a couple of years ago,” Miller said. “The thousands of people across the state who took a few minutes to send in their forms made the 2010 Census a success story in Nevada.”

Beginning in 2012, the population of Nevada’s four congressional districts will be 677,358, up 10,000 from 2000. Nationwide, the average congressional district will have a population of 710,767.

The census count is also used to determine how federal funding for a number of projects and services is apportioned to the states. Gov. Jim Gibbons’ SAGE Commission estimates that for every person counted, the state will receive $917 in federal funds for school lunch programs, family support programs, senior centers, job training, and new construction for projects from highways to hospitals.

The U.S. Census Bureau said this year’s count showed the national population as of April 1 was 308,745,538, an increase of 9.7 percent over the 2000 U.S. resident population of 281,421,906.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Acting Commerce Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank and Census Bureau Director Robert Groves unveiled the official counts at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“A big thanks to the American public for its overwhelming response to the 2010 Census,” Locke said. “The result was a successful count that came in on time and well under budget, with a final 2010 Census savings of $1.87 billion.”

The most populous state was California (37,253,956); the least populous, Wyoming (563,626). The state that gained the most numerically since the 2000 Census was Texas (up 4,293,741 to 25,145,561) and the state that gained the most as a percentage of its 2000 Census count was Nevada (up 35.1% to 2,700,551).

Beginning in February and wrapping up by March 31, 2011, the Census Bureau will release demographic data to the states on a rolling basis so state governments can start the redistricting process.

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution calls for a census of the nation’s population every 10 years to apportion the House seats among the states. The 2010 Census is the 23rd census in U.S. history.

Nevada Policy Makers Remain Divided On Future Of Public Employee Pension Plan

By Sean Whaley | 4:12 pm December 20th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada policy makers remain divided over the need to make a fundamental change to the public employees’ retirement system following the release last week of a report showing significant costs to move to a defined contribution plan.

Some lawmakers say they have not yet read the report by the Segal Group Inc. which says it would cost about $1.2 billion over the next two years to change from the current defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan for new state and local government workers. These additional costs would continue for several years.

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue say they need more information and expect to hear more details of what such a shift would entail in the upcoming legislative session.

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval continues to favor a change to a defined contribution plan for new government hires, but has not yet reviewed the study in-depth, said spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner.

She said Sandoval expects to meet with the staff of the Public Employees’ Retirement System after taking office in January.

“Gov.-elect Sandoval remains committed to the concept of defined contribution as discussed in the campaign,” Kinner said.

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he believes the retirement system will have to be changed over to a defined contribution plan, but that he needs more details on how such a change would be accomplished.

The price tag just for the next two years gives him concerns as well.

Goicoechea said if the contribution rates have to be increased significantly for current public employees to fully fund the current pension plan within about a decade, it could be a big hit to workers as well.

Contribution rates, which now are shared by employers and employees, are set to increase over the next two fiscal years to keep the current defined benefit plan financially healthy. Rates will go up to 23.75 percent from 21.5 percent now for regular employees.

But to fund the plan more quickly, the rate would have to increase to 34 percent instead, according to the Segal report.

For police and firefighters, who are analyzed separately, the increase would go from the proposed 40 percent contribution rate over the next two years to 52 percent.

The cost of these increases would total $1.2 billion for the coming two years, and would continue until the closed defined benefit plan was fully funded.

If these increases are shared by workers, it would mean a significant pay cut, Goicoechea said. It could also lead to a mass exodus of current employees who are eligible for retirement, he said.

Goicoechea says he does favor changing to a defined contribution for new hires.

“But I want to see some more on the plan before I really step out there,” he said.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said he does not believe a major change to a defined contribution plan is necessary. But there is no question that the long-term unfunded liability of the current plan, which hit $10 billion as of June 30, needs to be paid down, he said.

“If we can reduce that unfunded liability portion by whatever method, then I think we ought to look at that,” he said. “I don’t think we ought to change the way we do it though, the system we have.

“Getting to 100 percent funded is a good cause, and I think we should try to do that,” Oceguera said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he could not comment because he has not yet read the report.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, favors a change to a defined contribution plan for new hires but said he has not read the Segal report and so could not yet comment on the findings.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the report indicates what other such studies have said previously, that it would not be fiscally prudent to change the pension plan from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan.

The Legislature has been attempting to address the unfunded liability, although budget problems in recent years have made that more difficult to accomplish, she said. It will be up for discussion at every legislative session, Smith said.

“I think the public employee benefit plans will certainly be under scrutiny; and making sure we have plans to fund them,” she said.

The 2009 Legislature did make some changes to the retirement plan for new hires in an effort to reduce costs, including increasing the retirement age to 62 for some workers.

The report released Dec. 15 says that to change to a defined contribution plan for new hires, the existing defined benefit plan will have to be fully funded over a shorter time frame, requiring increased contribution rates from the state and local governments and possibly employees as well.

A 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, is being pushed for public employee retirement plans nationwide.

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

Advocates for the current system say Nevada’s plan is well managed, is being funded appropriately and will be fully funded over time. Supporters of a change to defined contribution say it would eliminate any future unfunded liability and so benefit taxpayers.

Audio clips:

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea says changing the public employee retirement system could have a big financial impact on state and local governments and employees:

122010Goicoechea1 :07 a tremendous impact.”

Goicoechea says a change to the system could generate a large number of retirements:

122010Goicoechea2 :09 until July 1.”

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera says lawmakers should work to close the unfunded liability rather than make sweeping changes:

122010Oceguera1 :13 that we have.”

Oceguera says getting the current plan 100 percent funded is a worthwhile goal:

122010Oceguera2 :04 to do that.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says budget problems have delayed legislative action on the unfunded liability:

122010Smith :14 plate every session.”

Vision Stakeholder Chairman Paints Bleak Picture For Nevada’s Future If Policy Makers Fail To Act

By Sean Whaley | 4:03 pm December 17th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The chairman of a panel created by the Legislature to assess Nevada’s long-term future had some bleak words today for lawmakers unless action is taken to develop a skilled workforce and improve public education.

“I think the bigger fear, in summation here, is that there’s been a kind of sense from the group that Nevada is becoming the sort of Mississippi of the West, essentially,” said Robert Lang in a report to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

Mississippi frequently ranks at the bottom in many quality of life indicators.

Nevada is lucky there is a state like Mississippi, “to keep us from being 50th,” said Lang, who is affiliated with the Department of Sociology at UNLV. He was a non-voting member of the panel.

Lang was in Carson City to present a report to the committee on the work of the Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group, a panel of 20-appointees charged with assessing the state’s future over the long term. The group completed its work this past summer, looking at ways to improve the economy and overall quality of life in the coming decade.

“These minimums are something that it is difficult to imagine us going lower than, but it is possible that we could go lower than,” Lang said. “It would be disconcerting to go any lower than some of these indicators, especially things like the high school graduation rate, which looks like really, out of the 1920s or 30s for the national level indicators on that.”

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the committee, said the report will be reviewed by the panel a second time in January with more testimony from other members of the group.

The report will be used by the Legislature as it crafts a budget for the next two years. The panel itself has disbanded upon completion of the document.

But the dismal picture of Nevada’s future quality of life is unlikely to see much improvement in at least the coming two years, where the state faces the largest-in-the-nation general fund budget gap as reported last week by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval said after the revenue projections were finalized by the Economic Forum on Dec. 1 that agencies will have to cut another $1.2 billion out of already reduced budgets for the next two years.

The Vision Stakeholder report shows that Nevada’s high school graduation rate has been declining in recent years and was at 53.6 percent in 2007, the most recent data in the report provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report says Nevada has a drop-out crisis and that it needs to dramatically increase graduation rates.

“Tight state and local budgets notwithstanding, now is the time to make the structural changes and investments Nevada needs, lest its obstacles become insurmountable in the years ahead,” the report says.

Audio clips:

Vision Stakeholder Chairman Robert Lang says Nevada could become Mississippi of West:

121710Lang1 :13 the West, essentially.”

Lang says measures of Nevada performance are lagging:

121710Lang2 :21 indicators on that.”

Deputy Secretary For Elections Leaving Post To Return To Private Practice

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:03 pm December 16th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Matt Griffin is leaving his post next month to return to private law practice with the Capitol Company, Secretary of State Ross Miller said today.

Miller appointed Griffin as his elections deputy when he took office in January 2007.

“Matt has skillfully managed the elections division with great energy and enthusiasm for the last four years,” Miller said. “During his tenure as elections deputy, he oversaw what were probably the two most closely watched elections in the state’s history – the 2008 presidential election that generated record voter turnout and the hotly contested 2010 U.S. Senate race.

“His list of accomplishments is long” Miller said. “We will miss his wit and wisdom, and are grateful for his service to the state of Nevada in this very important capacity.”

Miller listed a number of accomplishments under Griffin’s leadership, including defending Nevada’s term limits law in a challenge by 21 candidates statewide, supervising the investigation into the ACORN voter registration fraud case that resulted in two convictions, and crafting legislation to create reporting requirements for legal defense funds following an inquiry into unreported funds by the governor.

“I’m honored to have been asked to serve as elections deputy,” Griffin said. “The secretary’s commitment to accessible and secure elections has placed Nevada among the nation’s best in election administration.”

Griffin will join his brother John and partner Russell Rowe with the Capitol Company, a government affairs firm with offices in Reno and Las Vegas.

Before joining the Secretary of State’s staff, Griffin was an associate with a private law firm and served as a Carson City prosecutor.

Gov.-elect Sandoval Names Three Additional Members To His Administration

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 11:02 am December 16th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval announced today he plans to appoint Terry Johnson as director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry in his administration. 

Sandoval also announced he will reappoint Teresa Thienhaus as director of the Personnel Department and Dino DiCianno as executive director of the Department of Taxation.

Johnson has 15 years of experience in state and local government administration.

Sandoval said Johnson will be a valuable asset to the agency and will help his administration make Nevada an even more business-friendly state.

“As the director of administration in the Clark County District Attorney’s Office and an experienced state agency administrator, Terry has the experience and the know-how to get the job done,” Sandoval said.

Previously the director of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation where he directed all daily and long-term strategic planning and management functions for the department, Johnson also served as a state labor commissioner for five years. In 1996, Johnson was an assistant business advocate at B&I in the Office of Business Finance and Planning.

Sandoval said he is pleased that Thienhaus and DiCianno will continue in his administration.

“With their years of experience, I know that each will be a strong advocate for bringing change to state government while ensuring the missions of their departments are carried out,” he said.

Thienhaus is a former senior deputy attorney general for the state of Nevada. She served as the primary personnel attorney for the Department of Transportation and the Department of Business and Industry.

DiCianno, a native Nevadan, previously served as deputy director of the Tax Department. He also has 10 years of experience in the Division of Assessment Standards as the supervisor of Centrally Assessed Properties.

Nevada Officials Disappointed With Dismissal Of Yucca Mountain Legal Challenges

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 5:04 pm December 15th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval today said he is disappointed with an order from a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel dismissing Nevada’s legal challenges to the high level nuclear waste repository proposed for Yucca Mountain.

“I am disappointed by the licensing’s board order,” he said. “As the executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects has pointed out, the judges made special note of Nevada’s scientific claim that erosion could cause the surface of Yucca Mountain to completely erode during the regulatory period as prescribed by the Environmental Protection Agency, leaving the waste unprotected by the mountain’s geology in the future.

“EPA requires that nuclear waste must be kept away from public and environmental exposure for a million years,” Sandoval said. “I will support the state’s petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to open a rulemaking docket addressing this erosion science that was not previously available when the NRC addressed the issue.”

A three-judge panel of the commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected the legal issues.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto noted that while the board, also referred to as the Construction Authorization Board (CAB), refused to dismiss the U.S. Department of Energy’s license application on legal grounds, it nevertheless preserved for a later date consideration of the safety issues raised by the state in its legal papers.

“Although we are understandably disappointed by the CAB’s latest ruling and had hopes of circumventing the protracted and costly NRC hearing process, we are encouraged that the CAB recognizes the serious safety issues inherent in the DOE’s poorly executed license application for the proposed Yucca Mountain project,” Masto said. “My office will continue to prepare for the NRC hearing to protect Nevada’s citizens.”

The order from the CAB rejected the state’s legal arguments but reserves Nevada’s nearly 300 factual contentions for the extended licensing hearing. Nevada’s legal team is currently reviewing the order and considering an appeal to the full NRC.

“We are particularly heartened by the CAB’s specific finding that erosion at the Yucca Mountain site could likely cause the repository to violate the radiation protection standard adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for protection of the public,” Masto said.

Sandoval said that because of the investment in infrastructure at Yucca Mountain, he is willing to consider the site for research or other non-nuclear purposes that might benefit economic development efforts.

“As governor, I will not give up my fight against storing high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, he said. “Protecting the health, safety and welfare of our fellow citizens will be my highest priority.” 

Sandoval said he was pleased to hear President Obama say in a visit earlier this month that he would not reconsider his decision to shut down the Yucca Mountain site.

In a related matter, a federal appeals court last week lifted a stay on cases challenging the U.S. Department of Energy’s authority to withdraw its licensing application for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The lifting of the stay by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, also includes an expedited briefing schedule to consider arguments by the states of Washington, South Carolina and others challenging the Energy Department’s intent to stop the licensing process.

Report Says Change To Nevada Public Retirement System Would Mean Big Upfront Costs

By Sean Whaley | 2:27 pm December 15th, 2010

(Updated at 4:31 p.m. on Dec. 15, 2010, to include comments from NSEA)

CARSON CITY – The panel that oversees Nevada’s public employee retirement system was told today it would cost about $1.2 billion over the next two years to change from the current defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan for new state and local government workers.

The increased costs would come about as the Public Employees’ Retirement System moved to fully fund the existing plan for current state workers and retirees who would remain in the defined benefit plan.

The increased funding would have to continue over the next several years, adding costs to state and local government budgets. While the cost of the current retirement plan is shared between workers and their government employers, Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS, said employers might end up having to bear the entire increased cost.

“Probably the entire cost would be borne by the employer because the employees are going to say, ‘hey, wait a minute, you’ve unilaterally made a decision to change the financing here and I’m now penalized because of that’,” she said.

The report by the Segal Group Inc., the PERS actuary, was prepared for the retirement board at no additional charge. It was accepted by the board and will be forwarded to the Legislature and Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval for their consideration at the 2011 legislative session. The board took no position on the report or the suggestion to switch to a defined contribution plan.

Sandoval and some lawmakers have advocated a change to a defined contribution plan for new hires as a way of containing a long-term unfunded liability for the current defined benefit plan, which hit $10 billion as of June 30.

A 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, is being pushed for public employee retirement plans nationwide.

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.

Advocates for the current system say Nevada’s plan is well managed, is being funded appropriately and will be fully funded over time.

The unfunded liability number won’t be recalculated until next year, but Bilyeu said today the PERS investment portfolio is up 13.6 percent since July 1, and assets total about $23.7 billion.

Members of the PERS board heard today that making the switch would result in significant upfront costs to the state and local governments as the current plan would be closed to new members and it would have to be fully funded over a shorter period of time.

Bilyeu said the change could be compared to switching from a 30-year mortgage on a home to a 15-year payoff, resulting in higher payments. In the case of PERS, the amortization schedule would shrink from the current 25.5 years to an average of about 10 years, she said.

The Segal Group report cites a number of advantages and disadvantages of defined contribution plans. Defined contribution plans would likely require employees to manage their own investments, and they are frequently drawn down by workers before retirement. They do not include cost-of-living increases to maintain purchasing power.

For government entities and taxpayers, however, eliminating any potential future unfunded liability is a major plus of such plans.

But there is a cost to making such a change. Contribution rates, which now are shared by employers and employees, are set to increase over the next two fiscal years to keep the current defined benefit plan financially healthy. Rates will go up to 23.75 percent from 21.5 percent now for regular employees.

But to fund the plan more quickly, the rate would have to increase to 34 percent instead, according to the Segal report.

For police and firefighters, who are analyzed separately, the increase would go from the proposed 40 percent contribution rate over the next two years to 52 percent.

The cost of these increases would total $1.2 billion for the coming two years, and would continue until the closed defined benefit plan was fully funded.

Gary Peck, incoming executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, said a preliminary review of the Segal report suggests any transition to a defined contribution plan for Nevada public employees in the upcoming legislative session has the potential to become a “train wreck.”

“Based on what we have read so far, it is plainly a red light, not a yellow light, that we hope the governor will pay attention to,” he said.

Craig Stevens, director of government relations for the NSEA, said the costs associated with such a transition make the idea fiscally imprudent right now.

“The price tag is too large at the moment,” he said. “There are philosophical reasons why we advocate for a defined benefit plan for our members, but from a fiscal point of view it makes no sense (to change). We can discuss the merits, but now is not the time.”

Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayer’s Association, has questioned whether state and local governments can afford to make the changeover in the next legislative session because of the costs and the current financial problems facing the state. While advocating for the switch, Vilardo said in an interview on Nevada NewsMakers last week it might have to wait four years.

Audio clips:

PERS Executive Officer Dana Bilyeu says changing to a defined contribution plan would require the current plan to be fully funded more quickly:

121510Bilyeu1 :12 about 10 years.”

Bilyeu says government employers might end up having to pay all of the increased costs of funding the current plan:

121510Bilyeu2 :12 because of that.”

Gov. Gibbons Appoints Former U.S. Senate Candidate Sue Lowden To Medical Board

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 6:16 pm December 14th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons has appointed Sue Lowden to the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners. Lowden has lived and worked in Nevada for more than 30 years. She is a former Nevada state senator who recently ran in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

“Sue Lowden’s outstanding public service contributions to the people of Nevada make her an excellent choice for appointment to this important position,” Gibbons said. “Sue brings a long history of achievement in the public and private sectors to the board.”

“I am proud that Gov. Gibbons has chosen me for this position,” Lowden said. “I am looking forward to working with the other board members to protect our health system in Nevada.”

Some political observers believe it was Lowden’s suggestion that people barter with their physicians to obtain medical care that derailed her GOP Senate primary campaign. Lowden said previous generations paid for care by bringing a chicken to the doctor, a remark that was widely criticized as out of touch.

Lowden was a television anchorwoman and reporter in Las Vegas before embarking on a business career. She is a Nevada gaming licensee and currently serves as a member of the board of directors and secretary-treasurer of Archon Corp., a gaming and investment company. She is the former president of the Santa Fe Hotel and Casino and former executive vice-president of the Sahara Hotel and Casino – both in Las Vegas. Lowden earned a Women of Achievement Award from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, Nevada’s largest business organization.

Lowden will take the seat of Las Vegan Van Hefner, who recently resigned from the board. Lowden’s term will expire on June 30, 2014.

Nevada Officials Moving Quickly To Address Concerns With State Employee Contracting

By Sean Whaley | 5:39 pm December 14th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Secretary of State Ross Miller said today an audit released last week examining current and former state employees winning contracts with state agencies contained “alarming findings.”

Miller asked for a response from Department of Administration Director Andrew Clinger on how the findings are going to be addressed. He made his comments at the Board of Examiners meeting, which is the panel that approves contracts entered into by the state. The board is made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

Miller said he wants to make sure the issues raised in the audit, including some contracts with current and former state employees that appear to involve excessively high rates of pay, are adequately addressed.

Clinger said a working group is being assembled to review current policies and procedures and will meet for the first time tomorrow. Representatives from the Attorney General’s office, the state Purchasing Division, the executive branch Internal Audit Division and others, will meet to develop recommendations to curb any further abuses, he said.

Clinger said he would like to bring some changes to the Board of Examiners by February for its approval, “to help prevent these sorts of violations from happening in the future.”

After the meeting, Clinger said the contracts are reviewed either by his agency or other state agencies that contract directly for the work, but there are no rules in place to deal with the issues raised in the Legislative Counsel Bureau audit reviewed by lawmakers.

A lot of the employees are hired under employment contracts approved by the Board of Examiners, he said. Once these “master service” agreements are approved by the board, the agencies can then contract with people individually and so the details of the employment agreements with current or former state employees do not come back to the board for review, Clinger said.

Clinger said he believes that the issue of excessive hours and pay identified in the audit involves a very small number of current and former state employees, but said he was disappointed by the findings.

“I was disappointed from the standpoint of given where we’re at with the budget crisis, and given where we’re at with public perception, I think it hurts our credibility going into session,” he said.

There may be justification for some of the rates of pay identified in the audit, but Clinger said at first look, the $350 an hour being paid to one former employee seems excessive.

The audit of Nevada state agencies using current and former employees as contractors identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a former state worker is now earning $350 an hour as a contractor versus $65 an hour in his state job.

The audit also found an example of a current state employee earning $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

At least eight examples were identified where state employees working as contractors either did the contract work during regular state work hours or could not provide documentation to show they did the work on their own time.

The Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee voted to turn the audit over to Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto for a review of possible criminal violations.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

Audio clips:

Secretary of State Ross Miller says state agencies must correct issues found in audit:

121410Miller :12 the cracks again.”

Administration Director Andrew Clinger says he is working to put safeguards in place:

121410Clinger1 :15 deal with those.”

Clinger says the audit has hurt the state’s credibility going into the 2011 legislative session:

121410Clinger2 :13 going into session.”

Secretary Of State Wants Private Employers That Win State Contracts To Check Status Of Employees

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:12 pm December 14th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Secretary of State Ross Miller today asked the state Board of Examiners to adopt a new rule requiring private employers who are awarded state contracts to use the federal E-Verify® program to ensure that only eligible workers are hired at their companies.

Miller asked that the board take up the issue at its next meeting in January.

Miller is also urging all employers in the state to voluntarily use E-Verify®, an electronic program that verifies the eligibility of their employees once they’re hired.

The program, authorized by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, compares information from a new hire’s Form I-9 to other federal records to determine if the employee is eligible to work in the United States. Federal officials say the system is fast and accurate, matching data to millions of records kept by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and providing results within seconds.

“This is a quick and easy way for employers to gain some peace of mind, knowing that their new hires are in fact eligible to work in this country,” Miller said. “Not only is it the law, and therefore good business, but with so many Nevadans out of work, we must also make sure that the available jobs we do have are filled by qualified, eligible workers.”

E-Verify® is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, USCIS, and the SSA. About 1,400 Nevada employers are already signed up to use the system, which provides 24-hour secure access, instant results, interactive training to get set up, and full customer service. Nearly a quarter million employers are signed up nationwide, ranging from small mom-and-pop stores to multinational corporations.

First Bills Of 2011 Legislative Session Now Available For Review

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:22 am December 14th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Lobbyists and policy-makers who can’t wait to get a jump on the 2011 legislative session can start their reading assignments now.

Forty-four bills have already been drafted and pre-filed on the Legislature’s website in advance of the session that will begin Feb. 7.

Included in the 17 Assembly bills are three from John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, aimed at further combating child prostitution in Nevada. Hambrick won unanimous support for a bill in 2009 providing for civil penalties of up to $500,000 against those convicted of human trafficking of minor children.

Hambrick now wants to extend that effort next session by increasing sentences for those involved in such crimes, including those who purchase the sexual services of an underage child, and allowing victims to clear their criminal records under certain conditions so they can go on to productive lives.

There is also Senate Bill 1, which appropriates $15 million for the cost of the 2011 session. The bill is the first passed when the Legislature convenes.

Among the other 26 Senate bills drafted and on file is Senate Bill 2, the biennial effort by Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, to appropriate enough money to public education to meet or exceed the national average. Schneider has introduced the bill in previous sessions without success.

Senate Bill 16, requested by the Senate Government Affairs Committee, would make changes to Nevada’s prevailing wage law.

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said the number of bills will grow significantly by Wednesday, when the approximately 155 measures sought by government entities must be pre-filed or they are deemed withdrawn. This list includes 91 measures from the executive branch, along with requests from the attorney general, Supreme Court, Clark County and others.

A total of 241 bills were pre-filed ahead of the 2009 session, he said. The pre-filing of bills helps legislative committees get to work right away when the session begins, Malkiewich said.

The Legislature has only 120 days to complete its work unless the governor calls a special session.

GOP Political Operative Sig Rogich Says Palin Not Electable As President

By Sean Whaley | 3:24 pm December 13th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Long-time Republican political operative Sig Rogich said today that Sarah Palin is not a viable candidate for president in 2012.

Rogich, who was involved in the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and both Bush presidents, said Palin, a Tea Party favorite and former Republican Alaska governor, is unelectable.

“I’m not overly enamored with (Palin),” he said.

“As a candidate nationwide I don’t think she is electable for a presidency, and I think that over time you will see reasons why,” Rogich said.

Rogich made his comments in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

Rogich said he does not believe a clear front-runner for the GOP in the 2012 presidential election has emerged yet.

Asked about possible choices within the GOP to face President Obama, Rogich mentioned former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour as potential candidates.

Rogich also headed up Republicans for Reid in the Nevada Senate race. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid easily won another term on Nov. 2, and Rogich said early on he did not believe the outcome of the contest against GOP challenger Sharron Angle was ever in doubt.

A lot of Nevadans, including moderate Republicans, thought Angle was eccentric and took positions that were not good for the state despite flawed polling that showed a much closer race, he said.

“So I felt pretty good about winning this election,” Rogich said.

Audio clips:

Nevada political operative Sig Rogich says Sarah Palin is not electable as president:

121310Rogich1 :08 see reasons why.”