Archive for February, 2011

Public Pension Reform Details Emerge From Sandoval Administration

By Sean Whaley | 4:32 pm February 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval will propose a change to the retirement system for new state employees that would reduce their current pension benefits by one half and cut the long-term liability for taxpayers by the same amount, his chief of staff said today.

In a press briefing, Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert offered some details on the reform measure even though it has not yet been drafted for introduction to the 2011 Legislature.

The proposal would maintain the current “defined benefit” plan for new state workers, but at the lower amount. Contribution rates required by the state and new state employees would also be lowered to reflect the reduced benefit. As part of the change, the state would also provide a contribution to a “defined contribution” plan for workers to make up the difference in the lower defined benefit pension amount.

This new defined contribution portion of the plan would help the state financially because it would not create any long-term unfunded liability that taxpayers might end up having to pay. It is more like a 401(k)-type plan found in the private sector.

“So right now the exposure or the risk for the contributions for making the pension plans whole is on the taxpayer, basically,” Gansert said. “And we’re saying it should be shared, and the state exposure for these plans, will be capped at a certain rate.”

Creating a new plan for future hires could cost both the state and current state employees more in the former of higher contribution rates, however.

In a report prepared last year for the PERS board, the Segal Group Inc. said switching to a defined contribution plan for all new hires would require the defined benefit plan for current public employees to be funded more quickly, requiring much higher contribution rates over the next several years. For the state, it would require more funding it does not have.

A few lawmakers are expected to introduce their own reform proposals in the 2011 session.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, has a PERS related bill draft request, but Charles Blumenthal, communications director for the Assembly Democratic caucus, said earlier this month it has not yet been decided what reforms, if any, will be pursued with the legislation.

Sandoval, who is in Washington, DC, visiting federal officials and others as part of a National Governors Association conference, has made changing the state retirement plan from a defined benefit plan – which creates a potential future tax liability – to a defined contribution plan – which has no such long-term financial risk to taxpayers – a priority of his administration.

A recent study by the Pew Center on the States identified Nevada’s public pension plan as one of 19 where “serious concerns” about the long-term health of the plan have been identified.

Sandoval has said the public retirement system needs to more closely mirror what is offered by the private sector.

The funding of public pensions is an issue nationally. Many plans are severely underfunded, putting taxpayers potential at risk. Nevada’s plan was 70.5 percent fully funded as of June 30, 2010.

Advocates for the current system say Nevada’s public employee retirement plan is well managed, is being funded appropriately and will be fully funded over time. They say no major changes are necessary.

The plan outlined today by Gansert would take the fundamental shift sought by Sandoval only halfway, and only for state employees. Most state and local government employees are participants of the Public Employees’ Retirement System.

“What it does is it reduces the benefit, which would also reduce the potential liability for the state moving forward,” she said.

The change would not affect the $10 billion long-term liability faced by the retirement system right now for current public employees, but it would lessen the risk moving forward as new state employees are hired, Gansert said.

There were just over 102,000 active public employees participating in the retirement system in fiscal year 2010. Most public employees are eligible to retire with 75 percent of their pay, based on the three consecutive years of highest earnings, after 30 years of employment.

State employees, who currently pay half the contribution rate set by an independent actuary, make up only about 16 percent of the members. Clark County School District employees are the largest group at 31 percent.

Gansert said other public employers could potentially opt to join in with the proposal for new state employees. Sandoval’s proposal would also require all public employees to pay half the contribution rate. Some now don’t pay any.

The current retirement contribution rate is 21.5 percent for most public employees, but the rate is scheduled to jump to 23.75 percent on July 1 of this year. State workers pay half the rate, state agencies and taxpayers pay the other half.

Sandoval’s plan would cut the state required contribution rate to 6 percent for most employees, with another 6 percent coming from the workers for the defined benefit portion of the plan. State employees would then contribute separately to a defined contribution plan with a match of 2 percent by the state.

Police and fire fighters would get a 10 percent contribution rate and be required to pay another 10 percent.

“The current plan needs to be able to fund itself,” Gansert said. “And looking forward to new employees, they will have a lower benefit but they will also have a lower contribution rate.”

Audio clips:

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert says taxpayers now on the hook for public pension plan shortfalls:

022811Gansert1 :14 a certain rate.”

Gansert says Sandoval plan will lower the state liability moving forward:

022811Gansert2 :07 state moving forward.”

Gansert says new state employees will have a lower benefit but a lower contribution rate as well:

022811Gansert3 13 lower contribution rate.”

Sandoval Provides Details Of School Voucher Bill

By Andrew Doughman | 3:41 pm February 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today elaborated on the details of a bill he is proposing to establish a school voucher system in Nevada.

The proposal would allow parents to receive a state-funded, per pupil subsidy to opt out of public schools in favor of private schools, including religious schools.

The stipend, or voucher, would help families pay expenses at the private schools.

Sandoval has based eligibility for the voucher system on family income, said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser. That means that families below or near the poverty line would receive a voucher of greater value than a family well above the poverty line.

Erquiaga at first said some students may not be eligible for vouchers due to the needs-based scale for vouchers. Speaking at a weekly press briefing, a reporter asked why some students would be excluded.

Erquiaga then said that the vouchers would be available on a declining scale; as family incomes increase, the voucher level decreases.

“There is some level where you’ll get the lowest amount possible,” he said.

That lowest amount would be the 50 percent of the current per pupil funding, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

That would put the lowest voucher value around $2,500 according to per pupil funding numbers available from the state’s 2011 Education Data Book. The maximum voucher level, available only to the neediest families, would be the full per pupil spending of around $5,192.

The governor’s office has only submitted a request that legislative employees draft the bill. That means there is not yet bill language for the public to read.

Erquiaga also said that provisions allowing vouchers for homeschooling were not part of the bill.

Sandoval had pushed for a school voucher program during his campaign. He had argued such a program would allow families more options in selecting the best education for their children.

Theoretically, more choice would lead to greater competition, which would in turn lead to improvements at all schools.

Erquiaga was unable to offer a specific dollar figure regarding how much a voucher program would cost. Earlier estimates had cited a $100 million cost.

Erquiaga said there would be a fiscal impact, but the $100 million estimate was too high because it would mean all students in public schools would opt for a voucher.

The bill will have a fiscal impact, but one unlikely to take effect for several years.

That’s because the bill would require a constitutional amendment in order to overcome what the Sandoval administration says are legal barriers requiring a constitutional change.

There is currently a provision in the Nevada constitution that prohibits using public tax dollars for religious purposes. Since the Sandoval bill would allow families to use vouchers for all types of schools, a constitutional change would be necessary.

Article 11, Section 10 of the Nevada constitution is a provision called a Blaine Amendment dating back to statehood, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

Courts have rejected voucher school programs in other states because of these Blaine Amendments.

Changing the Nevada constitution is a complex process that would take as many as six years to accomplish, including voter approval.

Repealing the Blaine Amendment would require the Legislature to pass Sandoval’s proposal in two consecutive legislative sessions and then have it go to a vote of the people, which could not occur before 2014.

A handful of state lawmakers have tried and failed over the years to establish a voucher plan for Nevada students, giving parents a share of their taxes spent on public education so they can pick a school that best meets the needs of their children.

Sandoval Proposes Other Education Bills

The governor has also introduced two bills pertaining to education that include ideas he talked about during his campaign. One would end social promotion and assign children letter grades based on student performance.

Erquiaga characterized the other bill as an “education accountability” bill that would end teacher tenure and end a “last in, first out” policy whereby the most recently hired teachers are the first teachers released during layoffs. The bill would also establish an evaluation system for principals and teachers.

Erquiaga said the governor is aware that Democrats in the Assembly introduced similar reform bills during this past week. He said the administration plans to learn more about those bills and see where the bills might be merged.

–Sean Whaley, Carson City Bureau Chief, contributed to this report.–

Nevada Retail Sales Outlook For 2011 Positive

By Sean Whaley | 1:54 pm February 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Based on the latest taxable sales results, Nevada will likely match national forecasts calling for 4 percent growth in retail sales for 2011, the Retail Association of Nevada said today.

Much of the growth will likely be in areas other than discretionary spending, however, the group noted in its release.

Statewide, December and fiscal-year-to-date taxable sales comparisons to the prior year are largely positive, with sales up 11.2 percent in Nevada in December and 4.9 percent for the fiscal year-to-date.

Several counties are reporting somewhat less encouraging results, including Douglas, which was up just 0.3 percent for the month and is down 1.0 percent fiscal year-to-date. Washoe County reported a 5.6 percent increase in December and a 1.5 percent increase for the six month period ending in December. Carson City is up 4.9 percent in the latest month and 5.8 percent thus far in the current fiscal year. In Clark, sales are up 2.8 percent and 2.4 percent in December and fiscal year-to-date, respectively.

The review of the taxable sales data was authored by Applied Analysis, a Nevada-based firm providing information and analyses for both the public and private sectors.

The report shows that most of the significant growth is taxable sales activity – some of it in the triple-digit percentages and in the hundreds of millions of dollars – was generated in rural counties such as Elko, Esmeralda, Humboldt, Storey and White Pine. Sizable taxable sales gains in these counties are largely attributed to growth in sales related to utilities, mining and manufacturing equipment purchases.

So increases in taxable retail spending in rural jurisdictions appear to be less attributable to individual consumers, and more the result of rural industry investment. While still encouraging, much of this industrial investment is nonrecurring in nature.

Mary Lau, president of the Retail Association of Nevada, said core retailer categories reported mixed results in December statewide, with pockets of both encouraging results in auto sales, clothing and Internet retailers, and less encouraging results in building materials and general merchandise sales.

“With continued growth in mining and mining-related activities, it is likely Nevada will report gains in taxable sales consistent with national expectations for 2011,” she said. “However, it remains to be seen how much of that growth will be attributed to substantial improvement in consumer discretionary spending in our larger metropolitan areas, as opposed to relatively isolated growth occurring in our more rural areas.”

Based on seven consecutive months of national retail sales growth and better than expected holiday sales, the National Retail Federation (NRF) is projecting a 4 percent increase in retail industry sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) in 2011. However, the federation cautions that rising commodity prices and continued high unemployment could become obstacles to economic growth.

With the price of oil rising to a new two-year high this week as unrest in the Middle East escalates, concerns about potential stagflation conditions are not entirely without merit.

In December, Clark County reported increases in sales in accommodations and eating and drinking places of 13.7 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively.  However, high oil prices mean high gasoline costs and rising airfare, both of particular concern to the Nevada tourism industry. The tourism industry and visitor spending strongly affect retail sales throughout the state.

Nevada Small Business Owners Support Key Aspect Of Obama Health Care Law

By Andrew Doughman | 4:00 am February 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A new study shows support for Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to implement President Barack Obama’s national health care reform law.

Nevada small businesses prefer a health insurance exchange crafted in Nevada rather than one created and implemented by the federal government, according to a survey from the local branch of the National Federation of Independent Business.

The small business association is the only private organization suing with 26 states, including Nevada, against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law sometimes called “Obamacare.”

Nevada’s government has chosen to adhere to the law’s deadlines until a definitive court ruling either upholds or strikes down the law. In doing so, the state government has more say in meeting the law’s mandates.

About 100 businesses responded to the poll’s question: “Should Nevada establish its own health insurance exchange instead of deferring to the federal government?”

A majority, 55 percent, said Nevada should be in charge while 19 percent voted ‘No,’ Nevada should not be in charge.

The remaining 26 percent were undecided, perhaps revealing that the law’s intricacies are still new to some business owners.

Many are familiar with the “individual mandate” that sets a deadline for the imposition of penalties for not having health insurance. This is the aspect of the law most frequently called “unconstitutional” by those like Sandoval and others suing to have the law overturned.

The health care insurance exchange is a less-trumpeted piece of the law that could act like a clearinghouse for first-time individual and small business buyers. It’s supposed to be active by 2014, but the planning has already started.

Nevada has hired a Massachusetts-based contractor to help set up what is essentially a Travelocity or Expedia for health insurance; it would find the best deals for a buyer based the buyer’s preference and other personal criteria.

It’s an important concept for small businesses because the federal law allows businesses with up to 50 employees to purchase “qualified” health insurance plans through the exchange. One question Nevada’s policymakers will have to answer is whether the state’s exchange should have a separate division just for small businesses.

Two public meetings, one in Las Vegas and one in Reno, are slated for this Tuesday and Wednesday to allow public comment regarding Nevada’s exchange.

Some policymakers are also entertaining the idea of establishing such an exchange even if the federal law is ruled unconstitutional.

“Regardless of whether this bill gets repealed or not, I have a feeling that health care exchanges will be part of the future anyway,” said Randi Thompson, the local representative for the National Federation of Independent Business.

As KUNR reported earlier this month, Mike Willden, the director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, has also talked with Sandoval about decoupling the federal law’s mandates and Nevada’s health insurance exchange.

“He [Sandoval] thinks there may be some sense in having a health insurance exchange even if the Supreme Court strikes down the law,” Willden said Friday outside of a committee hearing about the federal health care law.

The National Federation of Independent Business conducts a poll annually so that its lobbyists have some direction for their efforts during legislative sessions nationwide.

In Nevada, the poll’s three other questions were not nearly as controversial as the health insurance exchange question. Among respondents, 77 percent said they would favor penalties for businesses hiring illegal immigrants, 72 percent would support tax exemptions or incentives to promote job growth and 75 percent would endorse a 401(k)-style retirement plan for new government workers.

Thompson said she sent the poll to the approximately 2,000 Nevada members of the National Federation of Independent Business, and said that the 100 respondents represented a “broad spectrum of businesses.”

Nevada 49th Lowest In Tax Burden, But 28th In Tax Collections, New Study Says

By Sean Whaley | 3:12 pm February 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada residents bear the second lowest state and local tax burden of any state at 7.5 percent, behind only Alaska at 6.3 percent, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation.

But an analyst for a conservative Nevada think tank says the state’s tax collections are near the national median, and any suggestions by some policymakers that residents should pay more to fund government programs are not borne out by the study.

Nevada has consistently ranked in the top five least taxed states since the foundation first began reporting the data nearly two decades ago.

Residents of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut paid the highest state and local rates in the nation in fiscal year 2009, giving up 12 percent or more of their incomes to the tax collector, the study found.

The report also analyzes the taxes paid by residents of one state but collected in another, such as California residents who visit Nevada to gamble.

Not surprisingly, it shows Nevada collects much of its tax revenue from out-of-state visitors.

As the study points out: “Major tourist destinations like Nevada and Florida are able to lower their residents’ burden to the state by taxing tourists, who are likely to be non-residents. Nationwide, over a quarter of all state and local taxes are collected from non-residents.”

In Nevada, the state ranked 28th in terms of total state and local tax collections per resident, the report found.

But only $1,988 in taxes were paid by each Nevada resident. Another $1,799 in taxes per each Nevada resident were collected from non-residents. These two categories taken together put Nevada at the 28th place ranking in total state and local tax collections.

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy director of policy at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said the study clearly shows a low tax burden for Nevada residents, but a level of tax revenue that is near the median of the 50 states. The report for 2009 also does not include the major tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature for the current two-year budget.

The 2009 tax increase will expire on July 1, 2011, unless extended by the Legislature. Gov. Brian Sandoval is opposed to any such extension and has voted to veto any tax increase approved by lawmakers.

“Regardless of who bears the burden of taxes, lawmakers still have the money to spend,” Lawrence said. “Not including the largest tax hike in Nevada’s history, the Tax Foundation report still shows that Nevada has more money to spend per capita than 22 other states. As this report proves, in terms of tax collections, Nevada is not a ‘low-tax’ state.”

Even so, some Nevada lawmakers are citing the study as proof that Nevadans are under-taxed, he said.

“So when you talk about government being somehow underfunded in Nevada, I just don’t see how that really is the case,” Lawrence said. “I would agree that a lot of funds are spent inefficiently here in Nevada.”

Sandoval has submitted a $5.8 billion general fund budget that he says contains no new taxes or fees, but some of his funding alternatives, such as shifting the cost of programs to local governments, have been criticized by lawmakers, county governments and school officials.

Lawmakers who convened Feb. 7 for the 2011 session have also heard testimony on the many program cuts in Sandoval’s budget, and the consequences of those spending reductions on everything from mental health needs to higher education.

Sandoval has said he does not want to increase the tax burden on residents or struggling businesses. Job creation is the way for Nevada to grow out of its current financial difficulties, he has said.

Audio clips:

NPRI analyst Geoffrey Lawrence says Nevada’s level of government funding is on par with other states:

022511Lawrence1 :09 you see elsewhere.”

Lawrence says Nevada government is not underfunded:

022511Lawrence2 :19 be better organized.”

Proposal Would Ban Smoking On All Nevada College And University Campuses

By Andrew Doughman | 9:47 am February 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Students who smoke may soon find it more difficult to do so. A proposal heard today would ban smoking on all Nevada’s university and college campuses.

The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006 already outlaws smoking inside of buildings, but this has not rid campuses of tobacco smoke, said Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, the bill’s sponsor and a former professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“My goal in introducing this bill is to make it possible for students to walk on campus and not be exposed to secondhand smoke,” he said. “There are entrances to buildings where smokers cluster because they’re outside, and you have to walk through the smoke to get inside.”

The bill received support from various medical associations whose representatives testified that exposure to secondhand smoke is both harmful and easily preventible. Christopher Roller of the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition said 466 campuses in the United States already have a complete tobacco ban.

The Nevada Faculty Alliance also supported Aizley’s bill.

At the hearing, Aizley also submitted an amendment to his bill that would establish smoking on campus as a misdemeanor for which someone could receive a citation.

Although no one testified against the bill at the Assembly’s judiciary committee meeting, the chairman, William Horne, D-Las Vegas, had several concerns.

Horne, a UNLV graduate himself, imagined smokers fleeing the campus for a cigarette break.

“Where in that immediate vicinity would they be able to do that?” he asked.

Showing his familiarity with the local geography, he rattled off a list of businesses adjacent to the UNLV campus, many of which also don’t allow smoking on their premises.

“So, the parking lot in front of Chipotle?” Horne said. “So I can eat my burrito bowl and pass through a cloud of smoke?”

He seemed to be saying that an enforced ban would create a smoke-free environment for students and faculty, but would likely expose those in the immediate vicinity to more secondhand smoke.

Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas, asked whether or not smoking would be allowed in parking lots.

The bill language states that smoking would be banned “on any property or campus owned or occupied by any component of the Nevada System of Higher Education and used for any purpose related to the System,” which would seem to include university parking lots.

The committee did not vote on the bill.

“I’d like to see if we can come to some kind of compromise,” Horne said to Aizley at the conclusion of the hearing. “They [Smokers] should have at least some place that they could go that’s convenient to do it.”

“My intention is to have the ability to walk through the campus smoke free,” Aizley responded.

Aizley said he would examine possibilities for creating smoking zones that would still allow people to walk through campus without breathing secondhand smoke.

Recession Leading To Exodus Of University Faculty

By Andrew Doughman | 10:14 am February 23rd, 2011

Professor Michael Young began to think last year that he should look for a job outside of Nevada.

It was not the craziest thought; the recession was in full swing and legislators were slashing the higher education budget.

Young was a departmental director at the Desert Research Institute. Now he’s an associate director at the University of Texas, Austin.

During the recession, Nevada has had a difficult time keeping research professors like Young.

The best students already seem to be leaving for out-of-state colleges. The same thing seems to be happening with faculty.

“It turns out, ironically, that the state of Texas has big economic problems as well,” Young said in a phone interview. “But there’s a very fundamentally different level of understanding in terms of what the university does for the economy and for the future of the state [in Texas]. You don’t really hear that a lot in Nevada.”

What you do hear is the president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas telling faculty that the university may go bankrupt. You hear Gov. Brian Sandoval proposing a $163 million cut to the state’s universities and colleges.

At the same time, Nevada’s public figures have championed economic diversification through hiring innovative faculty, providing start-up funds and building a research engine. These professors will presumably leverage millions in federal grants and build Reno or Las Vegas into high-tech research hubs where start-ups will provide manufacturing jobs.

It sounds great. One day we will talk of Silicon Valley, Seattle and Reno as the tech hubs of the West.

But then reality sets in.

“It’s hard to imagine a young faculty member … why would that person go to a university where 30 percent of its budget is being cut?” Young asked. “It’s not an incentive that a lot of young people would take.”

Young said he left Nevada for various reasons, among them the state’s fiscal woes.

Steven Wells, president of the DRI, said that the institution has lost 21 faculty since 2008.

“We’ve had people who have been here five to ten years suddenly leaving and our investment in them goes with them,” he said. “Michael Young is a prime example. I tried to do whatever I could to keep him.”

Wells said that researchers like Young aren’t tenured. They support themselves through grants they receive largely from the federal government.

But the DRI’s administrative costs do come from the state. The state must also attract graduate students to work under researchers like Young.

“These researchers within these institutes have to believe that there’s a future here and that the state is interested in bolstering the fledgling research infrastructure that we have,” said Jim Croce, director at the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization.

Data provided by the Nevada System of Higher Education showed that Young had brought about $3 million into Nevada via grants during the past two years. He’s just one of many professors at the DRI, UNLV and the University of Nevada, Reno who collectively brought in millions of dollars to the state and have since left.

Where’s the money?

The recession has left the state’s coffers running dry, the federal stimulus is running out and “new spending” are dirty words at the Legislature.

A Senate committee on economic development heard testimony this week from Croce, who talked about expanding his organization’s link between university research and the renewable energy sector.

Senators immediately wanted to know the cost.

“Does that mean investing general funds into the system so that they have the capacity in their budget to go out and recruit their researchers?” asked Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

Croce replied that yes, Nevada would be “literally buying” faculty to come to Nevada.

Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, followed by asking what the state would need to do.

“At a minimum we have to stop the bleeding and make sure we have a healthy NSHE base,” he said.

Higher ed needs “drastic reform”

Others argue that the higher education system already has enough money.

“You’re really good at coming and asking for money,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, to Dan Klaich, NSHE chancellor, at a higher education hearing this week. “But what we need now is help and places where we can make reform. Drastic reform.”

Her comments echo those of the governor’s senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga.

“You’ve got to have money to spend money,” he said during a January press conference.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said that the universities can help with economic development, even as their budgets shrink.

“It can be done today,” he said. “It’s about directing resources.”

He said that universities can help faculty gear their research toward commercialization.

Nonetheless, those same faculty have been and still are leaving.

“It’s not like you flip a light switch and you get your research back,” Young said. “To me that’s probably one of the saddest parts of the story. …When the economy is doing well, the state is going to continue to suffer through this because the research infrastructure is gone.”

Popular Vote Movement Gains Steam Nationally – Nevada Among States Targeted

By Sean Whaley | 1:24 pm February 22nd, 2011

A national movement to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states combined gained steam today with the financial support of a billionaire businessman who has committed resources to enacting the concept across the country, including Nevada.

Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex, the nation’s second largest payroll and human resource company, is now the national spokesman for the National Popular Vote organization. Golisano’s support has allowed the group to put teams in all states that have yet to pass the bill.

In a telephone conference call with the media, Golisano said: “This effort is going to expand geometrically during the next 18 months. Our goal is to get this done by the end of 2012 which would make it effective for the 2016 election.”

Golisano said 75 percent of American voters believe the electoral process now used to pick the president is flawed and should be changed.

“My speculation is that if the other 25 percent totally understood it at the level we understand it, that number might go up to 90 or 95 percent,” he said. “The other most important fact is when we wake up on Wednesday morning, the presidential candidate that had the most wins should become the president of the United States, and this is what the national popular vote bill is all about.”

The proposal was debated in the Nevada Legislature in 2009.

Assembly Bill 413, which would have adopted the popular vote proposal, passed the Assembly on a party line 27-14 vote with Democrats in support. But it did not get a vote in the Senate by a legislative deadline. A bill has not been introduced yet in the 2011 session.

The proposal has been enacted in six states, including Hawaii and Washington, and the District of Columbia.

It would eliminate the current system in most states, including Nevada, where a presidential candidate wins all of a state’s electoral votes for winning the popular vote in that state. Electoral votes would still be counted, but states supporting the change would see their electoral votes go to the national popular vote winner.

The group says the winner-take-all rule has permitted a candidate to win the presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in four of 56 elections. The group notes that a shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry despite George Bush’s 3.5 million vote lead nationwide.

The group says another shortcoming of the winner-take-all rule is that presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign visits and ad money in the November general election campaign in just six closely divided “battleground” states. Nevada was one of those states.

The National Popular Vote proposal would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes — that is, enough electoral votes to elect a president, which is 270 of 538.

Supporters of the proposal in Nevada at a 2009 hearing cited fairness as the reason for their support.

But former Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, explained his rationale for opposing the change: “Let us say there is a candidate who is vehemently against Nevada. This candidate proposes burying all nuclear waste in Nevada. Ninety percent of the state votes against this candidate, but that candidate wins the popular vote by 1 percent nationwide. You are suggesting that we should enact this law that would essentially disenfranchise our voters and elect someone who would go against our wishes?”

Larry Sokol, representing the National Popular Vote at the hearing, replied: “Your votes did matter, your votes were heard, but they just happened to be in the minority.”

Janine Hansen, president of the Nevada Eagle Forum, opposed the measure as well, saying Nevada’s battleground status brought then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to Elko.

“If we just relied on Nevada’s popular vote, we would probably never see another presidential candidate,” she said.

Audio clips:

Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex and a spokesman for the National Popular Vote bill, says the group wants to get the new system in place for the 2016 election:

022211Golisano1 :12 the 2016 election.”

Golisano says voters believe the electoral process is flawed:

022211Golisano2 :19 or 95 percent.”

Golisano says the presidential candidate with the most votes should win:

022211Golisano3 :12 is all about.”

Nevada Looking Hard At Copying Utah Business, Job-Creation Model

By Andrew Doughman | 8:37 am February 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Ted McAleer says he’s got a silver bullet for creating jobs in the Silver State.

McAleer is with a unique University of Utah-based jobs research program, and lately he’s become the toast of Nevada. He wowed public officials when he spoke at the Nevada 2.0 economic development conference in Las Vegas. Now many of those same public servants have gone to Carson City to talk about the unique Utah program that uses the business community, universities, local agencies – and millions of tax dollars – to create high paying jobs.

Senate Democrats could introduce a jobs bill this week based McAleer’s model.

Model could provide jobs for Nevadans

The basic idea in Utah was to build research teams at universities that could turn a small investment into millions of dollars in federal research grants.

It’s called Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, or USTAR.

Steven Wells, president of the Desert Research Institute, explained it like this: “Let’s focus on three or four key areas that we can be really competitive in and then bring in top flight faculty to work with current faculty.”

From there, the “top flight” team would develop an idea into a marketable product.

Often, these discoveries languish on dusty shelves. So the state would help connect venture capitalists with researchers to bridge the so-called “valley of death” between invention and innovation.

Entrepreneurs in the tech market would then try to develop a marketable product. With venture capital and intellectual property centered in one area, the areas around Reno or Las Vegas could become the next Silicon Valley.

This would diversify Nevada’s economy while also providing jobs and creating or expanding Nevada businesses.

The initiative idea does all that — on paper at least.

Proposal might require new spending

But copying Utah’s model and applying it in Nevada could also mean new spending. Indeed, in Utah the legislature signed off on giving $179 million to the effort.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, however, is proposing $163 million in cuts to the higher education budget.

So where’s the money?

“We’re looking at what necessary funding needs to be in place,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, who chairs the Senate Finance committee. “We want to work with the Governor to find the right funding mechanism.”

Nobody has yet defined a specific funding source.

But Robert Lang of Brookings Mountain West, who had invited McAleer to a Vegas conference, told a Senate committee that private investment money is already in the state if the state can initially supply funding.

“We have a lot of venture capital specialty in the state in places like Incline Village,” he said. “Incline Village is a colony of ex-Silicon Valley retirees. Those folks are looking to do good here as well and invest in the Nevada economy.”

A “no-cost stimulus”

In some form, what Utah has embraced has been going on for decades throughout the country.

Robert E. Litan of the Kauffman Foundation explains in the current issue of The American Interest that commercialized university research led to barcodes and the Internet.

He calls commercialization the “no-cost stimulus” available to all states with a major research institution.

He cites two figures: Entrepreneurs launching start-ups have created “virtually all new jobs” in the U.S. economy since 1980. Later, he cites National Science Foundation figures that $90 billion in federal research grants flowed through U.S. universities during 2009.

Large public research universities like the University of Washington were able to net $800 million of that money, more than any other American public university.

That’s compared to $63 million at the University of Nevada, Reno, in the same year.

Building on what Nevada has

Legislators rushing to use a USTAR model may note that Nevada already commercializes research.

For example, UNR has a Technology Transfer Office that takes intellectual property developed at the university and transfers it to the private sector.

“Essentially what happens in tech transfer is that the faculty do the research that they want to do,” said Ryan Heck, director of the transfer office. “It’s not necessarily tied to anything that’s industrially relevant.”

Faculty direct their own research. Some of it ends up at Heck’s office. He then tries to market it as best he can. That’s led to about four or five start-up companies during the past decade.

But that’s not exactly a USTAR-like model. Could Utah’s plan take root in Nevada?

Desert Research Institute’s Wells says it’s not likely this year.

“I don’t think you can do USTAR with what is being proposed to be cut,” Wells said. “You have to think about, if you’re trying to lure people in … why would they want to come here if they know that the investment in higher education is going to be cut?”

Freshman State Senator Shakes Up Mining Industry As Legislative Session Begins

By Sean Whaley | 9:21 am February 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Freshman Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson got a lot of people’s attention last week when he engaged in a brief but spirited line of questioning at a Judiciary Committee hearing with mining industry lobbyists.

On the job just one week, Roberson, R-Las Vegas, was trying to get information from the mining industry about their profits in Nevada. He was not satisfied with the answers, and said afterward the mining industry might be able to pay more in taxes, firing a shot across the bow of one the state’s most powerful industries.

Sen. Michael Roberson

Roberson, the only attorney on the Judiciary Committee and one of only two in the 21-member Senate, did not mince words with the industry lobbyists during a discussion of a measure to take away mining’s right to use eminent domain.

In an interview in his legislative office last week, Roberson said it is his job to get the answers, and he won’t stop until he does.

“What I wanted to know from mining, and I didn’t get a straight answer – how much money are the mining companies making here in Nevada,” Roberson said. “What’s their profit? I think that’s important for the people to know. And it was clear to me, the lobbyists for mining didn’t want to give me those numbers.”

Roberson says he is in complete agreement with GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval on the need to balance the next two-year state budget without a tax increase. But restructuring Nevada’s tax system to generate more income from mining while reducing the burden on small businesses, for example, is worth considering if taxes don’t increase overall, he said.

Watching Roberson take on one of the biggest players in the Nevada Legislature was an eye-opener for some observers, but should not come as a surprise. Roberson ran a tough campaign to unseat the better funded Democrat incumbent Joyce Woodhouse in the November election in District 5, paring the Democratic majority in the Senate to a single vote.

Bob Fulkerson, director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), which has been pushing for a tax increase on the mining industry, said Roberson’s comments at the hearing, “broke the sense of entitlement the mining lobbyists swagger around with.”

“It was very refreshing to see a legislator from Nevada have the guts to expose mining’s sweetheart tax loopholes in such a forceful way,” he said. “It shows we make mistakes – me and PLAN, or anybody – it shows we can’t pigeon-hole lawmakers based on party and ideology.”

Roberson knows a bit about the mining industry, or at least its sometimes less appealing aftermath. Raised in Galena, Kansas, a small mining town with a population of 3,300, he saw the effects of mining on the community in the 1960s after the minerals had been extracted and the companies had left.

“It can’t help but color how I see things because in my formative years that’s what I grew up with,” he said. “And again, I’m not against mining. I’m not anti-mining. I think it is an important industry to our state, especially to the rurals, and I want mining to thrive here in Nevada.

“But it took many years before the EPA came in and finally cleaned up Galena. In fact I had already moved away by the 1990s.”

Galena is the name of a lead-based mineral that was also found here in Northern Nevada. Galena Creek in south Reno and nearby Galena High School share the same name.

Roberson said Galena itself was the poorest area of the state. On his campaign website Roberson describes himself as coming from “modest beginnings.”

After graduating from high school, Roberson attended the University of Kansas where he graduated in 1993 with a political science degree. He then attended the University of Kansas School of Law on an academic scholarship, earning his degree in 1996.

Roberson said he was inspired to get involved in politics with by the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. He worked on the U.S. Senate campaign for Sam Brownback in 1996 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1997, where he worked on Capitol Hill for then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. He then worked for a political fund-raising company named CAPTEL.

Roberson moved to Nevada in 2000 and is currently an attorney with the law firm of Kolesar & Leatham, Chtd.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said he first met Roberson at the GOP caucus meeting after the election and was impressed with his demeanor.

“He was not overly gabby but when he did talk, he was very thoughtful,” he said.

McGinness said Roberson’s line of questioning at the Judiciary hearing was appropriate, given the state’s budget situation.

“He went into the deep end of the pool right away,” he said. “He’ll do OK.”

Roberson, 40, said he enjoys serving in the Judiciary Committee and that the legislative process thus far is about what was expected. Roberson is also serving on the Natural Resources and Commerce, Labor and Energy committees.

“You never really know what it is going to be like but I guess this is generally how people described it to me before I got into this,” he said. “But I’m enjoying it. I really am.”

Being away from his wife, Liberty Leavitt-Roberson, a Clark County school teacher, and their two dogs, is one of the more difficult aspects of the job so far, but time away from family is part of the job description for a Southern Nevadan to serve in the Legislature in Carson City, he said.

“That’s the toughest part about this, I miss my wife, I miss my two little dogs, it’s tough being away from my family,” Roberson said. “It was tough not being with my wife on Valentine’s Day. But those are the sacrifices we make. We’ll be fine.”

While his comments on mining profits have garnered the most attention early in the session, Roberson said his legislative agenda includes reforms to public education and the collective bargaining process to try to drive down public employee salaries to make them comparable to the private sector.

Roberson said he wants a school choice program where parents can get a rebate for half the per pupil support to pick a private or public school or use the money for home schooling. It would require testing to show student achievement, he said. Roberson also wants a study of Florida’s school reforms to see which might work for Nevada.

Changes to collective bargaining are needed because the pay differential is 30 percent higher for public sector workers, he said.

“We’re never going to get control of this beast until we do something about narrowing that gap,” Roberson said.

His bills have not yet been introduced.

He would also support a change sought by Sandoval to change the public employee retirement system to a defined contribution plan for future hires.

But for now, mining is the hot topic for Roberson.

Richard Perkins, a lobbyist for the Newmont Mining Corp. and former speaker of the Assembly, said Roberson is thoughtful and asks good questions.

“But like any freshman legislator, Senate or Assembly, (he) is still trying to find his sea legs,” he said. “And the questions he asked this last week were a part of that process.”

The mining industry now needs to educate Roberson about the business and satisfy his concerns, Perkins said.

“His profile will more fully develop itself to all of us after that education occurs and we look at how he handles this specific issue,” he said.

Roberson said he does not yet know if the mining industry can afford to pay more, although he is inclined to believe the companies are doing OK.

“My general sense is mining is doing exceptionally well right now,” he said. “And I know for a fact small business in this state is on life-support.”

If that proves not to be the case, Roberson said he would not pursue a tax increase on the industry. But he wants the answers to the mining industry’s profitability in Nevada first and said he will get them.

Based on the exchange at the Feb. 14 judiciary hearing, the mining industry probably believes he won’t take no for an answer either.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says toughest part of job is being away from family:

022111Roberson1 :07 from my family.”

Roberson says it took long time for EPA to clean up his home town:

022111Roberson2 :17 by the 1990s.”

Roberson says he is not opposed to mining industry:

022111Roberson3 :16 here in Nevada.”

Roberson says he did not get a straight answer from mining on profits in Nevada:

022111Roberson4 :10 people to know.”

Roberson says mining lobbyists did not want to provide information:

022111Roberson5 :17 become more suspicious.”

Roberson says if restructuring of Nevada’s tax system makes sense and is revenue neutral, that is OK:

022111Roberson6 :08 open to discussing.”

Mining lobbyist Richard Perkins says Roberson’s questioning was part of his learning process as a freshman:

022111Perkins1 :10 of that process.”

Perkins says Roberson’s profile will become more clear after seeing how he handles the mining issue:

022111Perkins2 :08 this specific issue.”

The Federal Stimulus At Age Two: Legislators Left With Budget Gap

By Andrew Doughman | 4:00 am February 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State senator Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, has had enough of percentages.

Just the numbers, please, was his basic request at a Senate Finance committee meeting this past week as various state agencies delivered their budget reports.

The percent game continually disrupted budget hearings during the week before the legislative session commenced. Legislators argued over the “real” numbers and hurled accusations of budget “trickery” and rudeness.

Much of the numbers game has to do with the $2.9 billion money Nevada received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or federal stimulus, during the past two years.

The money is running out, and Nevada’s legislators cannot agree how to best cope with the funding shortfalls the sunset of the stimulus has caused.

Approaching “the cliff”

Nevada spent about $900 million in stimulus money between July 1, 2010 and Jan. 21, 2011, according to the State Controller’s office.

The state has $400 million left to spend, but that occurs over the next two years.

“That’s the cliff,” said Mary Keating, a state official who tracks ARRA spending for the State Controller’s office.

During this past budget cycle, the federal spending made the state budget situation look better than it was.

“Nevada spent its ARRA funds in areas that experienced shortfalls and needed stabilization,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, when asked in an e-mail whether he thought the money was spent wisely.

The problem now is that the state still has shortfalls and the stream of ARRA funds flowing into Nevada is slowing to a trickle.

That is what is causing the percents game in the Legislature. Horsford has said the governor’s budget fails to account for the loss of stimulus money. Therefore, he says, the budget deficit is $2.7 billion.

The governor has submitted a $5.8 billion general fund budget that he says is balanced, and takes into account the loss of the stimulus funds.

It is a game that has led Chancellor Dan Klaich, head of the Nevada System of Higher Education, to stop using percentages entirely because, as a Las Vegas Review Journal story highlighted, different groups can rig the numbers to their advantage.

It’s a lot of bad news. Aside from the squabbling about percents, the stimulus money is mostly gone, the federal government is knocking to collect interest on its loans and will soon ratchet down the stimulus’ extra Medicaid funding.

The federal government also isn’t offering another broad stimulus, unless one counts the more targeted spending proposals for high speed rail and renewable energy.

Unlike the federal government, state governments must balance their budgets. They cannot go into debt to balance their operating budgets.

“They either have to cut or they raise taxes,” said Elliot Parker, chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Nevada, Reno. “They can’t borrow.”

Some say Nevada should simply cut spending

One camp, mostly Republicans, argues the state should not spend if we don’t have the money. Coupled with a Congress wary of deficits and increased spending and a governor who has pledged not to increase taxes, that scenario becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Congress provides no new stimulus, Governor Brian Sandoval vetoes any new tax and suddenly you cannot spend money you don’t have.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, called the stimulus funds a “one-shot” injection into the budget.

Sandoval addressed the loss of stimulus funds in his proposed budget with cuts and shuffling other funds into the state’s general fund.

Others say Nevada should sustain services

Another camp, largely Democrats, says the state needs to support education and health services even if the federal government no longer provides help.

Although it’s impossible to know whether Nevada would have been worse off without the stimulus, this camp projects a future of funding shortfalls and budget cuts that hamper growth and cripple the state.

“The absence of the funds this biennium is a wake-up call to legislators that the responsibility for improving our state will require a long-term vision,” Horsford said. “We must have an open and honest debate about the essential services our state should provide, and I welcome that discussion.”

Going forward, the debate about what to do in the shadow of the stimulus could have significant impact on Nevada’s budget situation. Depending on your political philosophy, how Nevada copes with the loss of ARRA dollars could either help or hinder economic recovery.

Then again, talk of an economic recovery may be premature.

“Nevada’s problems are so particular that we really haven’t started recovery yet,” Parker said.

Nevada Institute Selected To Pilot Federal Program

By Andrew Doughman | 2:36 pm February 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A Nevada group has beat out 71 national competitors to mentor small businesses under a federal program.

The federal Small Business Administration picked the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization earlier this week to be a pilot for an entrepreneurial mentoring program.

NIREC joins just three other companies nationwide in the program designed to pair mentors with participating companies to assess needs, opportunities and strategies.

In other words, officials decided that the work NIREC already does in Nevada qualified it to for the pilot program.

The institute already has an established network of professionals who understand entrepreneurship. Research institutes, utilities, corporations and venture capitalists are all part of the not-for-profit organization.

According to a Small Business Administration press release, that means they should be able to more easily help companies raise money, create jobs and overcome challenges.

John Argo, an entrepreneur at NIREC, said that the institute is supposed to partner with a handful of businesses nationwide to help them grow.

“You have to spend a lot of time with each company to find out what their needs are and connect them with the right people,” he said.

None of the companies are in Nevada.

He said, however, that the organization already partners with tech-based start-ups in Nevada, and NIREC officials can always bring what they learn through participating in the federal program back to Nevada.

NIREC has also been involved at the Legislature at committee hearings for economic development.

States Rights Resolution Will Get Legislative Hearing

By Sean Whaley | 3:01 pm February 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A state Senate resolution telling Congress to respect Nevada’s right to govern itself under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is expected to get a hearing, the chief sponsor said today.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 6 on Wednesday. Cosponsors include all 25 Republican members of the Legislature.

Settelmeyer said the resolution mirrors one he and several other lawmakers sought in the 2009 session that did not get a hearing in the Assembly where he was serving at the time.

But Senate Government Affairs Chairman John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said there is enough public interest on the issue to hold a hearing, and he has scheduled the measure for March 7.

The resolution, if approved, will be sent to Nevada’s Congressional delegation, and to the rest of Congress, asking that the federal government respect the right of the state to deal with those issues not under national control, Settelmeyer said.

This includes what is expected to be a costly mandate to the state to expand Medicaid coverage as a result of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, he said.

Nevada is one of 26 states challenging the constitutionality of the act. The states recently won a victory in their challenge in a U.S. District Court in Florida.

“We have far too many edicts coming down from the federal government that we cannot afford,” Settelmeyer said. “They tell us to do stuff and give us no funding to do it with.”

The health care law is just one example, he said.

“This resolution again, is just mainly to state to our congressional representatives and to the U.S. Congress, that the Constitution is relevant and the 10th Amendment within the Constitution is extremely relevant as it pertains to its interactions with the states,” Settelmeyer said.

The resolution was not circulated among Democrats to sign on, although Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, signed on to the similar Assembly Joint Resolution 15 in 2009.

Lee said he is having his committee legal counsel review the measure and the law so that questions raised during the hearing will get answers right then.

“I’m only going to have two bills that day instead of four or five so people have a chance to discuss it,” he said.

Audio clips:

Sen. James Settelmeyer says the federal government has issued too many edicts to the states:

021711Settelmeyer1 :08 do it with.”

Settelmeyer says the resolution will send a message to Congress:

021711Settelmeyer2 :15 with the states.”

The Federal Stimulus At Age Two: Was It A Success?

By Andrew Doughman | 11:02 am February 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – In certain circles, nothing raises the collective blood pressure like talk of ARRA and the federal stimulus bill.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Barack Obama signed into law two years ago has channeled $800 billion to the states in an attempt to jolt the economy to life.

But in Nevada, the unemployment rate has actually risen since then. So what has the $2.9 billion in stimulus money actually done in the Silver State?

How the money was spent

Most of the funding did not go to new job creation.

A little more than half the money, $1.5 billion, helped the state pay out unemployment benefits. Another $425 million propped up health programs like Medicaid and food stamp programs through increases in something called FMAP, or the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages.

Nevada also used about $400 million to mitigate cuts to its education and corrections budgets. The state’s transportation department and Nevada’s two public research universities also received millions in funding.

In short, about two-thirds of the money fell outside the realm of new job creation.

“Since the act had so many goals originally, the focus of all those other goals has dimmed,” said Charles Harvey, the governor’s ARRA director. “The light has shined on jobs and unemployment only.”

The actual job creation numbers are difficult to track or assess.

Nevada still has $400 million more to spend through June 30, 2014.

So if it is impossible to pin down job creation numbers and most of the money went elsewhere, was the spending effective?

An “epic failure” or a helpful “Band-Aid”?

As with many policy assessments, success is in the eye of the beholder. In short, it depends who you ask.

The original act passed in Congress with virtually no Republican support.

“It was an epic failure,” said Victor Joecks of the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Joecks argued that the stimulus prevented the market from self-correcting for the recession’s effects. He said the money came from taxes collected largely from businesses, which could have better spent those dollars.

Others say it artificially sustained state spending and did little to create jobs.

“It’s a Band-Aid,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, who sits on the Senate Finance committee that dealt with ARRA dollars. “Was it beneficial? That’s what we’ll find out. We still have a high unemployment rate. We’re at close to 15 percent … so that’s not a very good indicator.”

Across the aisle, the view is different. For supporters, ARRA dollars patched the state budget when it otherwise would have been shredded.

“ARRA funds have saved Nevada jobs and provided education funding for our state,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, the chair of the Senate Finance committee, in an e-mail. “They have been successful in helping us maintain a baseline of services during tough economic times.”

UNR economist Elliott Parker pointed out that economists also disagree about the stimulus.

He said some economists say it didn’t work because the economy is growing too slowly for the stimulus to have had its intended impact.

Parker, however, said the recession crippled the economy so much that any stimulus would not have worked.

“Once it happened, the economic damage was so severe,” he said. “It’s like giving aspirin for a broken bone. All you can do is reduce the pain.”

Among those interviewed, many hedged their comments and said it’s still too early to gauge the full effect.

In part, that is because Nevada and other states still have billions more to collectively spend. A complete analysis probably won’t be available for several years, when the states have spent every last stimulus dime.

Stigma has made stimulus a “bad word”

The lack of an authoritative report, however, has hardly stopped politicking. For federal spending bills, perhaps none in recent history has been as slandered as ARRA.

The act has become the whipping boy for people who would like to arrest federal spending. Liberal economists have denigrated it for being a wimp, saying it was too small to do any good. Government watchdogs have criticized how the funds were disbursed.

“There are different types of funding that will still be coming to the state,” Harvey said. “It will no longer be called ‘stimulus’ or ‘ARRA.’ That’s become a bad word.”

The twilight days of the stimulus are causing the states grief in more ways than one, too.

We’ll explore that effect in our next story about ARRA.

New Senator Says Mining “Lobbyists May Live To Regret” Ignoring Her, Sparking Mining Industry Reaction

By Andrew Doughman | 3:39 pm February 16th, 2011

CARSON CITY – It took less than a day before Sen. Elizabeth Halseth had the attention she was looking for.

Tim Crowley, a lobbyist for the mining industry, said he called her this morning to schedule a meeting after she asked in a Tuesday night blog post, “did mining just hit a brick wall?”

“During the 2010 election cycle, the mining industry didn’t take the southern Nevada Republican senate candidates very seriously,” wrote Halseth, a freshman Republican from Las Vegas. “Considering the legitimate and penetrating questions posed by Sen. [Michael] Roberson, that may be a calculation the industry’s lobbyists may live to regret.”

She referred to the questions Roberson, one of those “southern Nevada Republican” Senators, posed to Crowley on Monday.

This morning, more than the snow in Carson City, her blog post had legislators abuzz with talk of Halseth openly advertising a “pay to play” strategy.

“I’m trying to think of how we want to say this,” she said outside of her office this morning. “They [the mining industry] didn’t take the time to talk and … meet with me. If I’m not informed about their side, how can I make a decision?”

Crowley said he saw the blog post Tuesday night.

“I don’t care what her motives were … it sends the signal that we need to be talking more,” he said during a phone call today. “I called her this morning; I think that’s what she wanted.”

Halseth’s blog post was later edited to tone down the rhetoric by replacing Republicans with “Clark County candidates” and adding a clause that clarified that it was meetings, not money, that mattered.

“During the 2010 election cycle, the mining industry didn’t take some Clark County candidates very seriously, by being unwilling to meet with some candidates regarding issues pertaining to mining,” the new post reads.

Roberson, a freshman Republican from Las Vegas, has also criticized the mining industry.

On Monday, he grilled Crowley over the rate of the state’s mining taxes. He felt like he didn’t get a clear answer.

Today, he signed on to a bill that would remove the mining industry’s eminent domain privilege, which allows the industry the same power the government has to take private land for market-value compensation.

Las Vegas Review Journal reporter Benjamin Spillman blogged yesterday that Halseth and Roberson come from a set of fiscal conservatives who do not always agree with representatives from Nevada’s powerful industries.

Another newly-elected southern Nevada Republican, Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, R-Mesquite, signed on to a similar bill in the Assembly.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, is sponsoring the Senate bill. That bill has not only received support from Democrats, but also from free-market think tanks like the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Halseth said she still hasn’t made up her mind about whether to add her name to Leslie’s bill.