Archive for June, 2011

Nevada Office Of Consumer Health Assistance Gets New Director

By Sean Whaley | 4:25 pm June 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY –The state office created to help guide Nevadans through the complex maze of health care billing and access to care has a new director starting tomorrow.

Marilyn Wills has been named director of the Office of Consumer Health Assistance by Mike Willden, director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Wills has served as interim director since April 2010. As director, Wills will continue her work to manage the office, which operationally moved into Willden’s office as a result of legislation approved by the 2011 Legislature. The office had been under the purview of the governor’s office.

Marilyn Wills has been tapped to head the Nevada Office of Consumer Health Assistance

Located in Las Vegas, the office provides statewide advocacy and education to health care consumers and providers. It helps individuals resolve hospital billing disputes, audit hospital charges, review and resolve physician billing disputes, and negotiate charity or discounted payment arrangements. In addition, it helps people locate health care services available in their community, resolve workers compensation issues, as well as locate coverage for prescription drugs.

Consumer health assistance is available irrespective of an individual’s health insurance coverage and can even help people apply for insurance including Medicaid, Medicare, NV Check Up (the state’s insurance for children), and Pre-existing Insurance Coverage (PCIP) for those who have been denied coverage from other insurance providers. The office, with its staff of twelve, responded to over 15,000 consumer requests last year.

Wills has also been given oversight of the Office of Minority Health, which was also recently relocated to Willden’s office. Wills previously worked in the agency’s Division of Aging and Disability Services for nine years.

“We feel the synergy created by bringing these services together within the director’s office will enhance the capabilities of both offices and provide more robust resources for consumers,” said Deputy Director Mary Liveratti. “Marilyn brings strong and relevant skills to this position along with a genuine interest and concern to help others.”

Wills said the office has been able to expand in the current economic downturn with the help of a federal grant to assist in explaining the new federal health care law to consumers. Nevada is one of 26 states in a lawsuit challenging the law, but until a final legal determination is made, the state is preparing for its implementation in 2014, she said.

Wills said her office does get questions about the new federal insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, but most inquiries involve billing questions and access to care issues.

“We have so many people out there, particularly in this economy, who don’t have resources, don’t have insurance, and are ill or need some sort of medical attention, and one of the problems has been that those people have been more or less forced to go to emergency rooms for treatment,” Wills said. “We’re encouraging people to call us because there are some other alternatives.”

Navigating access to health care, even with a health insurance policy, can be a complex process, she said.

“And a lot of our cases get extremely complicated and difficult and some of them are very heartbreaking – people who need surgeries or need cancer treatments – and we try our best to find the resources for people out there,” Wills said.

Audio clips:

Marilyn Wills, newly appointed director of the Office of Consumer Health Assistance, says the agency has expanded with a federal grant to help explain the new health care law:

063011Wills1 :23 to be implemented.”

Wills says there are many people without health insurance who need help from the office:

063011Wills2 : 22 rooms for treatment.”

Wills says she wants people to call because there are alternatives to a visit to an emergency room:

063011Wills3 :19 available to them.”

Wills says a lot of the cases are complex and sometimes heartbreaking:

063011Wills4 :15 people out there.”

 

Nevada Supreme Court Set To Weigh In On Special Election In 2nd Congressional District

By Sean Whaley | 7:51 am June 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Attorneys for the state Democrat and Republican parties argued their cases Tuesday before the Nevada Supreme Court over whether they should pick their candidates for the special election to fill the vacant 2nd Congressional District seat, or whether it should be a “ballot royale.”

The Democrat Party and Secretary of State Ross Miller, himself a Democrat, are asking the court to rule by July 6 that any and all comers should be able to file to fill the vacancy left with the appointment of former Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to the U.S. Senate.

Attorneys for the Republicans say Miller exceeded his authority in making the election a free-for-all, and that the parties should select the single candidate to represent them in a special election that has been set for Sept. 13, although it is possible this date might have to be changed.

Some Supreme Court justices appeared to question if Miller’s administrative decision to allow any candidate to run as a Republican or Democrat was appropriate, given the requirements in Nevada state law and the failure of the secretary of state’s office to finalize regulations on such a special election following the Legislature’s adoption of a new law addressing the issue in 2003.

“What is of concern to me is a broader legal question, (which) is the extent to which deference should be given by this court or any court to an administrative decision which is not represented by regulation,” said Justice James Hardesty.

But Justice Mark Gibbons asked attorney David O’Mara, representing the state Republican Party, why the court should not defer to Miller.

“Why shouldn’t we just let the secretary of state make this decision and interpretation, because otherwise we’re going to have judges running these elections and setting the policy” which is probably not the best option, he said. “Maybe it’s better for the chief elected official of the state to make these decisions.”

Miller, who sat in on the 45-minute oral argument in front of the seven justices, one of whom participated from Las Vegas, said too much should not be read into the questioning. Only a final ruling from the court will clarify the court’s position, he said.

Secretary of State Ross Miller answers questions after the Supreme Court hearing Tuesday./Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

His representative at the hearing, Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson, said Carson City District Judge Todd Russell got the decision wrong when he ruled Miller’s interpretation was incorrect.

“The district court got it wrong because it’s decision is directly contrary to the plain language of (Nevada Revised Statutes 304.240),” he said. “That language says a major party candidate is nominated by filing. It doesn’t say: is nominated by the central committee, by the party or by anybody else for that matter. It says you’re nominated by filing a declaration or acceptance of candidacy.”

O’Mara argued against giving deference to Miller to make such an interpretation.

“Nevada’s public policy has always been that we are going to narrow the candidates who are going to be placed on the general election,” he said. “Now we can call this a special election but the statute specifically says that we are going to treat it and have all the laws of Nevada’s general election apply.”

Attorney Marc Elias, representing Democrats, argued the court should defer to Miller’s interpretation.

“The Nevada Legislature has spoken to this situation,” he said. “It has spoken plainly. And if there is ambiguity, it has also spoken as to how that ambiguity is to be resolved – by determining that there shall be a chief elections official, that that chief election official shall be the Secretary of State, and that independent of the rule-making authority, that chief election official shall have interpretive authority.”

The 2nd Congressional District seat has been held by Republicans since it was created in 1981. The GOP is concerned that if multiple candidates are allowed to run under its party name, the vote will split and favor Democrats.

Russell ruled in favor of the Republican Party in May, and the Democrats and Miller appealed.

The state Republican Party 10 days ago went ahead and picked former state party chairman and former state Sen. Mark Amodei as its official nominee. Democrats followed on Saturday by selecting state Treasurer Kate Marshall as their official candidate.

But filing for the race, which remains open through Thursday, has attracted multiple candidates running under both party banners. Fifteen Republicans have filed, although several others, including state Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, have withdrawn.

Retired Navy commander Kirk Lippold remains in the race, however.

Ten Democrats have also filed for the vacancy, including former university system Regent Nancy Price, but she announced her withdrawal from the race last week.

Besides the front-runners, most of the major party candidates have little name recognition.

Whoever wins the seat will have to immediately begin a re-election campaign for the 2012 general election.

While the ballot question remains in limbo, the two major parties are not wasting any time attacking the opposing front-running candidate.

On Tuesday Democrats accused Amodei of dodging the question of his support for major changes to the Medicare program as proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“Spin and doubletalk will not change the fact that Kirk Lippold and Mark Amodei are on record giving their full throated support for the Heller-Heck plan to end Medicare,” said Nevada State Democratic Party spokesman Zach Hudson.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., is the incumbent in Congressional District 3.

Republicans meanwhile questioned Marshall’s candidacy following her selection on Saturday.

“Whether it’s taking Harry Reid’s fast campaign money or losing Nevadans tax dollars in a Wall Street gamble, Kate Marshall is wrong for Nevada,” said Mari Nakashima, communications director for the Nevada Republican Party. “Nevadans simply cannot trust or afford another big government, tax-and-spend liberal in Washington, DC.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed Heller to the Senate after the resignation of John Ensign over his conduct involving an affair with a former staff member.

Audio clips:

Justice James Hardesty asks why the court should defer to Secretary of State Ross Miller on the ballot question:

062811Hardesty :16 represented by regulation.”

Justice Mark Gibbons asks why the court should not defer to Miller on the CD2 race:

062811Gibbons :13 make these decisions.”

Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson says the district court got the decision wrong:

062811Benson :20 acceptance of candidacy.”

Republican attorney David O’Mara says the court should not defer to Miller on the ballot issue:

062811O’Mara :16 general election apply.”

Democrat attorney Marc Elias says Miller is the proper authority on the question:

062811Elias :26 have interpretive authority.”

 

 

 

New Study Shows Nevada Taxpayers On The Hook For $4,200 Each To Fund Cost Of Public Employee Benefits

By Sean Whaley | 3:27 pm June 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada has the 18th lowest taxpayer burden to cover unfunded public employee pension and health care costs among the states, but policy makers are still failing to adequately address the shortfall, a national organization reported in a new comprehensive analysis.

Nevada’s burden totals nearly $3.6 billion in liabilities for these benefits, which works out to $4,200 per taxpayer, according to the 50-state analysis by the Chicago-based Institute for Truth in Accounting (IFTA).

The study, which used annual reports prepared by each state’s financial chief, identified six states with a per taxpayer burden over $20,000: Connecticut was first at $41,200, followed by New Jersey at $34,600, Illinois at $26,800, Hawaii at $25,000, Kentucky at $23,800, and Massachusetts at $20,100.

The study found only four states: Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming that have assets available to pay their debt and obligations related to pension and retirees’ healthcare.

Taxpayer Burden In Selected States, 2009

Rank State $ Needed To Pay Bills Taxpayer Burden
50 Connecticut $53.4 billion $41,200
49 New Jersey $106.6 billion $34,600
48 Illinois $110.6 billion $26,800
47 Hawaii $11.5 billion $25,000
46 Kentucky $29 billion $23,800
18 Nevada $3.6 billion $4,200
2 North Dakota ($1.5 billion) ($6,400)
1 Wyoming ($3 billion) ($15,100)

Source: Institute for Truth in Accounting (IFTA).

The taxpayer burden represents the funds that will be needed to pay the commitments the state has already accumulated divided by the state’s taxpayers.

“If governors and legislatures had truly balanced each state’s budget, no taxpayer’s financial burden would exist,” said Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of the institute.

Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of the Institute for Truth In Accounting, says Nevada policy makers are failing to truly balance the state budget./Photo: IFTA.

The study reviewed each state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report to offset assets against liabilities. For the first time, a detailed analysis of pension and healthcare liabilities uncovered the states’ actual obligations. From these calculations, the institute was able to determine the taxpayer’s burden.

“The taxpayers need to really hold their elected officials’ feet to the fire about really balancing their budget,” Weinberg said in a phone interview. “They’ve been telling the taxpayers that they have been balancing their budgets, but because of not including the true compensation costs in the budget numbers, they have actually been putting the state further and further into debt.”

While Nevada may be doing better than other states, the budget should be balanced and the number should be zero, Weinberg said.

“Just because you’re not as bad as other states doesn’t mean you are doing good,” she said.

The Nevada analysis is also is somewhat generous because it only cites the public employee pension liability generated from state employees, not all the other local employee groups covered in the plan, Weinberg said. Otherwise the number would be much higher in Nevada, she said.

“The state has only put 57 cents away for every dollar that they have promised,” Weinberg said.

Employee compensation packages include retirement benefits. A portion of these benefits is earned each period and should be included in the current budget as a portion of current employee compensation costs, the group said in its report. Instead most states handle many of benefits on a “pay-as-you-go” basis.  This obligates future taxpayers to cover these past costs.

“Though 49 of the 50 states have constitutional or legal requirements to balance budgets, most states employ a variety of financial maneuvers to circumvent this requirement,” said Roger Nelson, chairman of IFTA and former vice chairman of Ernst & Young. “The largest of these maneuvers is related to employee compensation.”

Roger Nelson, chairman of IFTA, says states employ financial maneuvers to avoid balanced budget requirements./Photo: Institute For Truth In Accounting

Nevada pays for the health insurance costs of its retired state employees on a “pay as you go” basis. In a major policy shift this past legislative session, however, lawmakers voted to end the health insurance retiree subsidy for newly hired state employees starting Jan. 1, 2012.

The end of the retiree subsidy was sought by Republican lawmakers and business groups, including the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

Weinberg called the change a good start, but said it did nothing to erase the liability that has already been accumulated, which is approaching the $2 billion mark.

The state’s separately managed Public Employees’ Retirement System, the pension plan that covers nearly all public sector workers in Nevada, is funded based on projections by an independent actuary. It had a $10 billion long-term unfunded liability as of June 30, 2010. The plan was 70.5 percent fully funded, down from 72.5 percent in the previous year. At its high point in 2000 the plan was 85 percent funded.

GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed a change to the retirement plan to include a “defined contribution” share for state workers to reduce the long-term liabilities, but the proposal did not get introduced in the 2011 session. Instead, lawmakers approved a study of PERS for consideration in the 2013 session.

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy director of policy for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said legislative studies do not typically generate change in subsequent legislative sessions, however.

“When you say the word study it doesn’t create a lot of optimism because it usually doesn’t translate into action,” he said.

The 2009 Legislature did make some changes to the retirement plan, including increasing the retirement age to 62 from 60 for newly hired employees.

While many advocate a complete change to a defined contribution plan from the current defined benefit plan, where retired public employees are guaranteed a set retirement check upon retirement based on salary and years of service, others argue Nevada’s plan is well managed and will be fully-funded over time.

Audio clips:

Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of the Institute for Truth in Accounting, says taxpayers need to hold lawmakers accountable on the budget:

062811Weinberg1 :30 further into debt.”

Weinberg says Nevada is not funding its full financial obligation:

062811Weinberg2 :15 they have promised.”

Geoffrey Lawrence of NPRI questions whether a study of the PERS liability will result in real reform:

062811Lawrence :15 translate into action.”

Conservative Nevada Think Tank Grades Lawmakers On Taxes, Education Reform

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am June 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A conservative Nevada think tank gave passing scores to 22 Republicans in the just-concluded 2011 legislative session, handing out failing scores to four other GOP lawmakers and all 37 Democrats in a report card released today.

The report card produced by Geoffrey Lawrence of the Nevada Policy Research Institute formulated the grades based on each lawmaker’s voting record on legislation related to economic freedom and education reform. The 78 specific bills used in the analysis are available for review at the group’s website.

Tops in the analysis was Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, with a score of 89.1 percent out of a possible 100. He was followed by Sens. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, with scores of 88.63 percent. Sens. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, with a score of 88.15 percent, and James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, at 87.68 percent, rounded out the top five.

Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, won top honors in the NPRI report card./Nevada News Bureau file photo

The 12 lawmakers with the highest scores were all Republicans who voted against a measure to extend a package of taxes for two more years, six in the Senate and six in the Assembly.

“I think that will make my constituents very happy,” Gustavson said of his grade. “The business community as well.”

The state was not in a position to raise taxes this past session, although a majority of lawmakers ended up supporting such a policy, he said.

“We need to keep business going by not raising their taxes,” Gustavson said.

At the other end of the scale, Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, received the lowest score of 26.52 percent. Pierce authored a number of tax measures in the 2011 session, including a proposed tax on services and tax hikes on cigarettes and alcohol.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, another one of the low scoring Democrats, called the grade a badge of honor.

“If they don’t like me it means I’m doing something right,” he said.

Segerblom said he campaigned on increasing taxes and is a strong supporter of education and unions, positions supported by his constituents.

“They can read the score and if they don’t like my grade and don’t like the way I voted they can obviously vote me out,” he said. “But I think I voted just like my constituencies wanted me to.”

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom said the low grade from NPRI is a badge of honor./Nevada News Bureau file photo

Segerblom said based on his grade with the NPRI he intends to run for the state Senate in Clark District 3 being vacated by Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, who must step down due to term limits.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, scored the highest among Democrats at 35.55 percent, and Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, scored the lowest among Republicans at 43.98 percent.

Lawrence said the group’s 2009 report card reflected higher scores for some Democrats over Republicans. This session party affiliation and ideology went more hand-in-hand, with Republicans as a group acting in a more fiscally conservative way, he said.

Settelmeyer said he appreciates the types of pro-business measures included in the NPRI analysis.

“They tend to reflect the business friendly community that we’re trying to promote in the state of Nevada,” he said.

Roberson said he is pleased with the high grade from a group that supports free market approaches to education and fiscal policy. But he is disappointed at the level of reform finally approved by the Legislature to end the session.

“I don’t think the reforms were nearly as far reaching as I would like to see,” he said. “The governor proposed some really great education reforms that didn’t even get a vote taken.”

With Democrats in control of both houses, Republicans will focus on winning majorities in the next election cycle, Roberson said. The freshman lawmaker will head GOP efforts to win the Senate majority in 2012.

In addition to votes on several education reform measures and the budget, including a tax package that extended 2009 revenue hikes set to sunset June 30, other examples of bills used in the evaluation included a proposal to charge a fee on auto insurance policies to create a subsidized program for low-income residents of Clark County, and a measure to subsidize the development of wind and solar power.

The auto insurance measure passed the Assembly but never saw a vote in the Senate. The subsidy bill was vetoed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The grading system is adapted from one used by the National Taxpayers Union to grade Congress. The NTU methodology allows bills of greater significance to be weighted accordingly. Lawrence said NPRI adapted the grading system to include such elements as education reform.

The 2011 session was one where Sandoval and many Republicans were adamantly opposed to new taxes, with many Democrats pushing for new or increased revenues to further fund public education and other programs.

This paradigm shifted after the Nevada Supreme Court rejected the Legislature’s taking of $62 million from a Clark County water quality fund in the 2010 special session. Sandoval and some lawmakers expressed concern about the legality of using other local funds proposed as part of the new 2011-13 general fund budget that takes effect this Friday.

The ruling led to an agreement to extend the taxes set to sunset, but a number of reforms, including several to public education, were made part of the agreement. Payroll taxes for the states’ small businesses were also eliminated.

Lawrence said some of the reforms passed in the session on their own merits are more significant than those included as part of the budget and tax deal.

He cited the performance-based budgeting bill sought by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, another measure expanding empowerment schools and a third strengthening the charter school process as examples of legislation that could have far reaching consequences.

Of the reforms included in the budget deal, Lawrence said: “It is arguable that Sandoval and legislative Republicans would not have been able to secure the education and labor reforms they received had they not reversed their position and embraced taxes. However, each of the reforms had merit on its own and should not have required an 11.5 percent increase in the overall state tax burden for lawmakers to consider its passage. Time will tell if the deal was worth its price.”

Audio clips:

Geoffrey Lawrence of NPRI says the most important reforms are unrelated to the budget deal:

062811Lawrence1 :06 the budget deal.”

Lawrence says the reforms that are part of the budget deal will have to be evaluated long term:

062711Lawrence2 :10 they actually materialize.”

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom says he voted the way his constituents wanted him to vote:

062711Segerblom1 :10 wanted me to.”

Sen. Michael Roberson says he is disappointed with the level of reforms approved in the 2011 session:

062711Roberson1 :16 a vote taken.”

Roberson says the GOP goal is to win majorities in both houses of the Legislature:

062711Roberson2 :19 in the Legislature.”

Sen. James Settelmeyer says he appreciates NPRI’s bill priorities:

062711Settelmeyer1 :21 get more jobs.”

Settelmeyer says some of the measures approved this session will likely have to be re-evaluated next session:

062711Settelmeyer2 : 14 of an idea.’”

 

 

Titus Retires from UNLV, Ready to Run for…Something

By Elizabeth Crum | 5:27 pm June 24th, 2011

In case you missed it yesterday, the Las Vegas Sun reported that former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus has accepted a sweet buyout from UNLV, a move signaling she is ready for a return to politics.

Former Rep. Dina Titus

Titus will get a $162,000 lump sum for giving up her political science professor’s job. She will will still teach part-time and is scheduled to teach a nuclear politics course at UNLV this fall (for which she’ll be paid $3,000).

Titus told the Las Vegas Sun she’ll be working on a book she’s writing, exploring the horizon as a political consultant and…planning her next campaign:

“I’m certainly looking into it,” Titus said when asked about a future bid. “We’re watching the numbers and redistricting. I’ll probably make a decision in the fall.”

And in case there was any doubt, Titus told CityLife she will run for…something.

 

 

 

New Nevada Law Eases Burden for New Insurance Companies

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:33 pm June 24th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A new Nevada law may spur more captive insurance companies to make Nevada home.

Nevada Insurance Commissioner Brett Barratt today credited Gov. Brian Sandoval with making Nevada a more attractive place to do business when he signed Assembly Bill 74 into law.

Original image 2009 by Svilen.milev on Wikimedia Commons

The bill was submitted by the Nevada Division of Insurance and contains provisions that reduce compliance expenses, lower application costs and simplify financial reporting.

A captive can typically incorporate in Nevada within 24 hours.

Captive insurance companies typically finance risks emanating from their parent group or groups. Using a captive insurer is essentially a risk management tactic by which a business forms its own insurance company subsidiary in order to finance its retained losses in a formal structure.

An example would be a car dealership forming a captive insurance company to provide hail insurance for the cars on its lot.

Sandoval said the changes to the laws governing captives are in line with his goals to make Nevada a more business friendly state.

“These changes are closely aligned with Nevada’s business friendly attitude. Captive insurers are also an excellent mechanism for businesses to capitalize on their successful risk management,” said Sandoval.

In addition to the changes enabled by AB 74, Barratt said Nevada is appealing to captive insurers because it has no corporate income tax and business friendly corporate laws.

“I’m very pleased that the Nevada was able to make these changes to enhance our competitiveness as a ‘pure’ captive insurance domicile,” said Commissioner Barratt.

Barratt said the measure will further help Nevada diversify its economy by creating more non-tourism, white collar jobs.

In the last 20 to 30 years there has been tremendous growth in the number of captive insurance companies worldwide.

There are well over 5,000 captive insurance companies across the globe writing more than $20 billion in premiums. These companies have capital and surplus estimated at over $50 billion.

The total premium dollar amount of all lines of insurance in Nevada for 2010 was approximately $11 billion.

 

Morse Arberry Charged With Six Felony Counts

By Elizabeth Crum | 1:19 pm June 24th, 2011

Will Morse be remorseful?

Maybe so, now that state Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto has charged him with six felony counts related to his failure to report campaign contributions totaling $121,545.

The criminal complaint says former state Assemblyman Morse Arberry deposited contributions into his personal bank account and did not report them as required by Nevada law.

The story was first reported by KLAS-TV’s George Knapp (and the AG’s complaint is linked in the KLAS story).

Assemblyman Morse Arberry, Jr. / LCB photo

Arberry served in the Legislature from 1985 through 2010 and was the longtime chairman of the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee. He resigned from elected office in 2010 to pursue a lobbying career, specifically to court the Clark County court system for a $10,000-a-month contract.

At the time, the Las Vegas Democrat said he stepped down to avoid a conflict of interest between his elected position and his lobbying work. The quick move raised more than a few eyebrows, but Nevada has no law preventing legislators from morphing into lobbyists overnight.

Other states and the federal government have “cooling off” periods of one- to two-years.

Arberry told the Las Vegas Sun last year that he doesn’t believe in cooling-off periods.

“I think you have to hit things while the iron is hot,” he told the Sun’s David McGrath-Schwartz.

The Clark County Commission later rejected the contract.

Arberry’s legislative biography listed his Hobbies & Special Interests as tennis, skiing, racquetball, golfing, boating and classic automobiles. LCB can now add to that list: perjury and filing false documents.

And: I wonder how long after Arberry’s likely conviction it will take CCSN to rename this building

 

 

 

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Report Says Nevada is Fastest Growing Export State

By Elizabeth Crum | 6:48 pm June 23rd, 2011

Nevada is the fastest growing state in export value as a share of its total economy, according to a new report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The value of the state’s manufactured exports has more than tripled since 2002. Its primary exports are mineral deposits, coin-operated games and electronics.

Other states rated highly for exporting are Louisiana, Utah, South Carolina, Mississippi, Delaware, and Texas.

High performing states were evaluated based upon:

  • The value of exports as a share of total economic output and change in that value
  • Change in a state’s share of the nation’s total exports
  • Overall export growth since 2002

One out of three manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is due to foreign exports. In some states, exports of manufactured goods have now outpaced domestic sales.

A portion of a 5-unit container car / Photo by Sean Lamb @ Wikimedia Commons

Exports are not solely the province of big companies as is commonly believed. Ninety-seven percent of U.S.-manufactured exports emanate from factories operated by small and mid-sized manufacturers.

More than a quarter million of America’s small businesses export products, and they account for nearly one third of U.S. merchandise exports.

Many states including Nevada promote the expansion of exports either through an independent trade office or as part of an in-house component of their economic development agency.

Global outreach

In order to support trade activity by Nevada companies, the state offers several programs and support services through its division for Global Business Development.

Nevada maintains a network of independent trade representatives around the globe, in locations including Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Germany, Brazil and Italy. The state is currently seeking to expand the network to Spain and the United Kingdom, in order to register increased trade with new markets.

These independent representatives work on contract with the state to support outreach by Nevada companies in their countries, while acting as points of contact for foreign firms exploring potential investment and expansion opportunities in Nevada.

Attracting foreign buyers

The state also hosts inbound buying missions where foreign buyers are brought to Nevada and connected with local companies.

Nevada also works with local development agencies to coordinate efforts to attract foreign direct investment, as well as working with the federal government to identify and support foreign companies interested in establishing operations in the state.

Ongoing efforts to designate the Las Vegas Convention Center as an official World Trade Center finally came to fruition early this year, giving the state a high profile name with which to attract international corporations.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), based in Arlington, VA, obtained the rights to the World Trade Center name from the New York-based World Trade Centers Association, and chose the Las Vegas Convention Center as part of its expanding partnership network.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority hopes to increase international visitation by 25 percent over the next five years.

Las Vegas currently attracts about 5 million business travelers per year.

Incentives and tax breaks

Nevada’s job creation efforts are supported by incentives and an enterprise-friendly tax code.

Nevada has no corporate income tax, personal income tax, franchise tax on income, estate tax, or gift tax.

While the state collects a sales and use tax, businesses are eligible for sales and use tax abatements and deferrals. The abatements are applicable to purchases of capital equipment, offering reduced taxes to companies that meet job creation and wage provision thresholds.

Nevada has also targeted tax abatements at intellectual property development businesses. Under terms of the program, such companies are eligible for breaks in sales, modified business, and personal property tax bills if they meet job creation and investment requirements.

In order to support conservation of energy and adoption of substitutes for fossil fuels in the state, Nevada also offers tax abatements to businesses that recycle materials, including for power generation.

 

Trade zones

Nevada maintains two foreign trade zones, in Las Vegas and Reno, in partnership with the federal government. These zones allow businesses access to expedited customs processing and decreased duties and excise taxes.

Nevada continues to promote access to foreign trade shows for businesses in the state interested in export possibilities, targeting markets in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

The state also hosts workshops designed to train Nevada entrepreneurs about the challenges and opportunities faced when accessing foreign markets.

The Nevada District Export Council is another program offered in affiliation with the federal government, providing trade support services to small and medium-sized businesses in the state.

The Council offers entrepreneurs access to trade-savvy volunteers for one-on-one advisory services, offers training sessions and seminars on trade-related issues, hosts trade missions visiting the state, and helps businesses exploring trade opportunities gain access to needed financing.

 

Harry Reid Pushes New Super PAC

By Elizabeth Crum | 6:00 pm June 22nd, 2011

A fund raising solicitation from Sen. Harry Reid to supporters this week touted a new political action committee called Majority PAC. Reid said in the missive that there “can be no greater priority than protecting the Democratic majority in the Senate.”

The effort was first reported by Open Secrets blog.

Majority PAC is a “super PAC” which means it can raise unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions. Super PACs exist due in part to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
Super PACs cannot donate to candidates. Instead, the money they raise is used to produce and place political ads for or against politicians. Like independent expenditure committees, super PACs cannot coordinate with campaigns.

 

However, as Open Secrets points out, super PACs often have close ties with the politicians they are working to elect.

Majority PAC’s leadership includes longtime Reid strategist Rebecca Lambe and Reid’s former chief of staff, Susan McCue.

Reid’s direct appeal to supporters for Majority PAC re-raises questions about how lawmakers can or cannot raise money for outside groups without violating federal election laws.

Advocates for campaign finance regulation generally oppose super PACs and want the FEC to enforce the legal prohibition on the practice of soliciting unlimited contributions from either individuals, groups or corporations. 

Reid’s fund-raising email for Majority PAC says Reid is “only asking for a donation of up to $5,000 from individuals and federal PACs. He is not asking for funds from corporations, labor unions or other federally prohibited sources.”

In other words, Reid is asking only for contributions from individuals within the federal limits. In so doing, he is setting a safe example for other elected officials.

During the last election cycle, conservative groups spent roughly twice as much as their counterparts on the left ($190 million to $94 million) on political messaging including independent expenditures and electioneering communications, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Nevada Redistricting Update: Judge Meets with Party Attorneys

By Elizabeth Crum | 5:26 pm June 22nd, 2011

District Judge James Todd Russell today met with Republican and Democratic lawyers but did not yet set a date for a hearing on the redistricting of state legislative and congressional seats, Ed Vogel reports.

Russell will hold another meeting with lawyers on July 12 and will at that time set the briefing schedule and date for a formal hearing.

A close-up of one of the many redistricting maps proposed at the Nevada Legislature / Photo by Elizabeth Crum via iPhone

Republican plans for redistricting were either criticized or ignored by  Democrats during the legislative session, who passed two bills adopting their own redistricting plans along party lines. Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed both those proposals.

The GOP proposals created one Hispanic majority congressional district, four Hispanic majority state Senate districts and eight Hispanic majority Assembly districts.

Democrats objected and essentially wanted to spread the Hispanic vote out over more districts.

Because no agreement was expected to be reached, Democratic lawyers filed litigation in district court in Carson City fairly early in the session, asking the judge to draw fair district boundaries. Republicans then counterfiled.

Although the distribution of the Hispanic vote became the primary sticking point in arguments over redistricting, considerations must include population distribution as a whole including record growth in Clark County.

Nevada has 2.7 million residents; 1.9 million of them reside in Clark County.

 

 

Accounting Board May Change Reporting Rules for Public Pensions

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:39 pm June 22nd, 2011

The accounting board for state and local governments may soon require U.S. states and cities to change the way they report unfunded pension liabilities.

IBM 407 accounting machine at U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal 1961 / Public domain image under Title 17

The proposals by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) are intended to ensure that governments account for the pension costs of their workforce while those employees are still on the job, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Most public pension plans calculate the cost of paying off unfunded pension liabilities over a 24- to 25-year period.

Under the new GASB proposals, pension plan managers would have to report unfunded obligations as if they would be paid off over the remaining years of service for employees covered by the plans. On average, that would be about 10 to 15 years.

Unfunded pension obligations aren’t typically even listed as a liability on government balance sheets. Instead, plan managers only list shortfalls to the required annual contribution.

Under GASB’s proposal, an estimate of the total plan shortfall would be be listed on the actual balance sheet.

The proposals are expected to be released in July followed by a 90-day period for public comment.

 

 

New Report Shows Nevada Among States Collecting Most Excise Tax Revenue

By Elizabeth Crum | 4:16 pm June 21st, 2011

Some of the highest excise tax revenues among the states are collected in Nevada, a new report from the Mercatus Center shows.

Nevada is one of six states – along with Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and West Virginia – that collect over $600 in excise revenues per capita.

Image from DHD Money Gallery / Public Domain

Excise taxes apply to the sale of particular goods or services, such as gaming, amusements, hotel rooms, cigarettes and alcohol.

Among the states in which gambling is legal, Nevada ranked low on the list for tax rates on gaming revenues with a rate of just 6.75 percent.

However, Nevada ranked third for overall gaming tax revenue in 2009 with receipts of $832 million.

Nevada stands out among the states in that it collected 14.8 percent of its total tax revenue from gaming in 2010, whereas the state average is closer to 3 percent.

Pennsylvania collected the most in gaming tax revenue in 2009 with $929 million. Indiana was a close runner-up at $878 million.

In contrast to its relatively low tax rates on gaming, Nevada is quite high in rates among states that charge rental car taxes at 10 percent.

Revenue generation is a function of state size, so economists consider it somewhat useful to compute excise-tax revenue per capita. A shortcoming of this method, however, is that it is does not necessarily indicate the real tax burden on state residents.

This is because out-of-state residents bear many of the amusement taxes collected, as they do in Nevada.

General sales tax vs. excise tax

The Census Bureau places sales taxes in two categories: general sales taxes and selective sales or excise taxes that apply to the sale of particular goods or services.

States collected $344 billion or nearly 49 percent of their total tax revenue from sales taxes in 2010, according to the Mercatusreport co-authored by William Bruntrager, a Ph.D. Fellow at the Mercatus Center, and Thomas Stratmann, a professor of economics at George Mason University.

General sales taxes accounted for $224 billion in revenue in 2010, while excise taxes accounted for $120 billion or in sales-tax revenue.

Excise taxes can take the form of a per-unit tax of a fixed dollar amount or tax as a percentage of the price of a product.

Excise taxes made up 17 percent of total tax revenue in 2010.

Wyoming stands as the only state with less than $200 in excise-tax revenues per capita.

Amusement and gaming tax

Nevada has more casinos than any other state, with 260 non-Indian casinos, which along with tourism numbers explains its higher overall gaming tax revenues.

In addition to the gaming tax, Nevada also imposes an excise tax on any “live entertainment” tickets sold in the state. For facilities with more than 7,500 seats, the rate is 5 percent of ticket revenues. For those with less than 7,500 seats, the rate is 10 percent.

Currently, 13 states allow commercial casinos to operate within their borders, 12 states allow the operation of racetracks, and 29 states contain “Tribal Casinos” owned and operated by Indian tribes on tribal land.

The tax rates on gaming revenue vary among the states, and average about 20 percent. States that tax casinos by visitors generally impose a $2 to $3 tax per visitor.

Tourism:  Car rental tax

According to the National Business Travel Association, there are 38 states that impose special taxes on car rentals.

Different states apply different methods of taxation. Some tax a percentage of the rental price while others impose a fixed-amount excise tax, applied on a per day basis.

In states with rental car taxes, the percentage of taxes is the more common method, and a typical rate is around 5 percent of the rental price.

Alaska, Nevada, and Maryland have some of the highest rates in the country at 10 percent in both Alaska and Nevada and 11.5 percent for rentals in Maryland.

Kansas and Utah are on the lower end, at 3.5 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

Some of the states that impose fixed-rate taxes are Hawaii at $3 per day and Florida at $2 per day.

Public policy considerations

The selective nature of excise taxes gives state governments a method for discouraging certain types of consumption while raising revenue.

Cigarettes, alcohol, and, lately, sugary soft drinks are among the items whose use is influenced by state governments through excise taxation.

Geoff Lawrence, a fiscal analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, says excise taxes are essentially punitive sales tax rates that lawmakers attach to specific items because they find the item morally or ethically questionable.

“The irony is that by using the tax code to manipulate and discourage behavior, lawmakers ultimately make themselves dependent on individuals engaging in the very behaviors they sought to discourage,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence said excise taxes have long been used to target Nevada’s tax burden toward the tourism industry.

“This is an outgrowth of the economic fallacy that states can ‘export’ their taxes onto tourists,” said Lawrence.

While it may be politically convenient to push taxes off onto tourists, the real impact of excise taxes is that it suppresses consumer demand, which results in lesser revenues to Nevada businesses, he said.

“When a cocktail on the Strip costs $24 instead of $20 because of the state’s excise taxes, then a consumer who has only $60 to spend will purchase two instead of three drinks,” said Lawrence.

“That loss translates backwards to labor and capital, exerting downward pressure on wages paid to casino workers, among other things,” he said.

In some cases, a further policy consideration is that, where charging users directly for publicly provided goods and services is costly, excise taxes on so-called complementary goods may be reasonable.

An example of this would be charging fuel taxes as a proxy for the use of public roads.

Though some economists say they would like to see excise taxes replaced by a broad-based, single-rate tax on all consumption in order to reduce distortion, discussions by state lawmakers in recent years have focused more on the usefulness of excise taxes to accomplish some purpose for the state.

 

 

Amodei Ad Aftermath

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:31 pm June 21st, 2011

If all press is good press, Republican nominee Mark Amodei’s first campaign ad is a winner.

 

The ad, which centers on the issue of our national debt and the debt limit, is narrated by an Asian news woman with a stereotypical Chinese accent and is even captioned in Chinese.

It shows images of shut down factories with padlocked gates, President Obama cheerfully approving gigantic debt bills, the U.S. dollar sign morphing into the symbol for the Chinese yuan, China’s red flag furled over shiny cartoon cities, Obama bowing humbly to Chinese leader Hu Jintao and the Chinese Army marching in/on Washington D.C.

Says Amodei near the end: “I’ll never vote to raise Obama’s debt limit.”

 

Here is a round-up of reactions with links to the original sources (with apologies to anyone I missed):

– Dave Catanese of Politico called the ad “provocative”.

The Daily Caller‘s headline referred to the spot as a “light-hearted fear mongering ad”.

– Salon titled it “21st century red baiting”.

HuffPo riffed that the ad warns that China “will turn America into the Hunan Centipede”.

– KOS said, “Wow” and “This ad from newly-crowned GOP nominee Mark Amodei must be seen to be believed. It’s both wildly racist and extremely nuts”.

And in Nevada:

– Beth Ingalls with Examiner.com in Reno wrote “it’s a doozy.”

– Wyatt Cox at White Pine News called it “too little, too late.”

– Andrew Davey, a progressive blogger from Henderson, told the RJ he thought the ad was “xenophobic.”

– Kirk Caraway at Carson City Now asked who the real Mark Amodei is and said, “It’s as if some evil spirit has taken control of the old Amodei and created a monster.”

All the publicity came cheap, too. The 30-second spot was placed at KRNV in Reno from Monday through Thursday for less than $2,000, according to a Ralston Tweet. Politico estimated the total ad buy at around $3,000 (so there must have been another placement somewhere).

Update: Politico reports that the Asian American Asian American Action Fund called the ad “xenophobic” and “offensive” and “fear-mongering” and says it uses ”Chinese language and imagery in a sinister light.” The group is asking the Amodei to take it off the air.

 

 

 

Law Students Help Nevada Streamline Gaming Licensing Process

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 8:15 pm June 20th, 2011

Nevada is about to shorten and streamline the process of determining gaming licensing suitability for applicants, and gaming law students at the William S. Boyd School of Law can claim the credit.

The bill was created and lobbied by students in cooperation with the gaming control agencies. Gov. Brian Sandoval signed A.B. 213 into law near the end of the legislative session.

The measure authorizes the Gaming Commission to issue a “preliminary finding of suitability.” This procedure subjects an applicant to the same level of investigation by the Nevada Gaming Control Board as an applicant for a non-restricted gaming license but does not authorize involvement in the gaming industry.

The advance determination of suitability is expected to shorten the investigation time necessary for approval of a subsequent application to be licensed for a particular involvement, such as casino ownership or operation.

Left to right: Attorney Brin Gibson, Boyd law student Jaime Serrano, Gov. Brian Sandoval & Professor Bob Faiss

“Nevada is the gold standard for regulating gaming and we must continue to be,” Governor Sandoval said.

Prior to the passage of A.B. 213, in order to apply for a gaming license or a finding of suitability, persons had to have either an existing involvement with the gaming industry or an agreement that gave them the right to such involvement.

The legislative bill was a project of a gaming law seminar taught by Adjunct Professors Bob Faiss and Greg Gemignani, both gaming law attorneys at the firm of Lionel Sawyer & Collins.

Faiss predicted the legislation will enhance the orderly flow of new investment in the Nevada gaming industry.

“I believe it is a fundamental and beneficial change to our gaming control system and is consistent with Governor Sandoval’s resolve to have a gaming control system that is responsive to the realities of the modern gaming industry,” he said.

The bill also includes a provision to improve the process for gaming control disciplinary complaints.

The Gaming Commission must still adopt regulations to implement provisions of the bill.

 

 

Amodei Wins Republican Nomination for Congressional Special Election

By Elizabeth Crum | 9:49 am June 19th, 2011

SPARKS — Former Republican Party of Nevada Chairman Mark Amodei yesterday blew out the competition and became his party’s nominee for the 2nd congressional district special election on Sept. 13.

Amodei needed 162 of 323 member votes to win. He pulled in 221 votes compared to state Sen. Greg Brower who earned 56 votes and retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold who received 46 votes.

It now remains to be seen whether the party’s nomination will stay in effect through the general election. The state Supreme Court could effectively invalidate the nomination if it rules in favor of a so-called free-for-all among the more than two dozen candidates who have so far filed with the Secretary of State.

The initial decision to hold an open ballot election was made by Secretary of State Ross Miller, who interpreted state statutes to say that no primary election should be held in a special election for Congress.

But Republicans argued that state statutes say it is up to the political parties to nominate candidates. District Court Judge James T. Russell ruled in their favor, however Miller and the Nevada Democratic Party quickly appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Amodei, who served in the state Legislature prior to his time as chairman of the state Republican party, touted his non-government work experience to the delegates gathered at the meeting.

“Twenty-four years in the private sector; that’s how I earned my living as I stand here before you today,” he said.

“I have fourteen years legislative experience, but I am not going to belabor that,” he added.

Amodei seemed relaxed and confident throughout the morning.

“I am comfortable with the fact that you folks have done your homework,” he said near the end of his speech.

Carol Howell, a delegate and northern Nevada conservative activist, asked the candidates if they would agree to honor the central committee vote and support the winner should the state Supreme Court rule in favor of a free-wheeling “ballot royale.”

Both Brower and Amodei said they would support the winner. Lippold said he would stay in the race regardless, and would also run for the seat in 2012.

Brower tried to win support by presenting strongly worded conservative policy positions, talking about his experience both as a former naval officer and U.S. Attorney, painting himself as a devoted father and husband and promising to quickly raise a large amount of campaign money if nominated.

“I will commit to you that in the first 30 days of this race, I can raise $500,000,” said Brower confidently.

In answer to a question about the current size of his campaign coffers, however, Brower acknowledged he had a big hill to climb.

“I got into this late because I was working in Carson city to balance the budget. I am really behind in the fundraising effort,” he said.

Brower was the only candidate to name his party’s potential opposition by name.

“If you like Obama and Reid and Pelosi, you’re going to love Kate Marshall,” he quipped to laughter and applause.

Brower was visibly shocked after the vote tallies were announced, but said he thought it was important for the party to get behind a single candidate. He was not specific about what kind of support he would personally offer to Amodei, though.

“We’ll see. Whatever… I’ll do whatever I can,” said Brower with a strained smile.

In contrast, Lippold was cheerful in the face of defeat and vowed to fight on, saying he was honored to be part of the process.

“To think that I was able to in six weeks come from zero to be able to stand on the stage with guys who have been here in the state for a decade working and to get the level and groundswell of support that I had today, I’m absolutely touched and honored and just grateful for the central committee and the hard work they did,” Lippold said.

Amodei spoke to the press informally for a few minutes after the results were announced. In answer to questions about his chances in the election, Amodei said he did not think a Republican win was a foregone conclusion.

“I think if you look at the district and you study the voting results, 72 months ago Jill Derby beat Dean Heller by 4,000 votes in Washoe County. If that’s not a wake-up call–” Amodei said, acknowledging that hard work will be necessary to pull off a win.

The state Supreme Court is expected to hear the special election case on June 28.

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Post-election video interviews:

Mark Amodei

Greg Brower

Kirk Lippold