Archive for July, 2011

Nevada Democrats Call On GOP Presidential Candidates To Disclose Major Fundraisers

By Sean Whaley | 6:15 pm July 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada state Democrats today called on Republican presidential candidates to disclose the names of their campaigns’ major fundraisers – known as bundlers – in the name of transparency.

President Barack Obama on July 15 released his list of major fundraisers, which he also did in 2008. The disclosure is not required by the Federal Elections Commission.

State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, held a brief telephone conference with the media to ask Republican candidates to follow suit. Democrats around the country have made similar requests.

Nevada state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

Denis noted that both President Bush and Senator John McCain disclosed major fundraisers during their campaigns for the presidency, but that none of the major Republican candidates seeking the presidency in 2012 have yet done so.

Current GOP candidate Mitt Romney also disclosed the information during the 2008 presidential primary.

An ABC News report dated July 20 said the major GOP candidates are declining to release the information.

Denis said Obama released the information because he “has always believed that sharing the name of major fundraisers is a critical step in making campaigns more transparent and accountable.”

“If the Republican candidates for president aren’t forthcoming about who exactly is helping them to get elected, how can we know for sure that those same people won’t be calling in favors if the candidate wins election (to) the White House,” he said.

Asked for a response, Ryan Mahoney, regional press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said: “If the Democrats insist on distracting Americans from their failure to have a plan to fix the debt crisis, they should look in the mirror and ask themselves why they continue to move the goal posts when it comes to fundraising transparency. This is the same party that gives special access to bundlers at the White House, takes money from state lobbyists, films political videos in the White House and whose president flip-flopped on public financing.”

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said: “Barack Obama is just trying to distract people from his disastrous record of failure on jobs and the economy. We disclose all of the information about our donors as required by law and anyone who is interested can review it publicly.”

ABC News described the process: “Bundlers are wealthy and well-connected individuals who give the maximum legal contribution to a campaign – $2,500 for the primary – and then get their friends and associates to do the same.  The donations are ‘bundled’ together, often totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Republicans will be holding an early caucus in Nevada in February as the GOP candidates vie for the nomination and the opportunity to challenge President Obama in the November 2012 general election.

Audio clips:

State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, says Republican candidates for president should release information about their fundraisers as President Obama has done:

072911Denis1 :19 transparent and accountable.”

Denis says voters deserve the information:

072911Denis2 :17 the White House.”

Denis says GOP candidates should release the information so voters can make their own judgments:

072911Denis3 :13 Republican candidates accordingly.”

Federal Jobless Report Shows Slight Improvement For Nevada Through Second Quarter

By Sean Whaley | 1:37 pm July 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s official jobless rate may have jumped three-tenths of a percentage point to 12.4 percent in June, but a broader measure of the state’s unemployment picture showed some slight improvement through the second quarter of this year.

The quarterly report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a state-by-state unemployment measure that encompasses discouraged workers and those who are working part time even though they would like full-time employment. When these individuals are counted, the unemployment rate is much higher than the official rate released each month nationally and by the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

Nevada again ranked worst among the states at 23.3 percent in the report, which covers 12 months of data through June 30, but the rate was a slight improvement from the 12 months through the first quarter when it was 23.7 percent.

California was again second at 21.8 percent. The national average was 16.3 percent.

Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Research and Analysis Bureau of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, said he is not surprised by the improvement shown in the report despite the uptick in the June jobs report.

Bill Anderson, chief economist for the state Research and Analysis Bureau.

“Keep in mind that in each of the first five months of this year, our official unemployment rate declined from 14.9 percent in December down to 12.1 percent in May,” he said. “We did see a slight uptick, up to 12.4 percent in June, so this data, in that it looks backwards over the course of the 12-month period, is picking up that improvement.

“So it doesn’t surprise me at all that we saw this slight down tick in this measure of labor market health,” Anderson said.

The “Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization for States, Third Quarter of 2010 through Second Quarter of 2011 Averages,” shows six different jobless rates using different measures. The broadest definition, U-6, includes “discouraged workers,” defined as people who want work but who had not searched for work in the previous four weeks because they believed no jobs were available to them. It also includes “marginally attached” workers, defined as those who had not looked for work in the previous four weeks for any reason.

Finally the measure includes those employed part-time for economic reasons, defined as those working less than 35 hours per week who want to work full time, are available to do so, and gave an economic reason – their hours had been cut back or they were unable to find a full-time job – for working part time. These individuals are sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that this broader definition of unemployment is based on relatively small sample sizes at the state level.

Anderson said he believes the economy, both nationally and in Nevada, will move sideways for the time being.

“That’s certainly not good news, but it certainly represents an improvement over where we were just a year ago,” he said. “A year ago we had an unemployment rate of 14.9 percent. Now we’re at 12.4 percent. Still high but nonetheless better.”

The jobs picture is flat in Nevada over the past year, but that too is an improvement over mid-2009 when job losses were nearing 10 percent on a year-over-year basis, Anderson said.

“So again not outright growth but certainly better than where we were just a short time ago,” he said.

Audio clips:

State economist Bill Anderson says the improvement in the report corresponds with Nevada’s declining jobless rate over the past several months:

072911Anderson1 :29 up that improvement.”

Anderson says the down tick is not a surprise:

072911Anderson2 :09 labor market health.”

Anderson says Nevada’s unemployment rate remains high, but much improved over a year ago:

072911Anderson3 :18 but nonetheless better.”

 

Nevada Delegation Splits On House Speaker Plan To Reduce Federal Spending, Raise Debt Ceiling

By Sean Whaley | 6:41 pm July 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., announced today he will back a spending reduction plan put forth by House Speaker John Boehner because it proposes a balanced budget amendment that will protect the United States’ AAA credit rating.

A vote on the plan scheduled for today was delayed, however.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the plan is “dead on arrival” in the U.S. Senate if it passes the House.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., opposes the Boehner plan. Nevada’s third congressional district is currently vacant.

In announcing his support for Boehner’s plan to cut federal spending and raise the debt ceiling by an Aug. 2 deadline, Heck said: “Default is not the real problem – the real problem is the potential for a downgrade to the United States’ AAA credit rating. What would it mean to Nevadans if the United States lost its AAA credit rating? If the United States loses its AAA credit rating, interest rates will rise on everyday items such as credit cards, car loans, student loans, small business loans and mortgages.”

In a conference call with reporters today, Heck said: “And I have full faith in the speaker’s leadership and I think that given the hand that he was dealt, with the constant to and fro with the White House, that he has got a plan on the table that accomplishes the necessary goals to prevent a downgrading of our credit report.”

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

Boehner’s plan only calls for a vote in the House and Senate on a balanced budget amendment.

Heck said the actual spending reduction in the plan is only a first step. The real solution to reducing federal spending is a balanced budget amendment.

“I think the House plan is an excellent down payment,” he said. “It’s by no means the final payoff. And I think the way we eventually fix this issue is to pass the balanced budget amendment and have it ratified by the states.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

Berkley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal she did not like the two-step process to raise the debt ceiling because it would require another round of debate a few months down the road.

Audio clips:

Rep. Joe Heck says Boehner’s plan will prevent a credit downgrade:

072811Heck1 :20 our credit report.”

Heck says the long-term solution is a balanced budget amendment ratified by the states:

072811Heck2 :16 by the states.”

State Officials, Lawmakers Reject Claim That Transfer Of Funds To Scholarship Program Was Improper

By Sean Whaley | 4:21 pm July 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State officials and lawmakers are rejecting the suggestion that they acted improperly last year when fees generated from several college savings programs were shifted to shore up the cash-strapped Gov. Guinn Millennium Scholarship for academically eligible Nevada high school graduates.

But one former lawmaker, who voted for the transfer, acknowledges he remains concerned about the decision.

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee voted in July 2010 to transfer $4.2 million in fees from the college savings programs to the Millennium Scholarship to ensure eligible college students would get full reimbursement for classes they took last year.

The College Savings Board had previously voted to use the money for other purposes, including support for the Nevada Prepaid Tuition program, a separate fund managed by the Treasurer’s Office for Nevada families to save for college within the Nevada System of Higher Education.

The transfer was unanimously approved by the 21 members of the IFC after lawmakers were told the fees to be used to shore up the scholarship fund would not affect participants or their investments in the separately managed college savings programs. The fees are paid by families investing in the various college savings plans to brokers, who in turn remit a portion of those fees to the state Treasurer’s Office.

Just over 471,000 college savings accounts, most of them from out-of-state residents, have been opened in the four programs offered through the state Treasurer’s Office as of March 31, 2011. Just over 7,000 Nevadans are enrolled in the programs and they do not pay any fees for participating.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative Nevada think tank, on Wednesday published an article by Steve Miller suggesting that the shift of funds was illegal and that Nevadans participating in the Prepaid Tuition program may now have grounds to sue the College Savings Board because of the IFC vote.

Miller, vice president for policy at NPRI, cited a “nationally experienced securities attorney,” who was consulted on a confidential basis for the conclusions in his article.

“Because the Prepaid Tuition program was damaged by the IFC action — made financially weaker than it otherwise would have been — investors in the program would have legal standing against the program, said the attorney, who was consulted on a confidential basis,” he said in his article.

The Treasurer’s Office rejected the notion that the Prepaid Tuition program was harmed by the IFC action.

In a press release issued Thursday, state Treasurer Kate Marshall said the Prepaid Tuition program is funded at 108 percent.

“The program is solid, as demonstrated by the dramatic increase in the funded status and a 15 percent increase in new contracts totaling 594 in 2011,” she said.

Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall

Steve George, chief of staff for Marshall, said the article did not indicate that the IFC vote to transfer the funds was unanimous. The College Savings Board did not object to the transfer at its August meeting following the IFC vote either, he said.

“Treasurer Marshall and this office had worked for months to try and come up with some solution that might work to keep the Millennium going forward to the next legislative session,” he said. “That was accomplished by that move, and that’s why I made the comment that this is something that works for the Millennium, and it also does not harm college savings and prepaid.”

Even with the $4.2 million transfer to the Millennium Scholarship, the College Savings Board has transferred nearly $1.56 million over the two past fiscal years to the Prepaid Tuition Program, George said.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said he believes the article unfairly singled out Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, for criticism. Horsford was co-chairman of the IFC at the time. The IFC is composed of the Legislature’s two money committees.

“I believe that we were making the best decision based on the information that was available to us and our legal counsel,” he said. “And so I think we all did it together and we did something that we thought was appropriate that we could do and legal counsel said we could do it.”

The transfer was needed to ensure kids received their Millennium Scholarships, Denis said.

Minutes of the July 21 special IFC meeting show that lawmakers were told the shift of funds was legal by Chief Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes.

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said he believes the transfer was both lawful and appropriate.

“I think that not only was it legal, but it kept students, who anticipated getting tuition money, in college,” he said.

But Hardy said he does not take issue with a watchdog group keeping an eye on the activities of the Legislature.

The allegation that lawmakers may have acted improperly has political implications.

Horsford is rumored to be considering a run for Congress in a seat as yet undefined due to a legal dispute over the required redistricting process.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.

Horsford declined to comment on the NPRI article.

Marshall, a Democrat, is also running for congress in a special election in the vacant 2nd Congressional District against former state Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City.

Miller also quotes former long-time state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, as questioning the appropriateness of the transfer, but does not point out that Raggio “reluctantly” voted for the shift.

Raggio said the article accurately describe his concerns, which remain even with the advice from legal counsel. Funds held in trust should be used for the purposes specified, he said.

“Lawyers can differ, and even though Brenda said so at the time, there is always a question,” Raggio said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did challenge it.”

Miller said today he focused on Horsford in the article because the lawmaker was the point man pushing for the transfer. The unanimous IFC vote wasn’t included because lawmakers often rubber stamp such requests, he said.

Miller said he decided to run the story based on the one attorney’s comments because of the individual’s credibility. As a result of the article Miller said he has received a comment from one Nevada attorney about the potential for challenging the shift of funds.

The Millennium Scholarship is named for the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, who created the program in 1999 with legislative approval.

Gov. Brian Sandoval recommended adding $10 million in general funds to the scholarship in the 2011 legislative session, which was approved. The scholarship is now believed to be financially whole through at least 2015. It was originally intended to be fully supported by money from a tobacco company settlement, but those funds have declined annually due to lower smoking rates.

Audio clips:

Treasurer’s Office Chief of Staff Steve George says the vote by the IFC kept the scholarship program whole without harming the college savings or prepaid tuition programs:

072811George1 :23 savings and prepaid.”

George says the Prepaid Tuition Program is financially sound:

072811George2 :27 to go forward.”

Sen. Mo Denis says lawmakers made a unanimous decision based on the best information available:

072811Denis1 :20 could do it.”

Sen. Joe Hardy says the vote was legal and kept kids in college:

072811Hardy1 :19 stay in college.”

Hardy says he has no problem with watchdog groups keeping an eye on lawmaker activities, however:

072811Hardy2 :17 doing what’s right.”

Former Sen. Bill Raggio says he would not be surprised if someone does challenge the transfer:

072811Raggio1 :12 did challenge it.”

NPRI’s Steve Miller says he focused on Horsford in the article because the lawmaker was the point man pushing for the transfer:

072811Miller1 :32 some political power.”

 

 

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Says Federal Government Spending Must Be Cut To Sustainable Levels

By Sean Whaley | 3:18 pm July 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A senior fellow with the Cato Institute said today the partisan fight over reducing federal spending is really between one class of people who work, produce, save money and pay taxes and a second group that lives off of the first group.

“This whole political clash between the Republicans and Democrats is really a clash in the electorate,” said Gerald O’Driscoll, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute. “And the first group wants to stop paying as much taxes; certainly does not want to pay the taxes that are implied by the debt that has been racked up in order to pay off on promises to the second group that can’t be fulfilled.

“This is reality coming home and that’s ultimately what underlies this great political debate,” he said.

O’Driscoll, who lives in Reno, was interviewed on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

Gerald O'Driscoll, senior fellow with the Cato Institute

The demand to cut federal spending has been linked by Republicans to raising the debt ceiling. The deadline for Congress to act on raising the debt ceiling is one week away, with Republicans and Democrats apparently still far away from any kind of agreement on how to cut spending.

O’Driscoll said federal government spending is at unsustainable levels right now.

“As recently as the Clinton Administration, government expenditures were 18.2 percent of total output of goods and services, GDP,” he said. “And they were 20 percent, a little under 20 percent, going into this downturn. Now they are 25 percent. That is more than the economy can pay.”

O’Driscoll said the federal income tax and other associated tax revenues produce about 19 percent of GDP on average, so the government can’t afford to spend 25 percent.

“That is unsustainable,” he said. “That is a big cutback that has to occur.”

The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization that describes itself as being “dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues.”

Audio clips:

Gerald O’Driscoll, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, says the debate over the debt ceiling and federal spending is really about those who pay taxes and those who consume them:

072611Odriscoll1 :30 can’t be fulfilled.”

O’Driscoll says the reality of federal spending levels is pushing the debate:

072611Odriscoll2 :06 great political debate.”

O’Driscoll says current federal spending is unsustainable:

072611Odriscoll3 :20 economy can pay.”

 

 

Nevada Has Biggest Increase in Food Stamp Caseloads

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:05 am July 26th, 2011

Nevada experienced the greatest growth among the states in food stamp caseloads between 2007 and 2010 with an increase of 128 percent, according to a recent report from the Urban Institute.

The jump in caseloads is attributable to a nearly 250 percent increase in state unemployment between 2007 and 2010, says the report.

The Unemployment and Recovery Project report said caseload increases across the country are a reflection of high unemployment, as well as increased participation rates and program changes that make it easier for families to get benefits.

Nearly 45 million people currently receive help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps), an increase of about 69 percent since the recession began near the end of 2007.

A recent Las Vegas Sun report said 329,105 Nevadans received assistance from SNAP in March, citing statistics obtained from the state Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.

Today, SNAP reaches about one in seven Americans.

  • – Over half of SNAP-supported households include children, and one in five include a disabled, non-elderly adult.
  • – About one in eight SNAP-supported households include elderly individuals.
  • – 96 percent are U.S. citizens, 1 percent are refugees, and 3 percent are documented non-citizens living in the U.S. long enough to qualify (aliens are not eligible for SNAP benefits).
  • – In 2009, about 29 percent of SNAP households had some earnings, 5 percent had some unemployment insurance, and many others reported disability or retirement income. Nearly one in five (18 percent) had no countable income.

According to a recent KRNV-TV report, not all Nevada SNAP money is spent in Nevada.

Romaine Gilliland, an administrator with the Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, told KRNV that 98 percent of Nevadans on SNAP use their money in Nevada, but more than $955,000 is spent out of state each month.

Close to half of all out-of-state usage occurs in California. The next largest out-of-state usage is Arizona.

It is unknown how much SNAP money from other states is spent in Nevada.

The current debate over reducing the federal deficit has led some to propose scaling back federal program costs. The House Budget Committee passed a major restructuring that would block grant SNAP to the states with fixed federal resources.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan would cut the SNAP program by $127 billion — almost 20 percent — over the next ten years (2012-2021).

In addition to possible cuts to SNAP, thousands of Nevada residents who rely on financial assistance to pay their power bills likely won’t get help this year because of federal funding cuts.

The Division of Welfare and Supportive Services recently said federal funding for Nevada’s Energy Assistance Program will amount to only $4 million this year, down from $15.8 million in the fiscal year that just ended June 30.

__

Click the following link to see a U.S. map showing the percentage increase in SNAP enrollments across the country (PDF provided by the Urban Institute):

SNAP Enrollment Map 07-10

 

Nevada Public Employee Pension Plan Sees Record Investment Return In 2011

By Sean Whaley | 5:24 pm July 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s public employee retirement system saw a whopping 21 percent return on its investments in the fiscal year ending June 30, the executive officer of the agency said today.

“I believe this is the best performance we’ve had in at least 25 years with the fund,” said Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS).

The value of the retirement plan stood at $25.2 billion as of June 30, up from $20.9 billion on June 30, 2010, she said.

Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of the Public Employees' Retirement System

But the PERS investments, just like those of millions of Americans saving for retirement, could suffer in a big market sell off if Congress does not resolve the debt ceiling dispute by Aug. 2.

Bilyeu said a failure to extend the federal government’s debt ceiling limit would indirectly affect the plan the same as it would other investors.

“Because we’re always fully invested, the impact is going to be what that does to the markets themselves,” she said. “It’s really not about the default but really what that ripple effect is throughout the investment markets.”

If Congress fails to approve an extension of the debt limit, the markets will react and they won’t react very well, Bilyeu said. So the likely result would be a second vote by Congress, as happened with the TARP bailout legislation in 2008, to reach agreement and extend the limit, she said.

“I think the end result is going to be they are going to vote to lift the debt ceiling, to some level, we don’t know what that is,” Bilyeu said. “But I think they will get there. I think everyone at this point is trying to work as much into it as they can.”

PERS had over 102,000 active members in 2010, covering virtually all Nevada public employees, from school teachers and city workers to state employees. The plan is a defined benefit pension, where employees earn a guaranteed amount at retirement based on years of service and salary.

The 21 percent return for the just-ended fiscal year comes on the heels of a 10.8 percent return in fiscal year 2010. The plan saw a 15.8 percent loss in 2009.

Bilyeu said the high rate of return in 2011 was due in part to the plan’s significant investments in the S&P 500 and the EAFE stock indexes, both of which were among the top performers in fiscal year 2011.

The annualized rate of return on its investments is 9.6 percent over 28 years, ahead of the 8 percent return assumption over the long term.

The healthy return on the system’s mix of stocks, bonds and other investments will have a positive effect on the long-term financial health of the plan, which was 70.5 percent fully funded as of June 30, 2010, Bilyeu said. But the long-term unfunded liability will not be recalculated until this fall.

The unfunded liability as of June 30, 2010, totaled $10 billion. At its high point in 2000 the plan was 85 percent fully funded.

This long-term unfunded liability, which supporters of the current system say will be funded over time, is one reason Gov. Brian Sandoval in the 2011 session advocated for fundamental changes to the retirement plan. Others have advocated for a change as well, suggesting a switch to a “defined contribution” plan modeled after the 401(k) retirement plans commonly offered in the private sector.

A defined contribution plan is one where the employer contributes a set amount to an employee’s retirement. The employee makes the investment decisions. The employer has no long-term liability with such a plan.

In his state of the state address in January, Sandoval said: “We must also admit that Nevada’s Public Employee Retirement System cannot sustain its current level of liability. Future employees must join PERS under some form of a defined contribution plan.”

No action was taken to alter PERS in the just ended session. Instead, the Legislature passed a bill providing for a study of the plan to assess what, if any changes should be recommended to the 2013 Legislature.

Sandoval said through a spokeswoman today that he looks forward to the results of the independent analysis of PERS required as part of the 2011 budget agreement.

Supporters of the current plan say it is well managed and that no major changes are necessary.

The financial health of public employee retirement plans has become a concern nationally.

A review of these pension plans by the Pew Center on the States in February 2010 identified Nevada as one of 19 states where “serious concerns” exist about the long-term health of the retirement plan because of the size of its long-term unfunded liability.

Audio clips:

Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS, says the 21 percent return was the best in 25 years:

072511Bilyeu1 :08 with the fund.”

Bilyeu says the PERS fund could suffer if Congress does not reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling:

072511Bilyeu2 :12 the investment markets.”

Bilyeu says she believes Congress will reach agreement on the debt ceiling:

072511Bilyeu3 :11 as they can.”

Western State Lawmakers, Including Nevadans, Traveling To Hawaii For Annual Conference

By Sean Whaley | 2:57 pm July 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Lawmakers from 13 western states, including some from Nevada, will converge on Hawaii at the end of the month.

But lawmakers won’t be in the tropical paradise to relax or play golf. It’s all about policy and regional issues confronting the states at the 64th annual meeting of the Council of State Governments-WEST. CSG-WEST is a nonpartisan organization that brings Western legislators of both parties together to share best policy practices, cooperate on regional issues and participate in legislative effectiveness training.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, is one Nevada lawmaker who will be attending the event. Atkinson is vice chairman of the organization this year, and will serve as chairman in 2013, when the conference that attracts between 1,000 and 1,500 people will be held in Las Vegas.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson will bring the CSG-West conference to Las Vegas in 2013. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

Atkinson said he will be too busy to take in much of Hawaii’s beauty during the event, which will be held in Honolulu from July 30 to Aug. 2.

“I’m vice chair so I probably touch every aspect of the conference,” he said. “Right now on my calendar I probably have 12 or 13 things already I’m going to be doing over there. So I definitely will be going for business.”

The conference is in Hawaii this year because the chairman of CSG-WEST is Hawaii Representative Marcus Oshiro.

CSG-West seems to be popular with Nevada lawmakers because the states that are members share common issues and concerns, Atkinson said. Nevada and other states participate in other organizations as well, including the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the American Legislative exchange Council (ALEC).

“So we’re able to talk to each other and get through some of these things,” Atkinson said. “It’s a great networking opportunity for that.”

Nevada lawmakers who decide to attend the conference will either be paying their own way or as representatives of  CSG-West, however. The Nevada Legislature has no funding to pay lawmaker expenses for attending such conferences.

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said the Legislature this year did pass a bill to pay the cost of the dues for being members of the three organizations and several others. Assembly Bill 492 allocated $711,000 for Nevada’s dues to the groups for the next two years.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, will be attending as well, although it is not clear how many of Nevada’s 63 legislators will make the trip.

Smith is serving as chairwoman of the Fiscal Affairs Committee, and is also a member of the Executive Committee as well as serving on two other panels.

“I really like the organization,” she said. “They do a lot of good training. On the fiscal side there is a lot of good information about what is going on in other states. They bring in national speakers. I am going to be working very hard.”

Audio clips:

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson says he has a full agenda at the upcoming conference:

072211Atkinson1 :17 committee as well.”

Atkinson says Hawaii just happens to be hosting the conference this year:

072211Atkinson2 :22 it just happens.”

Atkinson says CSG-West is popular with Nevada lawmakers because it focuses on Western issues:

072211Atkinson3 :28 opportunity for that.”

 

Former Chicago Broker Missing 32 Years Found, Arrested In Las Vegas

By Sean Whaley | 10:53 am July 22nd, 2011

A former Chicago commodities broker, missing for more than three decades and declared legally dead, was discovered working as a sports book writer in Las Vegas and arrested on false identity charges, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles reported today.

Arthur Gerald Jones, 72, was arrested July 19 and booked into the Clark County Detention Center on four felony charges relating to identity theft and fraud. Bail was set at $20,000 following an initial appearance July 21.

Arthur Gerald Jones was arrested July 19 in Las Vegas after being reported missing for 32 years.

Jones has been living under the name of Joseph Richard Sandelli since about the time of his disappearance, the agency said in a news release. He has been working in a local sports book for the past 10 years, according to investigators from the Nevada DMV and the Social Security Administration.

Jones, who once held a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade, was reported missing from Highland Park, Illinois in 1979. The reasons for his disappearance were unclear at that time but labeled suspicious. Police and other sources believed he may have met with foul play due to gambling debts and possible organized crime affiliations.

An Illinois court declared Jones legally deceased in 1986, listing his date of death as May 11, 1979, the day he disappeared. Jones’ wife and three children collected Social Security benefits as a result.

Investigators say Jones claims he obtained a false Illinois driver license, birth certificate and Social Security card. He claims to have purchased the documents for $800 in Chicago in 1979 before going to Florida. Jones allegedly used those documents to obtain a Nevada driver license in 1988.

Jones’ arrest came about after an initial complaint regarding the fraudulent use of a Social Security number. A joint investigation by the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles’ Compliance Enforcement Division turned up the false driver license under the name of Sandelli.

The Social Security Administration is continuing its investigation.

DMV spokesman Kevin Malone said Jones has since posted bail and been released. He was working at the Rampart Casino in Summerlin.

The criminal complaint filed against Jones shows he has at least one other alias and a criminal record.

“The Social Security Administration contacted the Nevada DMV to assist them in investigating the misuse of a social security number,” Malone said. “The Nevada DMV does have a sworn law enforcement division, the Compliance Enforcement Division, so we do have officers that can go out and arrest people, and we found that he did in fact, at least allegedly, have a false identity, so we arrested him on false identity charges.”

Malone said Jones faces serious charges.

“All four of them are felony charges that carry a minimum term in prison,” he said. “Nevada has some pretty tough laws on using other people’s identities or false identities. Just possessing a false birth certificate is a felony offense in this state, so he is facing four felonies and they are pretty serious charges.”

Audio clips:

DMV spokesman Kevin Malone said the agency was asked to investigate Jones by the Social Security Administration:

072211Malone1 :24 false identity charges.”

Malone says Jones faces four serious felony charges:

072211Malone2 :19 pretty serious charges.”

 

NDOT begins field test of car tracking technology for potential new tax

By Anne Knowles | 9:51 am July 22nd, 2011

RENO – The Nevada Department of Transportation says technology it is testing to track car mileage as part of a potential new tax system would not violate drivers’ privacy.

NDOT is in the second phase of a multi-year study of the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax, which would replace the existing fuel tax and be levied based on the number of miles a car travels rather than the amount of gas it consumes.

During the first phase of the study, completed last year, NDOT looked at many aspects of the VMT tax, including various workable technologies and a number of policy issues. Based on public feedback, the agency concluded that privacy was the number one concern.

“What we heard out of phase one is how important privacy was, the tracking of vehicles, so in phase two we got rid of that element altogether,” said R. Scott Rawlins, deputy director of NDOT at a public information meeting held on July 21.

“No one wants Big Brother watching them,” added Alauddin Khan, NDOT’s chief performance analysis engineer working on the project.

NDOT, in cooperation with the University of Nevada, Reno, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is now in the process of conducting a field test with 25 drivers in Las Vegas whose cars have been equipped with sensors connected to the automobile’s existing on-board diagnostics port. (All cars manufactured since 2003 have so-called OBD ports, which most automobile mechanics now use for computerized diagnostics.)

The Chevron gas station at the corner of Maryland and Tropicana in Las Vegas has been equipped with wireless technology that reads the cars’ odometers each time drivers in the test group come in to fill up their gas tanks.

Drivers can pump the gas and leave, without any human intervention, while the sensor sends their car’s odometer data to a computer inside the gas station. Drivers can also choose to collect a receipt inside the station to keep track of their mileage and tax.

The NODT study is not testing the collection of the fee, which could be handled in a number of ways, including at the point of purchase or on a monthly or even annual basis.

The technology costs about $20 per car in this trial phase, according to UNLV assistant professor Alexander Paz, who is part of the team developing the system. Paz said the technology would be less expensive in a wider roll out.

The third phase of the NDOT study, planned for next year, would test the technology in as many as 1,500 vehicles.

Citizens who attended the public meeting expressed their concerns with the program.

“A lot of my questions had to do with the security of the data and how they were going to record mileage that would end up being truly anonymous,” said Ron Nichols, a Reno resident who was one of a handful of area residents at the NDOT gathering. “So I saw a potential big issue with data privacy.”

Nichols said the technology being tested allayed some of his concerns, but he said he was still uncertain how the data would remain anonymous.

He and others who attended the meeting also saw another potential pitfall to the VMT.

Will drivers be taxed twice for miles driven in another state? If, for example, a Nevada driver travels into California, buys gas there and pays that state’s fuel tax, would the driver also pay VMT tax on those miles when they return to a gas pump in Nevada?

“If I fill up in Wendover and my odometer reads 10,000 miles, then I drive all over the country and come back and my odometer reads 20,000 miles, how will that work?” asked Nichols. “It would have to be implemented countrywide,and the chances of that are zero.”

“My main interest is if you do a lot of traveling, how is this going to add up?” said Steve Keller, a retired Reno resident who drives to his second home in Monterey, Calif., twice each month. “Where’s the fairness in that?”

Rawlins said concern over double-taxation could be mitigated by a reporting system much like the system used today by long-haul truckers. But he and others conceded that for a VMT tax to work, it would likely have to be implemented nationwide.

Because of that, Rawlins said a viable VMT system is at least ten to 15 years away from reality.

More than a dozen states are looking at the VMT, and NDOT is part of the Mileage Based User Fee Alliance, a group comprised of officials from the states that are considering the tax. The Obama administration, however, recently backtracked on support of the VMT, so its future is unknown.

The NDOT field test is costing $400,000 and is being paid for by federal dollars and in-kind donations from UNLV. It will conclude in October with a report expected in early 2012.

__

Audio clip:

NDOT’s Rawlins predicts a workable VMT tax is at least a decade away:

072111Rawlins2 :10 fifteen years out”

 

Secretary of State Investigators Arrest Southern Nevada Man in Multi-State Ponzi Scheme

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:28 am July 22nd, 2011

Investigators from the Secretary of State’s office today arrested Hans Seibt at his Las Vegas residence on 25 counts of securities fraud and six counts of theft. The criminal complaint filed by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto charges that Seibt was essentially operating a Ponzi scheme that victimized investors in Nevada and several other states.

Operating under the business names HSLV Development Corp. and Clark and Nye County Development Corp., Seibt successfully solicited investments of $10,000 or more from his victims, offering them trust deeds, joint venture agreements, and subscription agreements, all of which were supposedly secured by parcels of land Seibt was holding in Nye County.

Investigators say the land’s value was grossly exaggerated in order to support Seibt’s claims to his victims. The complaint also charges that Seibt and his representatives told victims they would receive a return of between 10 percent and 12 percent on their investment, but that Seibt, rather than actually purchasing the land, had used the money to pay off other investors and for personal use.

“Targeting senior citizens is particularly egregious,” Masto said. “I want to commend the Secretary of State’s office for bringing the evidence which resulted in the filing of this complaint.”

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

Secretary of State Ross Miller said: “I can’t stress enough the importance of every investor conducting the most thorough due diligence possible when making an investment. Investing is a complicated and, to varying degrees, risky process. So-called interest payments or distributions that are paid to some investors aren’t a guarantee that an investment is legitimate. That’s the whole basis for a Ponzi scheme. Potential investors just can’t be careful enough, especially in the current economic environment.”

Seibt was booked in Clark County jail this morning, and was initially being held without bail pending an initial appearance in Justice Court.

As in all criminal matters, the Secretary of State’s office cautions that allegations are only accusations and individuals are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Nevada Skilled Nursing Industry Faces Ongoing Economic Challenges After Legislative Session

By Sean Whaley | 4:53 pm July 21st, 2011

Editor’s note: The information in paragraph four of this story is incomplete. While there has not been a state general fund-supported rate increase for the skilled nursing industry in the past decade, rate increases have been implemented. Skilled nursing rates have increased from about $122 per day in fiscal year 2003 to $189 per day in fiscal year 2011, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The increases have been funded through an industry provider tax.

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s skilled nursing homes avoided the deepest cuts initially proposed by the Sandoval administration to pay for serving Medicaid clients, but the reimbursement rate is still inadequate to cover actual costs, an industry official said today.

The industry is also concerned that any resolution to the federal deficit discussions under way in Washington, DC, could further exacerbate the economic challenges facing it, said Daniel Mathis, chief executive officer of the Nevada Health Care Association.

Gov. Brian Sandoval originally proposed a cut in the reimbursement rate of $20 per Medicaid patient per day for the state’s four dozen free-standing skilled nursing facilities, but the final budget deal resulted in only a $5 per day reduction. Even so, Mathis said the reimbursement rate has now grown to about $19 a day below actual cost.

“We’re happy that it ended at $5, not $20, but still, for an industry that hasn’t had a rate increase for Medicaid in 10 years, this is going to have some negative impact,” he said.

Evergreen Carson City Health & Rehabilitation Center. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

At the $20 per day cut initially proposed by Sandoval, the industry estimated that as many as five facilities would close, reducing access to skilled nursing beds by Nevada’s elderly.

Charles Duarte, administrator of the Nevada Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which manages the state Medicaid program, said 34 nursing facilities are appealing their reimbursement rates and so he could not comment on their concerns.

Mathis said the industry is only expecting further cuts as a result of any agreement at the national level to address the federal deficit. Because of the uncertainty over Medicare and Medicaid funding at the federal level, Nevada’s skilled nursing facility operators are in a wait and see mode as to what they will do in response, he said.

“Until providers know exactly what the rate is going to be I doubt there (are) going to be any announcements or change of programming right now,” Mathis said.

The federal debt discussions refer to reductions in entitlement programs, but that translates to cuts in services to the elderly and disabled, he said.

Duarte said the federal discussions have included a possible reduction in federal reimbursement rates through a provider tax levied in Nevada on the skilled nursing facilities, but the indications were it would not happen right away.

“The discussion I’ve heard is that that won’t happen for perhaps as long as five years,” he said. “That it will start being ratcheted down. But of course we’re not privy to the latest information coming out of Washington, so there may be other things that are being discussed that have more dramatic and immediate impacts on not just nursing homes but provider payments.”

One of those is a potential change in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) that provides matching funds for state Medicaid programs. The match rate for each state is based on average household income.

If the rate is adjusted it will be to achieve budget savings at the federal level, which would likely result in more program costs being passed onto the states, Duarte said.

The National Governor’s Association has sent a letter expressing concerns to the president and Congress that costs will be shifted to the states as the result of any Medicaid cuts that are part of a deficit deal.

Audio clips:

Daniel Mathis, chief executive officer of the Nevada Health Care Association, says the smaller Medicaid reimbursement cut will still have an impact:

072111Mathis1 :16 some negative impact.”

Mathis says Nevada skilled nursing facilities are waiting to see what a federal deficit deal will mean to the industry:

072111Mathis2 :10 programming right now.”

Charles Duarte, administrator of the Nevada Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, says some federal cuts that are part of a deficit deal may not take effect right away:

072111Duarte1 :24 but provider payments.”

Duarte says there is a concern that a federal deficit deal will pass costs on to the states:

072111Duarte2 :10 ill afford it.”

 

SoNev Water Project Found to Contain High Levels of Political Irony

By Elizabeth Crum | 5:13 pm July 20th, 2011

So, the Nevada Supreme Court granted relief to local governments when it said it was illegal for the state to take $62 million from the Clean Water Coalition (CWC) pipeline project last year in order to balance the state budget…and/but now those same local entities want to keep some or all of the project money for themselves even though the entire CWC undertaking is no more.

The M Resort has filed a petition to try to get the project fees back for itself and all who paid them.

As Ralston wrote in his post:

They paid into the CWC for a specific pipeline project, now scuttled, and want their money back. What a shocking notion. The governments, facing their own financial troubles, wouldn’t try to keep their share of the $62 million, would they? That would be so out of character.

Right. And so ironic as to be amazing.

The state can’t swipe money tagged for a dead local project, but the same dead local project can keep money collected from citizens for the sole purpose of…funding the project?

 

Employment Training Contracts Worth Nearly $24 Million Approved By State Board

By Sean Whaley | 4:33 pm July 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The state Board of Examiners today approved contracts worth nearly $24 million in federal funds to provide employment and training services to job seekers as Nevada continues to lead the nation in unemployment.

The contracts were approved by Gov. Brian Sandoval and Secretary of State Ross Miller after Sandoval received assurances that the two contracts for Nevadaworks in northern Nevada would be managed consistent with any findings in an audit of the workforce investment board now under way.

Cindy Jones, administrator of the state Employment Security Division, assured Sandoval that the money would be expended by Nevadaworks in compliance with federal and state rules.

Cindy Jones of the Employment Security Division responds to questions about job training contracts today at a Board of Examiners meeting. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

The three Nevadaworks contracts approved by the board are worth $6.8 million. The three contracts with Workforce Connections in southern Nevada are worth $16.9 million.

After the meeting, Jones said there is an audit under way of Nevadaworks as part of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation’s normal oversight of the contracts. The review is being performed by the state Division of Internal Audits. The audit is not complete and no findings are yet publicly available for review.

The funds are used to train jobless Nevadans for new types of work where there is demand, as well as provide everything from work boots to child care subsidies to assist people in securing a job.

The approval of the contracts comes as Nevada continues to borrow money from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits.

Jones said the state has borrowed $775 million from the federal government to date to pay benefits. The first interest payment of $29.1 million on that borrowed money is due in September. The state has allocated $64 million to make the interest payments over the two years of the current budget.

The state will not be able to repay the federal loans in the near term, she said. Nevada, like more than 30 other states, is continuing to borrow from the federal government to pay benefits, Jones said.

The agency this fall will review the status of the state’s unemployment trust fund, which is funded with a tax on employer payrolls, to assess what the tax rate for calendar year 2012 will be, Jones said.

Nevada employers this year are paying on average a tax rate of 2 percent on the first $26,600 of each employee’s wages. The 2010 rate was 1.33 percent. But the $410 million in revenue projected from the higher tax rate this year is still not enough to pay benefits and begin repaying the federal loan.

And while the federal loans were interest free for the first two years, those payments must be made beginning this year unless Congress takes some action to extend the grace period, Jones said.

Jones said she does not yet know what course the Employment Security Council will take with regard to the 2012 tax rate when it meets in October.

Nevada’s jobless rate was 12.1 percent in May, down from its peak of 14.9 percent but still highest in the nation.

Audio clips:

Cindy Jones, administrator of the state Employment Security Division, says the audits are a regular part of the agency’s oversight of the funds:

072011Jones1 :24 to our constituents.”

 

 

Gov. Sandoval ‘Taken For Ride’ In Google Self-Driving Car

By Sean Whaley | 1:48 pm July 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Brian Sandoval became the first governor in the nation to be “taken for a ride” in Google’s self-driving car.

Sandoval went for a ride in the modified Toyota Prius from the capital city halfway through the Washoe Valley before returning to the Department of Motor Vehicles office where the car and a duplicate were on display.

“It’s incredibly impressive,” Sandoval said. “It accounts for all the safety issues. You have the ability to know who is front of you. You have a 360-degree consideration of everything around you. It even tells you when a crosswalk is coming up.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval today became the first governor in the nation to go for a ride in Google's autonomous car. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

Sandoval actually drove the vehicle himself from the freeway to the DMV office for safety reasons, even though it can navigate city streets as well as freeways. But the freeway drive was accomplished entirely by the vehicle using its various sensor technologies.

The driverless car technology is likely less than 10 years away, at least for freeway driving.

Nevada became the first state in the nation to legalize the use of driverless vehicles with legislation passed this past session. The DMV will now move forward with regulations by early next year to implement the law.

“Nevada is the first state in the country that is going to be (adopting) regulations for this vehicle,” Sandoval said. “I think it is important for Nevada to be first on this. This is going to be part of the future and Nevada has always been a very progressive state.”

Sandoval said he did not “text” on the trip, although it is legal to text in an autonomous vehicle. Nevada on Oct. 1 will prohibit texting or the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

The Prius has 68,000 miles and has never been in an accident.

Sandoval said he did take the opportunity on the drive to talk with Google executives about looking to Nevada as the technology becomes a reality.

“If there is an opportunity to manufacture these vehicles in the state we certainly want to be a player in that,” he said.

Tom Jacobs, public information officer for the Nevada DMV, also went for a drive in the car to the Washoe Valley. He said the car went at 65 mph through the valley. The car will not cut off another driver, run a light or speed, Jacobs said.

The technology requires that the car be driven on a specified route before it can they take over operation of the controls, he said.

Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the Google auto-car even knows when it approaches a crosswalk:

072011Sandoval1 :16 crosswalk coming up.”

Sandoval says Nevada is the first state to legalize the use of the vehicles:

072011Sandoval2 :23 very progressive state.”

Sandoval says he would like Nevada to be involved in the production of the vehicles:

072011Sandoval3 :07 player in that.”