Archive for July, 2011

Secretary of State Issues Emergency Regulation to Fund Special Election

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:15 pm July 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY — The state’s chief election official says special measures are needed to ensure proper administration in the upcoming special election.

File photo of Secretary of State Ross Miller / Photo by Cathleen Allison

An emergency regulation prepared by Secretary of State Ross Miller and enacted today will guide the reimbursement of costs incurred by the counties for the September 13 special election for Nevada’s second congressional district.

The election is expected to cost Nevada’s 17 counties a total of nearly $1 million.

Miller determined that the challenges the counties will face in paying for the special election are sufficient to trigger emergency regulation provisions, he said in an announcement released to the press Wednesday.

Counties budget for and cover the costs of administering regularly scheduled elections in Nevada, but Miller said neither the counties nor the state have budgeted for costs to run a special election. As a result, he concluded the regulations “are necessary to assist the counties during a financially difficult period…and are also necessary to ensure the proper administration of the Special Election by the counties.”

Under the emergency regulation, counties must submit invoices and other supporting documents with the request for reimbursement to the Secretary of State’s office following the election.

Miller said reimbursement of eligible costs and expenses “will be contingent upon available and authorized state funding”, according to the wording of the regulation.

The emergency regulation is in effect for 120 days and applies only to the special election to fill the vacancy in the 2nd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sandoval Fares Well Among Nevada Voters Following 2011 Legislative Session

By Sean Whaley | 2:51 pm July 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval’s reluctant decision to support an extension of tax increases to balance the state budget in the 2011 legislative session does not appear to have caused him any lasting damage in the eyes of voters, according to the results of a recent survey by a GOP polling firm.

A survey of voter attitudes conducted by The Tarrance Group on July 12 and 13 shows that 53 percent of Nevada voters approve of the job Sandoval is doing, with only 29 percent indicating they disapprove of his performance. The remainder of those polled had no opinion.

Not surprisingly, the Republican had strong GOP support statewide at 73 percent to 10 percent disapproving. Approval among Democrats was far weaker, 37 percent to 46 percent disapproving.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has a strong favorable rating in a recent poll. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

Sandoval successfully bucked the trend that impacted many other governors in their budget battles, and “has maintained solid his job approval ratings among Nevada voters,” said Dave Sackett of The Tarrance Group in his analysis of the results.

“There is no gender gap in Governor Sandoval’s job approval ratings, as he stands with a 54 percent job approval rating among men and a 53 percent job approval rating among women voters,” Sackett said in a memo dated July 15.

“It is also important to note that a majority of voters in every region of the state, including Clark County, indicate that they approve of the job he is doing as governor,” he said.

Mike Slanker of November Inc., a political consulting firm that worked on Sandoval’s campaign, said the governor has a broad and deep base of support in Nevada. The numbers show that Sandoval is one of the most popular governors in the country, he said.

The findings are based on telephone interviews with 501 “likely” registered voters throughout the state. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. Democrats represented 43.1 percent of those surveyed, Republicans, 36.4 percent and independents, 20.5 percent, closely mirroring the active voter numbers reported by the Nevada Secretary of State’s office as of June.

The results show Sandoval with a 51 percent approval rating in Clark County with 30 percent disapproving. The approval rating is 59 percent in Washoe County, with 27 percent disapproving, and 58 percent in rural Nevada with 27 percent disapproving.

Among Hispanic voters, Sandoval had a 51 percent approval rating with 26 percent expressing disapproval.

Approve Disapprove
All voters 53% 29%
Clark County voters 51% 30%
Washoe County voters 59% 27%
Carson/Douglas voters 57% 27%
Rural NV voters 58% 27%
Men 54% 28%
Women 53% 30%
Hispanic/Latino voters 51% 26%
Republicans 73% 10%
Independents 53% 26%
Democrats 37% 46%

Sandoval, in his first year as governor, proposed no new taxes in his original budget delivered to the Legislature in January. In late May, after the Nevada Supreme Court called into question some of the local revenues he had proposed to use to balance his state general fund budget, Republicans and Democrats agreed to extend some tax revenues that were set to expire June 30 to help balance the budget.

“Governor Sandoval’s reasoned approach to the budget has won support for his efforts that extend well beyond the traditional groups of voters that would be supportive of a Republican governor,” Sackett said. “Solid majorities of both Independent voters and Hispanic voters indicate that they approve of the job that he is doing, as do a majority of self-described conservative Democrat voters in Nevada.”

The Tarrance Group describes itself as “one of the most widely respected and successful Republican strategic research and polling firms in the nation.”

Updated Public Employee Salary And Benefit Data Published By Nevada Think Tank

By Sean Whaley | 2:01 am July 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Anyone with an interest in what Nevada’s state and local government employees make in salary and benefits can review the 2010 data that has been posted today by a  Nevada think tank.

The searchable database at Transparent Nevada does not yet contain all the local government salary information because not all cities and counties have responded, said Victor Joecks, communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

But most of the major cities and counties, as well as the state colleges and universities and the state of Nevada, have provided the data as requested, he said.

The Clark County School District provided its data as well, although NPRI is still waiting on the Clark County information, Joecks said.

“We certainly appreciate all the jurisdictions that were helpful and sent the data as we requested and as they are obligated to by state law,” he said. “We will continue with some of the places that haven’t sent us the data; we’ll continue following up and looking at that data as the year goes on.”

The data can be searched by name, occupation or in order of highest pay. Salaries and benefits, when provided, are listed separately, along with a column showing total compensation.

A Nevada think tank has added 2010 public employee salary information to its website.

Joecks said some jurisdictions only provide base pay amounts, even though benefits, which can be as much as 40 percent or more of a public employee’s salary, is important information as well.

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the site is useful for the press and the public. NPRI is a member of the association.

“It goes beyond just being there and being available,” he said. “Government websites post a lot of information, but NPRI collects the data, exposes it and promotes it.”

The site allows the public to view the information and draw their own conclusions about public salaries and benefits, Smith said.

A search of the site shows that many of the top paid public officials in Nevada work for the Nevada System of Higher Education, including University of Nevada, Reno head football coach Chris Ault, who earned nearly $527,000 in compensation in 2010.

For some higher education employees however, the salaries can reflect alternate sources of income that do not come from state taxpayers.

In some other cases salaries were inflated because employees were retiring and received unused sick leave and vacation pay.

One example is Joseph Forti, who took a buyout last year and retired as North Las Vegas chief of police. His 2010 salary is listed at just under $76,000, but total compensation is listed at $733,000. His compensation in 2010 included $333,000 in sick leave pay, $43,000 in annual leave and nearly $231,000 in a category called “Premium, Certification, Bonus and Other.”

Pay for fire fighters, which has been a hot button issue in Southern Nevada, is included in the database as well, but only for North Las Vegas and Henderson so far. The data does show that benefits make up a big part of a fire fighter’s pay.

More than 30 North Las Vegas firefighters earned in excess of $140,000 a year in pay and benefits, according to the information provided by city officials and posted on the site.

“It’s just kind of incredible all the ways that government employees get paid,” Joecks said. “It’s not just about their salary, it’s not just about their benefits, it’s not just about their salary, benefits and retirement. All of a sudden you’re getting $200,000 when you retire and that’s something that doesn’t happen in the private sector.”

Audio clips:

NPRI spokesman Victor Joecks says most large jurisdictions have provided the requested information:

071911Joecks1 :23 year goes on.”

Joecks says compensation for public sector workers is more generous than found in the private sector:

071911Joecks2 :20 the private sector.”

 

 

 

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera Announces Bid For Congress In As-Yet Undetermined District

By Sean Whaley | 5:17 pm July 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Term limited Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, today announced he will run for Congress in one of four districts that have yet to be finalized in Nevada’s contested redistricting process.

Oceguera, a native fourth-generation Nevadan, said he wants to bring his skills in finding compromise on difficult issues honed in the Nevada Legislature over the past nearly dozen years to the House of Representatives.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera announced today he will run for Congress.

“I think what I bring to the table is kind of a common sense approach,” he said. “I think I’ve been successful in finding solutions in the Legislature and I think I will be successful in Congress.

“I think Nevadans are kind of fed up with the way it’s going in DC and I’m looking to help the middle class, the folks that rely on social security and Medicare,” Oceguera said. “I believe that they deserve someone that will fight for them and that’s what I intend to do.”

Oceguera, an assistant fire chief in North Las Vegas, said he decided to announce his candidacy even though the Nevada redistricting process is in the courts, where it could remain for some time before finally being decided.

“I’m of the belief that redistricting is going to be wrapped up in the court system for a number of months, and that might put us all the way as far as next year,” he said. “And you really can’t start a congressional campaign in the same year that the election is going to be held. You have to get started.”

Oceguera currently resides in the 3rd Congressional District represented by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., but he said that could change by the 2012 election. Oceguera said he will challenge Heck if that is where he ends up.

“But I think it is really too soon to know one way or the other where we’re going to be because we have no idea how those lines are going to be drawn at this point,” he said.

The Democrat-controlled Nevada Legislature sent two redistricting bills to GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, but they were vetoed out of a concern the proposals violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The issue is now in Carson City District Court and will likely be decided by the Nevada Supreme Court.

Oceguera’s announcement prompted Amy Tarkanian, chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party, to describe him as a career politician “looking for a new gig.”

“Oceguera’s bid for Congress, made before even understanding or caring about the constituency he claims to want to represent, is an action of a termed-out assemblyman who is panicking at the thought of losing one of his government paychecks,” she said.

Tarkanian criticized Oceguera for attempting to push through a $1.3 billion tax hike in the 2011 session.

“Oceguera’s colleagues rejected his proposal then and Nevadans will reject him in 2012,” she said.

In response, Oceguera said public service is “not a bad thing.”

“I’m proud of what I’ve done as a fire fighter and the people I’ve helped,” he said. “I’m proud of what I’ve done in the Legislature and the Nevadans I’ve helped there and I want to continue that service. Certainly if I wanted to go into the private sector and make money that’s what I would be doing, but I choose to go and serve the public and I think that record speaks for itself.”

Audio clips:

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera says he can’t wait for redistricting to be resolved before starting a campaign:

071811Oceguera1 :24 to get started.”

Oceguera says he brought a common sense approach to compromise in the Legislature and will do so in Congress:

071811Oceguera2 30 successful in Congress.”

Oceguera says he is proud of his public service:

071811Oceguera3 :29 speaks for itself.”

Oceguera says Nevadans are fed up with what is happening in Washington, DC:

071811Oceguera4 :20 intend to do.”

 

Nevada Redistricting Efforts Remain In Flux After Court Hearing This Week

By Sean Whaley | 1:34 pm July 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Efforts to resolve Nevada’s redistricting impasse remain a work in progress after a proposal floated Tuesday by a Carson City judge to use county election officials to draw new legislative and congressional lines ran into some opposition.

The job of redrawing Nevada’s political lines has fallen to District Judge James Todd Russell after two Democrat-approved redistricting plans were vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Sandoval vetoed the measures after concluding the proposals did not follow the federal Voting Rights Act.

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

Russell took the attorneys representing the two major political parties by surprise when, rather than opting to hear the evidence and make a decision, he proposed using the Washoe, Clark and Carson City voter registrars as “special masters” to draw the new political boundaries for his consideration.

The Las Vegas Sun reported that Clark County Registrar Larry Lomax rejected the idea after consulting with County Manager Don Burnette.

Redistricting must be accomplished in time for the 2012 election season, which begins early next year. Redistricting happens every 10 years following the census.

Russell gave the parties until July 20 to come up with their suggestions for special masters to help with the process.

Appearing on the Nevada NewsMakers television program on Wednesday, Republican Party attorney Mark Hutchison said the suggestion caught a lot of people attending the court hearing by surprise.

“We were, I think, a little surprised by the suggestion but I think once you understood why the judge did it, it made all the sense in the world,” he said. “He’s looking for, and he said this, a nonpartisan approach. He wants to do the right thing, follow the law, and he doesn’t want a bunch of politically motivated people there involved in the process.

“Judge Russell has presented a very unique process,” Hutchison said. “He wants to have the parties involved in the process, but he wants to have people who are going to be nonpartisan and have the information so that he can do his job. It’s a very unique process that I don’t know exists anywhere else in the country.”

Hutchison said he does not believe the redistricting process will be resolved in a special session of the Legislature. More likely Russell will present a plan that will ultimately be acted on by the Nevada Supreme Court.

Marc Elias, representing the Democratic Party in the case, was quoted in the Nevada Appeal as suggesting that before special masters propose a new set of political boundaries, that there should first be a decision on whether the Democrat plans violate the Voting Rights Act.

“Maybe if we resolve the voting rights issue, there would at least be a basis for the masters to start,” he said.

Because of Nevada’s population growth, the state is getting a fourth congressional district, requiring a major redrawing of the existing three districts. The 21 state Senate and 42 Assembly districts must also be redrawn to make populations approximately equal.

There is also a mandate to ensure equitable representation of minorities in the process, with Republicans supporting the creation of a majority Hispanic congressional district in Southern Nevada.

Audio clips:

Republican Party attorney Mark Hutchison says the attorneys were surprised by Russell’s plan to resolve the redistricting impasse:

071511Hutchison1 :15 in the process.”

Hutchison says Russell’s plan is unique:

071511Hutchison2 :12 the country, Sam.”

 

 

Nevada Last in Federal Dollars Per Capita

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:06 pm July 15th, 2011

The federal government is more generous to some states than others and least of all to Nevada, according to an analysis by Federal Funds Information for States (FFIS) which tracks budget policy across the nation.

Some states receive fewer federal dollars because they operate relatively modest Medicaid programs that trigger a smaller amount of matching federal money.

Image from Wikimedia Commons and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

That’s the primary reason why Nevada gets the least in federal funding with just $1,090 per capita.

The U.S. average for federal spending per capita is $1,786.

Some Western states – like Wyoming and Alaska – receive a greater proportion of federal grants in the form of revenue from leasing rights to the rich resources being extracted on public lands. Wyoming receives $3,757 in federal spending per capita.

The federal budget provides about 30 percent of state revenue, making it the largest single source of funds for many states.

An infographic by The Pew Center for the States website Stateline.org shows the amount of federal spending for each state.

Of the per capita federal spending Nevada receives, The Pew Center for the States reports that $386 helps fund health care services; $336 goes to income security and social services; $178 goes to fund transportation; $140 goes to education; and $68 goes to a combination of other areas including agriculture, community development and employment and training services.

Per capita federal spending is a measure for states seeking to assess how they fare in their fiscal relationship with the federal government.

The FFIS analysis focuses on 200+ federal grant-in-aid programs tracked by FFIS. The analysis does not include American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) dollars, better known as “stimulus” funding.

FFIS is a joint subscription service of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

 

 

 

DMV Kiosk Gives New Meaning to One-Stop Shopping

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 7:18 am July 14th, 2011

A southern Nevada supermarket will now offer customers the ability to renew or reinstate automobile registrations on the way to the produce aisle.

The newest self-service “DMV in a Box” kiosk opens today in an Albertson’s grocery store at 4850 W. Craig Road in Las Vegas. It is the first supermarket in southern Nevada to host such a kiosk.

The self-funded kiosk program went into effect when the 2011 Legislature passed Senate Bill 441. In the coming years, the Department of Motor Vehicles plans to deploy dozens of new kiosks throughout the state with no up-front costs to the taxpayer.

The new machines will offer many services including driver’s license and ID card renewals, the ability to print out driving records, and the option to reinstate vehicle registrations that have been suspended due to a lapse of insurance.

“The Albertsons kiosk is just one more step in our plan to bring the DMV into neighborhoods, employment centers and campuses across Nevada,” said DMV Director Bruce Breslow.

“Thanks to the Legislature, ‘DMV in a Box’ could become as commonplace as bank ATM machines,” he said.

Kiosks are presently located at all southern Nevada DMV offices and at five AAA offices in the Las Vegas valley. Earlier this year, the department placed new kiosks at two supermarkets in northern Nevada as well as at Fernley City Hall.

Nevada DMV customers completed 450,358 transactions at kiosks during fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30th. The total number of transactions completed by the DMV website, kiosk and other alternate technology topped 1.3 million in the same period.

The kiosk opening ceremony takes place at 11 a.m. Presiding at the ribbon-cutting ceremony will be Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, and officials from Albertsons and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“The kiosks are a prime example of state government bringing better services to the citizens while cutting costs at the same time,” said Atkinson, chairman of the Commerce and Labor committee, in a press release.

Gov. Sandoval Agrees To Eliminate 18 Executive Branch Panels As Recommended By Task Force

By Sean Whaley | 5:01 pm July 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today agreed to eliminate 18 executive branch committees, councils and advisory panels as recommended by a task force, including the clearly outdated State Year 2000 Coordinating Council, among others.

The Governor’s Sunset Task Force, which issued its final 90-page report on Tuesday, also recommended that future panels be established with a mandate to follow the state Open Meeting Law.

The Year 2000 council was created by former Gov. Bob Miller in 1998 to ensure state computer systems were Y2K compliant.

Former state Sen. Bill Raggio served as chairman of the task force, which was established by Sandoval to review the necessity of existing non-statutory executive branch advisory bodies created by prior governors or department heads. Other members of the task force included former state Sens. Bernice Mathews and Ann O’Connell.

“I thank Senators Raggio, Mathews and O’Connell for their diligent work on behalf of Nevada’s citizens,” Sandoval said. “The recommendations they have put forth will help increase transparency and accountability in state government, and help set the stage for my administration to work closely with the Legislature on future sunset reviews provided by recent legislation.”

The members of the task force voted unanimously to recommend that Sandoval issue new executive orders to continue, create, and eliminate various councils, commissions, task forces and similar bodies.

The task force also made additional recommendations to include elements such as an expiration date and a requirement to comply with Nevada’s Open Meeting Law in future executive orders which create a council, commission, task force or similar body.

Raggio said some of the panels pre-dated his time in the Legislature, which began in 1972. Some had lost their purpose, while the work of others will be continued by different means, including through committees created by the Legislature.

Former Sen. Bill Raggio served as chairman of a panel to review and recommend elimination of outdated executive branch panels. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

“There were a lot of these commissions and boards that were not legislatively created, but by past governors, and some of them with no time limits, actually with no purpose at all,” he said. “We had no difficulty in recommending the ones that should remain. And the rest of them, really, served no purpose.

“It just did away with a lot of stuff that was still on the boards and that people were being appointed to without any purpose,” Raggio said.

Sandoval’s acceptance of the recommendations means the elimination of 18 committees, councils, commissions and task forces; the continuation of eight existing councils, commissions, and task forces; and the creation of one committee and one task force.

The 18 committees, councils, commissions and task forces Sandoval will eliminate are:

-          The Nevada Interagency Council on Homelessness;

-          The Strategic Plan for People with Disabilities Accountability Committee;

-          The Strategic Plan for Rural Health Care Accountability Committee;

-          The Strategic Plan for Senior Services Accountability Committee;

-          Governor’s Advisory Committee on Radiation Effects;

-          Governor’s Management Task Force;

-          Nevada Commission on Minority Business Enterprises;

-          Governor’s Word Processing Committee;

-          Governor’s Task Force on Employment Training;

-          Governor’s Small Business Council;

-          Governor’s Literacy Coalition Advisory Council;

-          Governor’s Committee on Volunteers and Volunteering;

-          Information Services Policy Committee;

-          Commission on Workplace Safety and Community Protection;

-          State Year 2000 Coordinating Council;

-          Governor’s Appeal Hearings Board for State of Nevada’s Self-Funded Insurance Program;

-          Silver Source Steering Committee; and

-          Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

The panels recommended to continue under new executive orders with new expiration dates and new reporting requirements are:

-          The 2-1-1 Partnership;

-          The Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorder;

-          The Nevada Broadband Task Force;

-          The Nevada Communications Steering Committee;

-          The Nevada Crime Commission;

-          The Nevada Homeland Security Working Group;

-          The Nevada Re-Entry Task Force; and

-          The State Citizens Corps Council.

The task force recommended that Sandoval issue executive orders, with expiration dates and reporting requirements, to create both a Child Care Advisory Committee and a Child Support Task Force. Both would be similar to panels appointed by the administrator of the Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.

Audio clips:

Sen. Bill Raggio says a lot of the executive branch boards no longer served any purpose:

071311Raggio1 :19 purpose at all.”

Raggio says the task force had no difficulty in identifying those panels that should remain:

071311Raggio2 :31 without any purpose.”

Federal Cut To Energy Assistance Program Means Thousands Of Nevadans Ineligible For Help

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm July 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – 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, a state agency reported today.

Miki Allard, staff specialist with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, 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.

While the funding provided by Nevada utility customers through the universal energy charge on their bills will remain relatively steady at $8.7 million, the anticipated decline in federal assistance has forced the agency to reduce both eligibility levels and the amount of assistance that can be provided, she said.

The income threshold for eligibility this year will be 110 percent of poverty levels, compared to 150 percent last year, Allard said. Thousands of Nevadans will lose eligibility because of this change, she said.

The amount of support will also be reduced to about $500 this year compared to $860 in the year that just ended, Allard said.

The reductions come as demand has increased, from 21,900 households being helped in fiscal year 2009, to 27,500 in fiscal year 2010 and 32,600 households last fiscal year.

“These cuts in federal funding will have a significant effect on Nevada families struggling with the highest unemployment rate in the nation,” said Romaine Gilliland, administrator for the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services. “For many families the assistance we are able to provide will not be enough to keep the lights on.”

Romaine Gilliland, administrator for the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, says the funding reductions will hurt struggling Nevada families.

Some who will feel the effect of the funding reductions are 1,700 pending applications from last year. The households will get no support in the just ended fiscal year because of a lack of funds. The applications will be processed for the current year, but the reduced eligibility guidelines will apply.

In Nevada, the assistance can help both for winter heating and summer cooling.

“It’s different for each end of the state,” Allard said. “We have a big influx of applications in the summer months in the south, and then an influx of applications in the north in the winter months.”

President Obama proposed a $2.5 billion cut to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in his 2012 federal fiscal year budget released in February. The program was funded at $5.1 billion in the 2011 fiscal year, and it is the program that assists Nevada and other states in offering the energy assistance.

The American Public Gas Association (APGA) sent a letter to President Obama in February opposing the reduction, but Executive Vice President Dave Schryver said today that funding for the program remains uncertain given the focus in Washington, DC, on addressing the federal deficit.

Dave Schryver, executive vice president, American Public Gas Association, says there is still a great need for the program.

“We’ve argued to the administration as well as to congress that even as they look at reducing federal funding, we think funding for LIHEAP is as critical as it’s ever been because of the economy,” he said. “More people are out of work, more families are in need, and as a result LIHEAP is even more important in helping those people meet their energy heating needs.”

The organization has pushed for an increase in the program to $7.6 billion but Schryver said such an increase would be “extremely difficult” given the current budget discussions.

Allard said today’s announcement is to alert those who use the program that funding will be reduced this year.

“They limped along for awhile with unemployment,” she said. “Now that the unemployment benefits are expiring – I talk to people on the phone every day who are just desperate. Their safety net is gone.”

Audio clips:

Miki Allard, staff specialist with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, says demand for assistance depends on where in Nevada people reside:

071211Allard1 :12 the winter months.”

Allard says the reduction comes at a time when many people have exhausted their safety net:

071211Allard2 :19 net is gone.”

Dave Schryver of the American Public Gas Association says there is still a critical need for the program:

071211Schryver 1 :21 energy heating needs.”

Nevada Businesses Caught Falsely Claiming Licensing Exemptions

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:05 am July 12th, 2011

An executive audit of Nevada’s business license filings has found that a significant number of businesses are falsely claiming they are exempt from paying the annual business license fee.

Source: Quarterly increases in claimed exemptions (Nevada Secretary of State)

The state stands to lose nearly $11 million in revenue in the next fiscal year due to the number of businesses that claim to be exempt but in fact do not qualify for exemption under current state statutes, according to a summary report provided by Secretary of State Ross Miller.

Miller says he has accepted the audit’s recommendations and will take steps in the coming months to ensure that businesses that are required to obtain a state business license in Nevada come in to and stay in compliance with the law.

“It’s just too easy right now to get away with false or fraudulent filings that cost the state millions in lost revenue and penalize the thousands of businesses that diligently remain in good standing in Nevada,” said Miller.

Miller said he will file a report with auditors that will detail his intended approach to determining whether businesses that claim exemptions from business license requirements do in fact qualify.

Nevada law requires any person or entity that performs a service or engages in a trade for profit to obtain an annual state business license.

Home-based businesses that bring in less than $27,000 a year in net earnings are exempt from the requirements, as are non-profits and a limited number of other types of business.

The audit also identified the likelihood that a significant number of businesses in the state have neither filed for an exemption nor obtained a business license.

By comparing local government business license records to the Secretary of State’s records, auditors found 22.5% of locally-licensed businesses do not have a state license, constituting another nearly $4 million in lost revenue to the state (nearly $2 million if the current sunset provision is enacted on June 30).

 

 

State Transportation Board Votes For More Oversight And Transparency Of Agency

By Sean Whaley | 4:54 pm July 11th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Members of the state Transportation Board, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, voted today to extend their oversight of the activities of the Department of Transportation, a move that will require more frequent meetings and more timely review of contracts.

Gov. Brian Sandoval today supported more Transportation Board oversight of the Transportation Department. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

The seven-member board, which also includes Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Controller Kim Wallin and three public members, now meets only quarterly and does not exercise authority over any contracts or agreements for services entered into by the agency.

Instead, department Director Susan Martinovich has been approving the items and reporting the actions to the board for information purposes only.

But Sandoval said today he believes more oversight is needed from the board to ensure the work of the agency is transparent to the public. While no one wants more meetings, Sandoval said the change is needed to ensure timely review by the board of contracts and agreements.

The five members of the board present for today’s meeting voted for the change, which will take effect in October.

From now on, all agreements over $300,000 for non-construction matters such as hiring consultants, entering into leases and selecting service providers, will come to the board for approval. All construction contracts over $5 million, which will represent about 80 percent of all contracts, will come to the board as well.

Board member Frank Martin said he has been concerned for the two years he has served on the board that there was not enough oversight on such matters, and he supported the change.

Sandoval said the change was necessary.

“I was concerned to see that there were a large volume, if not all contracts, that were basically provided to this board on an informational basis only,” he said. “And now this board will be considering the supermajority of contracts.

“The public will have the ability to review these contracts as well and have input,” Sandoval said.

As part of the new rules, the board then voted to approve 116 agreements entered into by the department with various firms and individuals between March 1 and May 31. In the future, the agreements will be approved on a timelier basis.

Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

The Department of Transportation is also providing access to the board meetings now via the internet.

“So it’s a new day,” Sandoval said. “And I’m very, very pleased and very optimistic, to use that word again, about the ability of the public to have access to how government works.”

Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says most contracts will now be reviewed and approved by the Transportation Board:

071111Sandoval1 :18 supermajority of contracts.”

Sandoval says the public will have the chance to review the contracts as well:

071111Sandoval2 :13 on agenda items.”

Sandoval says it is a new day for transparency at NDOT:

071111Sandoval3 :16 how government works.”

 

Contractors Group Asks State Officials To Consider Increased Highway Funding For Jobs, Olympic Bid

By Sean Whaley | 3:12 pm July 11th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A contractors representative told the state Transportation Board today that officials missed out on opportunities to increase road funding in the 2011 legislative session, and that failing to act promptly on the issue could cost Northern Nevada a competitive bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

John Madole, executive director of the Nevada Chapter of the Associated General Contractors, said that while a number of bills introduced last session, “would have addressed highway funding and other infrastructure investment that would have begun restoring our state’s economic health, none were processed out of an apparent fear of ‘political incorrectness’ and concern of endangering the political careers of elected officials that must stand for re-election.”

Madole, who noted that Nevada’s gas tax has not been increased since the early 1990s, asked the board to “take the lead in immediately planning for the future needs of our state, helping restore the economic growth that will return Nevadans to work.”

The Nevada Legislature would have to act to increase the state gas tax rate.

John Madole, representing the Nevada Associated General Contractors, asked the Transportation Board today to consider increased road construction funding. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

Rather than find a way to increase investment in transportation, the 2011 session actually took a step backwards, diverting $52 million in highway funds over the coming two years to the operation of the Department of Motor Vehicles and “putting another 1,500 Nevadans, who would have been employed on highway projects out of work,” he said.

Nevada has the highest unemployment in the construction industry among the 50 states, with over 90,000 construction workers losing their jobs since 2006, he said.

The seven-member Transportation Board includes Gov. Brian Sandoval, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and state Controller Kim Wallin. There are three public members as well.

Madole said Assembly Bill 152 from the 2011 session proposed to establish a group of citizens to address the state’s long term transportation needs in Nevada and place an advisory issue before the voters in November 2012.

Sandoval vetoed the bill however, indicating in his veto message suggested that the long range planning for highway funding in Nevada more appropriately belonged to the Transportation Board. He called the panel “unnecessary and redundant.”

In an interview after delivering his statement, Madole said time is of the essence if the state is going to bid on the Winter Olympics.

“If we’re going to do something about these Olympics, or anything else, we need to get moving,” he said. “The presentation I heard said they might quadruple the air traffic out of Vegas where people are staying in Vegas, flying up here for the Olympics. They are going to get on Interstate 580 and head straight to the Spaghetti Bowl and probably wait 30 minutes to get through it.”

Sandoval, who has directed the state Department of Transportation to look at the infrastructure implications of an Olympic bid, said Nevada is doing all it can to ensure it gets every road dollar available.

“I think we are all eager to obtain whatever type of funding that is available,” he said. “I think you heard during the course of the meeting that the director is actively engaged at a federal level to ensure the state of Nevada gets all the funding that it is entitled to.”

Sandoval said the agency is also increasing by 50 percent the amount of maintenance projects that will go to the private sector.

“So I think the construction community should be very pleased about that,” he said.

The state gas tax will be the subject of a discussion at a future board meeting, Sandoval said.

He acknowledged that Nevada has to get moving for a successful Olympics bid.

“If we’re going to have an adequate bid we have to be well out in front of this and I think that process has started,” Sandoval said.

Audio clips:

John Madole of the Nevada Chapter of the Associated General Contractors says the state needs to get moving to have a solid bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics:

071111Madole1 :17 2014 or 2015.”

Madole says without road improvements, visitors to the Olympics could find gridlock:

071111Madole2 :14 get through it.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the Transportation Department is doing all it can to get its share of federal funding:

071111Sandoval1 :16 is entitled to.”

Sandoval says more maintenance projects will now go to private contractors:

071111Sandoval2 :17 pleased about that.”

Sandoval says Nevada is moving forward on an Olympics bid:

071111Sandoval3 :14 process has started.”

 

Las Vegas Union Card Check Case At 9th Circuit Court Could Have National Implications

By Sean Whaley | 12:11 pm July 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A case pitting a Las Vegas commercial flooring company against a local painters union will be heard in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals next week, and the decision could have far-reaching consequences for how labor groups can organize, the business owner involved in the dispute says.

Jamie Gillette, owner of J&R Flooring, said she is concerned that if the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 15, Local 159 wins a favorable ruling, that “card check” procedures would be greatly liberalized in favor of unions, removing business owners’ participation in the unionizing process.

The case is set for oral argument on July 14. The dispute started with eight different companies, but only J&R is still part of the case.

“Part of the reason why I have continued to pursue this is because I would like to maintain some control over the decisions that I make here,” Gillette said. “And also, I’ve been accused of committing an unfair labor practice, and I don’t feel I have, and two judges and the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) have both said that I haven’t.”

The union keeps pursuing it anyway, she said.

“It’s been a difficult decision to continue to fight this; I’ve been told by a lot of people that it’s not worth it,” Gillette said. “But I trust my attorney and I trust I’m doing the right thing as a small business owner.

“And just for employees’ rights as well,” she said. “I don’t believe that anybody should have any kind of representation forced upon them, whether it be the business or the employees.”

Union attorney David Rosenfeld disagrees that the case would lead to the results cited by Gillette.

Painters Union attorney David Rosenfeld

The case has the potential to produce an important ruling, but the question is whether unions can enforce card checks through an arbitration clause, he said. The union sought arbitration in the dispute but was denied its request.

Rosenfeld said he hopes that the 9th Circuit Court will rule that arbitration is the way to resolve the card check dispute.

“The question is whether we should arbitrate these disputes,” he said.

Las Vegas attorney Greg Smith, who is representing Gillette, said the appeal involves both the rejection of the unfair labor practice allegation, and the separate issue where the union sought to compel the company to arbitrate the original dispute over the card check process.

Greg Smith, attorney for J&R Flooring of Las Vegas in card check case. / Photo: Lionel, Sawyer & Collins

But he disagrees with Rosenfeld that the arbitration question is the crux of the case, saying the union did not request arbitration until nine months after the flawed Jan. 31, 2007 card check process, which also happened to be the last day of the contract.

“Why did they never, not even to this day, file the required grievance under Article 22 of the contract and, instead, just demand arbitration?” he asked.

“The answer, easily inferred from all this, is that its purpose through all these years is, and has been, to cost J&R and others so much they are forced to capitulate or go out of business,” Smith said. “Indeed that is exactly what has happened to all three of the other companies that were in this litigation with J&R at the beginning.

Cara Roberts, communications director for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said the organization is not actively involved but is watching the case because of concerns over card check rules, particularly as they were proposed to be changed by federal legislation last year. The Employee Free Choice Act would also have done away with a requirement for a secret ballot in union elections but it did not see a vote in the Senate. The secret ballot issue is not part of the J&R case.

“The chamber’s main concern here is to make sure that the rules that are in place are followed,” she said. “That there is transparency in the process and fundamental fairness. And our concern in this case in particular is that the rules weren’t followed.”

If the 9th Circuit reverses what has been a series of legal victories for J&R, it could set a new precedent that would potentially have an impact on other businesses, Roberts said.

The case dates back to 2007, when the union wanted to change its status from one classification that did not require J&R to renegotiate when a contract ended, to one mandating that bargaining continue in perpetuity.

Currently, labor law gives employers a say in how a union organizing effort is performed, such as agreeing on a list of employees who are eligible to sign cards indicating their support for, or opposition to, the representation. Employers also get to help select a neutral third party to perform the check of the signatures on cards to determine the outcome of the vote.

J&R agreed to recognize the union under its new status if it proved a majority of employee support in a card check conducted by a third party as provided in the law.

Instead, Gillette said the union did not follow the National Labor Relations Board rules on card checks. The union claimed the right to unilaterally announce the card check, to unilaterally set all procedures for the check and the unilateral selection of a third party arbitrator.

J&R Flooring refused to recognize the card check results, and the union appealed to the NLRB and then into the federal courts, claiming the company committed an unfair labor practice. It has lost at every step of the way so far, but the company has incurred legal costs of $300,000 to date, and Gillette said she does not know if she can afford to continue the legal battle if the 9th circuit rules against her company.

Even if the company wins at the 9th Circuit, an appeal could be attempted to the U.S. Supreme Court by the union, requiring even more in legal defense costs.

The case has attracted national attention from labor attorneys and others. It was the subject of a Harvard Law Review article after the prior 9th Circuit Court decision.

Gillette took over the business, which installs carpeting and other types of flooring in Las Vegas hotel-casinos, from her parents in 2003. The company employs about 40 people now, but can have more than 100 workers when business is booming.

Even though the company has not had a union contract since the dispute, Gillette said she continues to pay into the health and welfare fund for her employees.

Gillette, who will attend the oral arguments next week, said her intent is to renegotiate a new labor agreement with the union when the case is resolved.

“But after every time we have been victorious in the lawsuit I expected to go back to the negotiating table with the union and put this thing to bed, but they have continued to appeal every decision,” she said.

J&R has set up an independent corporation, Contractors for Justice, to collect funds to assist in paying the remainder of the court costs, which could run as high as an additional $300,000.

Audio clips:

Las Vegas businesswoman Jamie Gillette says she has pursued the lawsuit to maintain some control over her business:

070811Gillette1 :33 that we have.”

Gillette says it has been a difficult decision to continue the legal fight:

070711Gillette2 :37 or the employees.”

Gillette says every time she wins a ruling she expects the union to settle:

070711Gillette3 :15 appeal every decision.”

Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Communications Director Cara Roberts says the chamber is not actively involved in the case but is concerned with card check rules:

070811Roberts1 :13 quite some time.”

Roberts says the chamber is concerned the rules were not followed in this case:

070811Roberts2 :21 rules weren’t followed.”

 

 

Secretary Of State Rejects Requests For Mail Ballot Only Precincts For Special Election

By Sean Whaley | 4:34 pm July 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Secretary of State Ross Miller has denied requests from Esmeralda and Nye counties to expand the number of mail ballot only precincts in their counties for the special election to fill the 2nd Congressional District seat set for Sept. 13.

While both counties claimed they would realize modest cost savings by designating more mail ballot only precincts, Miller said his overriding concern is the integrity of the election process.

Secretary of State Ross Miller

“This election is already on a greatly expedited timeline,” Miller said. “My first and foremost objective is to conduct an error-free election and I’m concerned that unknown challenges are likely to arise in implementing a new and different process in such short order.”

Legislation passed in the 2011 session allows the secretary of state, at the request of county elections officials, the discretion to designate new mail ballot only precincts that would not otherwise qualify under the older statute.

Miller asked each county last month to provide his office with itemized cost estimates for printing, postage, additional staff time, and other expenses related to mail ballot only precincts. He also asked local elections officials to address any administrative problems or concerns they might anticipate.

Miller said at the time he has confidence in the state’s electronic voting machines.

“And so absent a very good reason to depart from the electronic machines I don’t think we’ll do it in the special election, but we certainly want to explore whether or not there are any cost savings to try to reduce the cost to taxpayers of going to the special election,” he said in an interview last month.

The cost savings to Nye County was estimated at less than $500 and about $2,000 for Esmeralda County.

Miller is also reminding local elections officials and all Nevada voters that Assembly Bill 473, a bill sponsored by county clerks and registrars, contains a provision that changes the deadline for registering to vote for the special election. The deadline for registering to vote for the special election on the secretary of state’s calendar will be changed from August 27 to August 23.

The special election is being held to pick a replacement for Dean Heller, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate earlier this year.

Nevada Judges Are Well Paid, Says 2011 Report

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:35 pm July 7th, 2011

Nevada’s jurists are well compensated in comparison to their counterparts in other states, according to a 2011 report by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

Judges for the state Supreme Court are paid $170,000 annually, which puts Nevada well above the average and 10th on the list of best-paying states.

The median salary for state Supreme Court justices across the United States is $146,917.

California pays its high court judges the most of any state, with annual salaries of $218,237. But the pay scale varies widely for jurists in Nevada’s other neighboring states.

Arizona pays its Supreme Court judges $155,000, while Utah pays them $145,350.

The annual salary for high court judges in Oregon is $125,688, while Idaho pays just $119, 506.

In general jurisdiction trial courts, Nevada judges are paid $160,000. The state is ranked 8th on the generosity list in this category.

The median salary for general trial courts across the United States is $132,500.

Illinois pays its trial court judges the most of any state with $178,835. Other high-paying states include California, Alaska, Washington, D.C. and Delaware.

The Survey of Judicial Salaries is published by the NCSC with information provided by state court administrative offices across the United States.

The NCSC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the modernization of court operations and the improvement of justice at the state and local levels throughout the country. It functions as an extension of the state court systems.