Archive for September, 2011

GOP Chair Leaning Toward Early February Caucuses; Dem Chair Blasts Florida for Calendar Change

By Elizabeth Crum | 4:28 pm September 30th, 2011

State GOP chair Amy Tarkanian confirmed a short while ago that although discussions are ongoing, she is leaning towards holding Nevada’s presidential caucuses the first week of February. Tarkanian said she is just not sure she’s willing to be penalized and lose half the state’s delegates by scheduling prior to February 1, which is what Republican National Committee rules would require.

@RalstonFlash first Tweeted her position earlier in the day:

.@MrsT106: “It’s not fair that a bigger state can bully us in this manner.” But w/so few delegates, she frets NV will have no voice at all.

Tarkanian said the Nevada Republican Party executive committee will tonight have a conference call in order to weigh the pros and cons of giving up Nevada’s early caucus/third-in-line place in order to send all 28 of the party’s delegates to the presidential nominating convention in Tampa.

Tarkanian said she is not happy but could be satisfied to be “first in the West” position.

If Iowa moves its primary to January and the Nevada GOP chooses a February caucus date, it will have to reverse a provision binding the Nevada caucus date to the Saturday following the New Hampshire primary.

For the time being, Nevada’s GOP presidential caucus is scheduled for Feb. 18.

In reaction to Florida’s announcement today that they will be moving their Presidential Primary date to January 31st, Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange said in a statement, ”Florida’s announcement today risks the integrity and intent of the presidential nominating calendar and is a blatant violation of the rules agreed upon by the national committees of both parties.”

Update (4:29 p.m.):  From a press release from Amy Tarkanian/the Nevada GOP:

“Florida has thrown the primary and caucus system into upheaval with the decision to move their primary up to January 31st. It’s a disrespectful and counter-productive move. However, I am working closely with representatives of the other early states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, for a positive resolution. The date of Nevada’s caucus might have to be moved up accordingly to a date yet to be determined. Still, even if the date changes, Nevada will remain the First in the West Presidential Caucus and our determination to achieve excellence and raise Nevada’s national profile remains unchanged.”

Update (5:01 p.m.): Here’s the GOP delegate chart for all the states.



New Gun Rights Group Intends to Actively Lobby Legislature

By Elizabeth Crum | 12:40 pm September 30th, 2011

The National Rifle Association (NRA) this month formally approved the Nevada Firearms Coalition (NFC) as its new, officially sanctioned state association in Nevada.

The group is a registered nonprofit Nevada corporation and according to its website is dedicated “to the ownership and safe use of firearms for self-defense, competition, recreation and hunting.”

The NRA says it is pleased to again have an active membership association in Nevada.

“Under the leadership of former NRA Board member, Don Turner, I believe that the Nevada Firearms Coalition will be the robust, boots-on-the-ground instate association that is needed to ensure that the gun rights of Nevadans are protected,” said  Carrie Herbertson, State Liaison for the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action.

“Carson City will see their influence in 2013, and I am looking forward to their participation,” she added.

The Coalition says it plans to fill an existing lobbying gap and play a major role in influencing laws and regulations, as well as influence the selection of candidates for public office.

“Unfortunately, the Nevada State Rifle and Pistol Association, affiliated with the National Rifle Association, has become inactive,” said NFC president Don Turner. “Programs usually attributed to a strong state association such as registered competitions and interactions with policy and law makers at the local and state level have therefore been nonexistent in Nevada.”

For several legislative sessions, the interests of Nevada gun owners have suffered because there has been no organized representation of firearms holders at the Legislature, said Turner.

“For example, this last legislative year, there were 16 firearms-favorable bills introduced in the Nevada legislature. Ten of those died in one committee,” he said.

One of the items the NFC says it plans to tackle first is enacting one statewide firearms law that applies equally to all Nevadans.

“Currently, Clark County, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Boulder City have varying regulations that are separate from state law,” said Turner. “Campus carry, the ability of National Guardsman to defend themselves, and inefficiencies in the administration of concealed carry weapons (CCW) programs are examples of legislative measures that need strong grassroots attention.”

The Coalition is in the process of launching a membership drive and organizing its membership into several different committees including those that will oversee competitions, conservation efforts, education and training, and legislative affairs.

In addition to advocating for gun rights, hunting rights, and self-defense, the coalition will host and sponsor competitions, training programs, junior and women’s programs, and will also assist gun ranges and firearms retail services as needed, said Turner.

Gov. Brian Sandoval Announces $13.8 Million In Federal Funds To Spur Nevada Job Growth

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:59 am September 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A new federal program is bringing $13.8 million to Nevada to lend to small businesses to spur job growth, Gov. Brian Sandoval announced earlier this week.

The funds provided to Nevada’s State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) by the Small Business Jobs Act are expected to help create private sector jobs and spur more than $138 million in additional lending to small businesses in Nevada, Sandoval said.

“Access to funding is a significant issue for many entrepreneurs seeking to grow,” Sandoval said.  “This funding will go a long ways towards helping new small businesses get off the ground and creating jobs for Nevadans.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Nevada applied for the funds despite opposition to the program by the state’s Republican representatives in Congress at the time: then-Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., now in the Senate, and then-Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. Political analyst Jon Ralston noted the apparent contradiction in a recent column  in the Las Vegas Sun, although he pointed out that then-Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, also opposed the measure.

Under the Small Business Jobs Act, Nevada can now access $13.8 million in SSBCI funds. Nevada expects to generate a minimum of $10 in new private lending for every $1 in federal funding.

The Nevada Commission on Economic Development will use the funds to support the Nevada Microenterprise Initiative and a new Nevada Collateral Support Program. The potential job growth impact of the program is 1,035 positions throughout Nevada, with an emphasis on manufacturing, utilities, construction, and health services.

“These funds will help break down barriers to loans for creditworthy small businesses looking to invest and hire in their local communities,” said Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios. “This program will help ensure that more Main Street entrepreneurs have access to the credit they need to expand their businesses and create new jobs.”

Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios.

Nevada Commission on Economic Development Director Mike Skaggs said: “These programs will allow the state to participate with financial institutions throughout the state to support additional lending activities for our Nevada small businesses.”

“Anything that helps to support business expansion and ultimately increase employment in our state will be a great benefit,” Heritage Bank of Nevada President Stan Wilmoth said. “The collateral support piece of the funding will allow banks to refinance debt secured by assets with little or no equity at current market rates.”

In conjunction with the Nevada Banker’s Association, the Office of Economic Development will put funds on deposit at Nevada banks on a transaction by transaction basis to enhance the collateral position of borrowers. These will be business loans with a focus on companies which create jobs or retain jobs in our base economic clusters such as technology, mining, manufacturing, logistics, or film and digital media production. Generally, these loans will have a targeted amount of $250,000.

Under the State Small Business Credit Initiative, all states are offered the opportunity to apply for federal funds for state-run programs that partner with private lenders to increase the amount of credit available to small businesses. States must demonstrate a reasonable expectation that a minimum of $10 in new private lending will result from every $1 in federal funding.  Accordingly, the overall $1.5 billion federal funding commitment for this program is expected to result in at least $15 billion in additional private lending nationwide.


Draft Plan For Future Of Former Nevada Test Site Questioned At DOE Public Hearing

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am September 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Speakers at the fifth and final public hearing to comment on a draft environmental statement that seeks to map the future of the former Nevada Test Site expressed a variety of concerns Wednesday, including a failure to adequately address contamination of groundwater at the site.

Another concern focused on an indication in the document for what is now called the Nevada National Security Site that a previous agreement with the state of Nevada to avoid metropolitan areas in the transportation of low-level radioactive waste to the site for burial will be abandoned.

This concern, presented by Robert Halstead, the new executive director of the Agency for Nuclear Projects, on behalf of Gov. Brian Sandoval, would lead to the transport of such wastes through urban Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and other major highways.

Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects Executive Director Robert Halstead. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Halstead said an accident involving the transport of such wastes could cause both public safety and economic problems, and he urged the DOE to continue to support the 12-year-old agreement with the state.

Sandoval has sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu objecting to this change.

“The draft EIS asserts that using I-15 and the Las Vegas beltway through metro Las Vegas is now acceptable because of improvements to the area’s highway system that were not in place when the original agreement was made,” Halstead said, reading from the letter. “This is emphatically not the case.”

The hearing at the Carson Nugget was sparsely attended. But an official with the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, including Yucca Mountain, formerly designated for a now abandoned high-level radioactive waste dump, said comments will be accepted through Dec. 2, an extension from the original Oct. 27 cutoff date.

The Draft Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) presents a 10-year plan with three options: continuing uses as they are now occurring; reducing the uses of the property; and increasing activity at the site formerly used for both above- and below-ground nuclear tests.

Other speakers presented different views.

Erik Emblem, representing the Western State Council of Sheet Metal Workers, urged the DOE to support an expansion of uses for the site, saying it is important for Nevada and the nation.

The site is used for multiple purposes, including training of first responders to terrorist acts and disposal of low-level radioactive waste.

John Hadder of Reno, representing a group called HOME, or Healing Ourselves and Mother Earth, said the draft report appears to completely ignore the idea of returning some portions of the site that are not contaminated to public use.

The groundwater concerns were cited both by Gary Hollis, chairman of the Nye County Commission, and Marta Adams, representing the Nevada Attorney General’s office.

Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Hollis said Nye County’s efforts to tap into the uncontaminated groundwater on the site have consistently been opposed by the DOE. He said there should be some consideration of compensation for the loss of the resource due to the nuclear testing and other uses of the property.

While supporting the uses of the site for national security needs over the decades, the time has come for the DOE to return the water resources to the county, he said. The vast majority of the water is safe for public use, Hollis said.

“Not allowing Nye County access to water on the Nevada National Security Site is a big deal to us,” he said. “The ongoing impacts of denying access to the county is huge, and no compensation has been made for our loss of the access to that water.”

A final report is expected to be issued in the summer of 2012.


Audio clips:

Nevada Nuclear Projects Chief Robert Halstead says the DOE proposes to ship low-level radioactive waste through urban Las Vegas:

092811Halstead1 :23 Las Vegas beltway.”

Halstead says it is not accurate to suggest that improvements made to urban Las Vegas highways make their use to transport low-level waste acceptable:

092811Halstead2 :15 not the case.”

Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis says opposing Nye County’s use of groundwater from the former test site is a major issue:

092811Hollis1 :26 agencies, including DOE.”

Hollis says the impact to the county is huge:

092811Hollis2 :13 to that water.”





Author Of New Public Pension Reform Report Says Radical Changes Needed To Protect Taxpayers

By Sean Whaley | 2:34 pm September 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Scott Beaulier is no fan of states borrowing money, but in his new working paper on transitioning public pensions to 401(k) style plans to reduce taxpayer liabilities to pay retirement benefits, the Troy University professor says it is an option worth considering.

In his paperFrom Defined Benefit to Defined Contribution” for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Beaulier said the benefits of paying the upfront costs of transitioning pension plans from defined benefit, where employees are guaranteed a set amount at retirement, to defined contribution, where employees are responsible for their investment choices, outweigh the disadvantages.

“The borrowing should be one-time, and it should total the present value of all future payments owed to all retirees who do not transition to the 401(k) system,” Beaulier said in his report released earlier this week.

Scott Beaulier, author of Mercatus study on public pension reform.

The state of Michigan opted to borrow when it converted to a defined contribution plan in 1997, he said.

“Thanks to one-time borrowing, the transition was a smooth one, and Michigan covered with debt the billions of dollars in defined benefit liabilities that it was responsible for paying,” Beaulier said. “The move, which involved taking on debt and significant political risk, has proven successful and has saved Michigan taxpayers billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.”

Beaulier is executive director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University in Alabama.

Defined benefit plans create long-term liabilities for states and taxpayers, while defined contribution plans carry no such risk. Because of this, and the concern over the health of public pension plans nationwide, there is a growing chorus of groups advocating for the change.

Nevada lawmakers plan to study the PERS defined benefit retirement plan that covers most state and local government employees in the next 16 months before the 2013 legislative session. The legislation authorizing the study allocates $250,000 from the general fund, but requires a $250,000 match from outside sources before the work can begin.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has advocated for a switch for new employees to a defined contribution 401(k)-type retirement plan to address the long-term liability concerns.

Supporters of Nevada’s existing defined benefit plan, including public employee groups and many lawmakers, say it is well managed and will be fully funded over time. They argue no such major changes are needed.

Nevada’s Public Employees’ Retirement System had an analysis performed of the costs of switching to a defined contribution plan for new employees in 2010. The report by the Segal Group Inc., the PERS actuary, said it would cost $1.2 billion in just the first two years to begin making such a transition.

The costs are due to the need to fully fund the existing defined benefit plan for current state employees. One option would be to raise contribution rates paid by public employers and their employees, but the cash-strapped state and local governments would be hard-pressed to come up with the money to pay for it.

In an interview with the Nevada News Bureau, Beaulier said: “Those costs have to be incurred because when you reform usually what you’re doing is offering new retirees the option to go with defined contribution. But by becoming fully funded you’re guaranteeing all of those pensioners who are retiring in the future under the old system that guarantee that their money will be there.

“Borrowing in this case would actually make a lot of sense because it is borrowing to put us on a much more sane fiscal path,” he said. “So one-time borrowing that says we are converting from defined benefit to defined contribution would be a way to deal with this.”

If revenue can be found elsewhere, such as selling off resources, that would be preferable, Beaulier said. Or participants could contribute more to help fully fund the plan as well, he said.

Nevada’s existing public employee retirement plan was 70.5 percent fully funded on June 30, 2010, down from 72.5 percent in the previous year. At its high point in 2000 the plan was 85 percent funded.

A study of state and local government pension funds by the Pew Center on the States released in February of 2010 identified Nevada as one of 19 states where “serious concerns” exist about the long-term health of the retirement plan.

Beaulier said the key to ensuring taxpayers don’t end up on the hook for billions in pension payments when the plans run out of money is to make the change to defined contribution.

There are problems with making such a transition, one example being if a state issues bonds to finance the up-front costs, he said. A state would have to find the money needed to repay the bonds.

But making modest changes to the existing plans, as the Nevada Legislature did in 2009, is not enough, he said.

“I think that the fiscal challenges are forcing state administrators to look closely at how to shore up the financing of their defined benefit plans,” Beaulier said. “But my guess is most of them are just going to chip away at the promises that have been made and not engage in the kind of radical reform that is needed.

“Maybe some of them need to be asking: ‘How do we save taxpayers a lot of money long term,’ ” he said.


Audio clips:

Mercatus public pension study author Scott Beaulier says the upfront costs have to be paid to transition to a defined contribution plan:

092811Beaulier1 :26 will be there.”

Beaulier says borrowing to make the transition makes sense:

09281Beaulier2 :16 deal with this.”

Beaulier says the political realities are that not all states will make the reforms that are needed:

092811Beaulier3 :19 that is needed.”

State Agency Focuses On Waste And Abuse As Well As Fraud In Medicaid Program

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

CARSON CITY – It isn’t just fraud, but waste and abuse of Medicaid funds that state officials are taking aim at as the cost of the health insurance program for children, seniors and the disabled continues to climb.

Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which oversees the Medicaid program, said efforts to identify fraud, waste and abuse have been stepped up since 2005 when only two staff in his office were dedicated to these important tasks.

Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy.

Now there are nine staff devoted to such reviews, and auditors can also be brought in when there is reason to believe an in-depth analysis is needed, he said.

Called the Surveillance and Utilization Review Section (SURS), the team is another line of defense against abuses of the Medicaid program along with the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the investigations and recovery activities within the state Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, programs highlighted in a Nevada News Bureau story published Friday.

“If you are looking at it as a pyramid it is really waste that is the big component, and then abuse and then fraud,” Duarte said.

His staff closed 290 cases in Fiscal Year 2008, a number that reached 817 in Fiscal Year 2011.

“So the numbers of cases we have currently being reviewed and investigated has grown dramatically over the last five years,” he said. “And as a result, we have been able to recover, on average, about $2 million to $3 million each year with regard to improper payments.”

Medicaid is big business in Nevada and nationally.

Nevada’s Medicaid budget for this 2012 fiscal year totals $1.6 billion, with just over $500 million coming from the state general fund. The federal government is paying 55 percent of the cost of the Nevada Medicaid program this year. Other local funds are also used to support the program.

The budget continues to grow as more Nevadans become eligible for services. In August 2009 there were just over 230,000 recipients. Two years later in August 2011 there were just over 300,000 recipients, an increase of 30 percent.

The federal government focused on Medicaid fraud in 2006 with a new law creating the Medicaid Integrity Program, identified as the “first comprehensive federal strategy” to prevent and reduce fraud, waste and abuse in the $300 billion per year program.

Concerns over Medicaid fraud have caught the attention of state lawmakers as well.

Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, proposed legislation in the 2011 legislative session to study the effectiveness of current Medicaid fraud prevention efforts and identify ways to improve efforts to combat the problem.

Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite.

A contractor, Hardy testified that he identified two Medicaid fraud cases in two years in his own business. Assembly Bill 286, which had bipartisan support, did not win final approval, however.

“That’s what I wanted to look at and see how prevalent it was, and get the businesses involved to see if we could educate them in how to maybe identify this,” he said. “Because everybody that takes it illegally is taking it out of the mouths or the hands of those who really need it.”

Hardy said Duarte and other state officials need the tools to do their jobs.

“I really do believe we should be doing more to fight this thing, both at the state level and at the federal level,” he said.

Even without the review, state officials say Medicaid fraud is a priority.

Duarte’s staff spends much of its time analyzing data looking for “statistical outliers” or deviations in the normal parameters of billing activity, to identify potential areas of concern.

“And so we do a lot of the work up front for other branches of state government that may be involved either in prosecution or recipient-level fraud,” Duarte said. “So we’re the front line with regard to those types of reviews.”

There is also a deterrence effect from the reviews, he said.

“The word gets around,” Duarte said.

Some cases are resolved with education of a provider or group of providers, he said. But repeat offenders could be audited to recoup excess payments. If there is criminal intent, then the case is referred for potential prosecution, Duarte said.

There is also prospective review, such as checking the status of a provider seeking to do business with the Medicaid program in Nevada, he said. There have been cases where a business has been shut down for bad acts, but the same individuals establish a new company in an effort to continue to provide Medicaid services, Duarte said.

Fraud cases can involve a variety of activities, including providers who bill for services that are not even provided, he said.

In 2010 for example, the agency cut off all payments to Ujima Youth Services, which operated group homes at several locations in Reno, after an audit showed the company’s records did not support the amount that was billed to Medicaid. The Secretary of State’s Office shows there is no longer any active business entity by that name in Nevada.

“You want folks to have an appreciation that we appreciate their tax dollars and how (they are) being used,” he said. “It’s really an issue of stewardship on our part and on the part of the federal government.”


Audio clips:

Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, says his office looks at waste, abuse and fraud:

092711Duarte1 :23 and then fraud.”

Duarte says his staff does a lot of the upfront work looking into Medicaid fraud:

092711Duarte2 :10 recipient level fraud.”

Duarte says his staff have been able to recover between $2 million and $3 million in improper payments:

092711Duarte3 :20 to improper payments.”

Assemblyman Cresent Hardy says more needs to be done to fight Medicaid fraud:

092711Hardy1 :31 the suppliers themselves.”

Hardy says those who illegally receive Medicaid take it from those who really need it:

092711Hardy2 :15 really need it.”


Nevada Gets $3.4 Million Federal Grant To Expand Boulder City Veterans Cemetery

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:39 pm September 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today announced that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has informed him that Nevada has been awarded a $3.4 million grant to cover the entire allowable cost of expanding the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.

Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.

“I am proud of the work Executive Director Caleb Cage and the Office of Veteran Services did in securing this grant for our state’s veterans,” Sandoval said. “The grant will allow Nevada to continue to provide dignified service to Nevada veterans and their dependents.”

The grant will fund the construction of an administration building, roads, a committal shelter, cremains burial areas, landscaping and supporting infrastructure. Developing approximately 17.3 acres, the construction will include 4,801 cremains burial plots.

“Thanks to the pride our excellent staff takes in honoring our fallen heroes, the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery is one of the finest in the nation,” Cage said. “We are extremely grateful to the National Cemetery Administration for recognizing the caliber of our cemetery by investing in our future in this way.”

The closest national cemetery is Veterans Affairs Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif., approximately 245 miles away. The closest state cemetery is the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, approximately 439 miles away.

Official Says Southern Nevada Could Be Economically Strangled Without Additional Water Supplies

By Sean Whaley | 3:25 pm September 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Not only could Las Vegas residents someday see water shortages without approval of an ambitious plan to pipe groundwater from rural Nevada, but investment in the region could dry up as well without a dependable supply of H2O, the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority said today.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the authority, said the plan to acquire unappropriated groundwater rights in rural Nevada to supplement Southern Nevada’s supply of Colorado River water is absolutely essential to the economic future of the region.

Southern Nevada needs to ensure it has a diverse supply of water for that time in the not-so-distant future when the states sharing the Colorado River basin fully use their allotments, she said. The river is over-appropriated and a prolonged drought could create a shortage in coming years, Mulroy said.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, testifies today at the agency's water rights hearing. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

Investors from around the world, from Asia to Dubai, won’t invest in Las Vegas without assurances that there will be water available in Southern Nevada well into the future, she said.

Mulroy made her comments as the first witness in what will be several weeks of hearings by the Nevada State Engineer on the request for the groundwater from several rural basins in the east-central region of the state. Closing arguments for the applications are scheduled for Nov. 18.

A number of groups are protesting the applications for nearly 186,000-acre-feet of groundwater per year being sought by the agency from the basins. This first set of hearings is to consider the agency’s request for 125,976-acre feet in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys.

Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network and a number of other groups protesting the applications, said in his opening statement that the methodology used by the water authority to show that the groundwater is available is “slanted” and “skewed” to justify the requests.

There are more cost-effective and reliable alternatives to building this massive pipeline project, he said. Additional water conservation is readily available to extend supplies, Herskovits said.

Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network, listens to testimony at the water rights hearing today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“Granting the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s applications for the groundwater in these four valleys would create impermissible conflicts with other existing water rights both in the subject valleys themselves and in hydrologically connected valleys that will inevitably be impacted if these applications are granted and the pumping is allowed to go forward,” he said.

He was joined in an opening statement in opposition by Paul EchoHawk, an attorney representing affected Native American tribes, including the Goshutes and Shoshone.

In his opening statement, Paul Taggart, representing the water authority, said those opposing the applications do not have the law, facts or science on their side.

Vast amounts of evidence will show there is water in the basins that is not already appropriated, water that is needed in Southern Nevada for the nearly two million residents and 40 million visitors annually, he said.

“Backing up the Colorado River supply with this groundwater does not threaten to prove detrimental to the public interest,” Taggart said. “Without this water, an imminent threat is posed that Nevada’s residents will not have a resource that is essential for survival in the desert.”

While the applications are critical for long-term planning purposes, Mulroy said the water would not be tapped for many years if the applications are approved. Beyond the hearing process, construction of a pipeline to bring the water to Southern Nevada will take 10 to 15 years, she said.

The cost of the pipeline project is estimated at more than $7 billion, which would be paid for by Southern Nevada water customers.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Mulroy said conservation is a key part of the agency’s strategy for ensuring adequate water supplies, including an ambitious turf removal program.

“It is a commitment on our part that conservation is the first thing we’re responsible for, and the most important thing for us to do is to reduce per capita consumption,” she said. “And to that extent we will continue to invest in removing turf.”


Audio clips:

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, says conservation is a top priority for the agency:

092611Mulroy1 :18 in removing turf.”

Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network and a number of other groups protesting the applications, says the water authority data is slanted and skewed:

092611Herskovits1 :12 in fact, available.”

Herskovits says rather than build an expensive pipeline, more could be done in water conservation:

092611Herskovits2 :24 justifying these applications.”

Herskovits says granting the applications will create conflicts with other existing water rights holders:

092611Herskovits3 :21 to go forward.”

Paul Taggart, representing the water authority, says that without approval of the applications, Southern Nevada residents are threatened with inadequate water supplies:

092611Taggart1 :15 in the desert.”



Rogich: “I don’t think Perry has a lot to lose by playing here”

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:12 pm September 26th, 2011

Rick Perry’s candidacy has breathed new life into the Nevada caucuses. So says Molly Ball, who notes that the recent endorsement of Gov. Brian Sandoval (along with a little help from savvy consultant friends Mike Slanker and Pete Ernaut) could make Perry a contender in a state formerly assumed to be a virtual lock for Team Romney.

Thus far, other than a Romney fundraiser and recent economic plan rollout in North Las Vegas (plus a quick June visit from former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman), Nevada has not seen much GOP primary action despite being third in the nominating state line-up after Iowa and New Hampshire.

In a Magellan Strategies poll released in early September, Perry was beating Romney 29-25 percent (a virtual tie when the margin of error is considered). However, caucus results are hard to gauge with surveys, and Perry was likely enjoying a bump because he had just announced his candidacy in South Carolina.

In her story, Ball asks whether Rick Perry — with “his Western, cowboy profile and anti-Washington rhetoric” — will appeal to libertarian-leaning (and I would add, Tea Party loving) Nevada Republicans, especially in the rurals.


Sandoval’s endorsement can also help in the long run, but if Perry should implode — something some in the GOP fear after a couple of lackluster debate performances by the chief executive of the Lone Star state — then the governor’s nod won’t mean much, if anything. (And Sandoval may well live to regret his early endorsement.)

Nevada’s caucuses are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18, just after the New Hampshire primary.

In the 2008 caucuses, Romney earned 51 percent of the vote to Ron Paul’s 14 percent while John McCain came in third.

Operative Sig Rogich told Ball that Perry has little to lose by trying, but:

“I think Nevada’s still Romney’s to lose,” Rogich said. “It certainly helps Perry to have a popular governor like Sandoval endorse him, but Romney’s been on the ground here for four years.” Romney also has the advantage of his army of loyal Mormon supporters in the state, he noted.




States Cut But Still No Budget Gluts

By Elizabeth Crum | 2:03 pm September 26th, 2011

For the first time in 10 years, states cut taxes more than they increased them, according to a preliminary report released last week by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

But voters should not draw hasty conclusions about what this means for states’ fiscal health. Most states continued to face substantial budget shortfalls during their 2011 legislative sessions, even though some states saw revenue collections increase.

State actions resulted in a net tax decrease of nearly $2.5 billion, representing 0.4 percent of total state tax collections.

Nine states reduced net taxes by more than one percent, however, an equal number of states reported net tax increases greater than one percent.

Thirty-two states made no significant changes to tax policy.

Carson City capitol dome

Some states, like Nevada, tried to hold revenue steady by extending temporary tax increases that were scheduled to expire.

Sales taxes experienced the largest cuts, at what was projected to be a revenue dip of more than $5.2 billion. Some states also cut corporate income taxes.

States raised taxes in all other categories, though, including personal income tax, which saw the largest expected net increase, nearly $2.5 billion. The boost is mostly explained by a rate increase in Illinois that is expected to generate $6.5 billion.

The health care category recorded the second largest tax increase. New assessments on health care providers in a number of states are expected to generate in $1.9 billion in additional revenues.


Three trends emerged in state legislatures in 2011.

Many states allowed temporary taxes to expire, many of which were approved in 2009 for a period of two years. In addition, states focused on reforming or reducing business taxes.

Finally, in order to help cover rising Medicaid costs, many states raised health care provider taxes.

While not rising to the level of trends, a few other tax actions were common.

As in past years, several states broadened their tax bases by reducing credits and exemptions in various categories.

Policy makers also continued to search for new sources of revenue by targeting digital and on-line sales.

Others focused on tax policies designed to jump-start local economies with new incentives to create jobs and develop small businesses.

Some states also examined the estate tax with renewed interest.

States also generated new revenues through fees, accelerations and other non-tax actions.

Six states increased personal income taxes while 21 states cut them.

Corporate and Business Taxes

Lawmakers in many states focused on reducing business taxes during their 2011 legislative sessions. As a result, 20 states cut corporate taxes while eight states raised them for a net decrease of $807 million.

The Nevada legislature extended several temporary business taxes for another two years but as part of a budget deal, the state’s payroll-based business tax was completely eliminated for small businesses.

Michigan cut business taxes by more than $1 billion as part of a major tax restructuring measure.

Lawmakers in Delaware approved three separate business tax cuts:  the gross receipts tax (across the board by three percent), the bank franchise tax and the gas and electric utility tax.

Indiana legislators voted to phase-in a corporate income tax cut over the next give years, and Arizona will also reduce its corporate income tax rate over four years from 6.968 percent to 4.9 percent.

Florida raised the corporate income tax standard exemption from $5,000 to $25,000 and increased research and development credits.

Numerous states also enacted various types of jobs tax credits including Arizona, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin.

States that increased business taxes in some way, shape or form included Illinois, Connecticut and Alabama.

Sales and Use Tax

Twelve states decreased general sales taxes, and seven raised them for a net decrease of about $5.2 billion.

The expiration of a temporary rate increase in California accounts for the bulk of the reduction, while much of the increase is attributable to the sales tax base expansion in Connecticut.

Other sales tax cuts include:

North Carolina lawmakers let expire a one percent temporary sales tax rate increase for a total revenue reduction of nearly $1 billion.

New York approved a sales tax exemption for clothing items costing less than $55 until March 31, 2012. After that, clothes that cost up to $110 will be exempt. The total revenue loss is estimated at $300 million.

Arkansas reduced sales taxes by more than $26 million for FY 2012.  Lawmakers cut the sales tax rate on groceries by 0.5 percent and reduced the sales tax rate that manufacturers pay on natural gas and electricity. Arkansas lawmakers also approved their state’s first sales tax holiday on clothing and school supplies.

West Virginia reduced the sales tax rate on food from three percent to two percent.

States that extended or increased sales taxes include:

Nevada extended a temporary sales tax increase for another two years, with the revenues earmarked for school support.

Policy makers in Connecticut raised the general sales tax rate from 6 percent to 6.25 percent and raised the rate on certain luxury items to 7 percent. Connecticut also expanded its sales tax base to a number of services including pet grooming, spa services, cosmetic surgery, motor vehicle towing, yoga classes and non-prescription medicine, among others.

Hawaii expects to generate $170 million by suspending for two years certain exemptions from the general excise tax.

California lawmakers approved a measure requiring some retailers to collect taxes on remote sales, and Texas expanded the definition of “nexus” for sales tax collections.

Georgia expects to generate an additional $18 million by bringing the state sales tax into full compliance with the streamlined sales tax agreement.

Rhode Island extended its sales tax to include a number of previously exempt items including nonprescription drugs, travel and tour company products, auto insurance proceeds, and prewritten downloaded software.

Miscellaneous Taxes

More states raised miscellaneous taxes than reduced them, but the cut in California’s ad valorem car tax was large enough to offset all the other tax increases and resulted in an anticipated net reduction of more than $900 million.

States cut a variety of other taxes:

Oklahoma reduced the annual tax on coin-operated vending machine decals.

Ohio eliminated the state estate tax for deaths after Jan. 1, 2013.

Indiana reduced the tax on racino slot machine wagering.

Other states raised some miscellaneous taxes:

Nevada will raise additional revenues by changing its tax on net proceeds of minerals.

Illinois reinstated its estate tax to generate more than $180 million a year.

Connecticut raised estate taxes and also established a new tax on the generation of electricity for an additional $71 million. In addition, Connecticut raised the hotel room occupancy tax.

South Dakota extended its temporary tourism tax increase for another two years.

Sum totals

The NCSL report aggregated information from all 50 states and figured total increases and decreases as follows:

– Personal income taxes (net increase: $2.478 billion)

– Corporate and business taxes (net decrease: $807 million)

– Sales and use tax (net decrease: $5.245 billion)

– Health care provider and industry taxes (net increase: $1.956 billion)

– Tobacco, alcohol and motor fuel taxes ($88 million)

– Fees and other non-tax changes ($1 billion).

The National Conference of State Legislatures is the bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories.


Gov. Sandoval Makes Appointments to Health Insurance Exchange Board

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:44 pm September 23rd, 2011

Dr. Ronald Kline.

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval announced today his appointments to the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange Board.

Sandoval has appointed Elsie Lavonne Lewis, Leslie Ann Johnstone, Dr. Ronald Kline, Barbara Smith Campbell and Marie Kerr. Each of the appointees will be voting members of the board.

“While Nevada remains a partner in challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law, we are mandated to move forward with its implementation,” Sandoval said.  “Each member of the board will bring a distinctive perspective to the table to help Nevada formulate the most effective exchange.”

Lewis, chief operating officer of the Clark County Urban League, will serve until June 30, 2013. Johnstone, executive director of the Health Services Coalition in Clark County, will serve until June 30, 2014. Kline, a physician with Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada in Clark County, will serve until June 30, 2012. Smith Campbell, a Washoe County resident and former chairwoman of the Nevada Tax Commission, is the founder of Consensus, a tax consulting firm, will serve until June 30, 2014. Kerr, an attorney in Reno, will serve until June 30, 2012.

Reno attorney Marie Kerr.

Created by Senate Bill 440, the Exchange is required to:

-          Create and administer a state-based health insurance exchange;

-          Facilitate the purchase and sale of qualified health plans;

-          Provide for the establishment of a program to assist qualified small employers in Nevada in facilitating the enrollment of their employees in qualified health plans;

-          Make only qualified health plans available to qualified individuals and qualified small employers on or after January 1, 2014; and

-          Unless the federal health care law is repealed or is held to be unconstitutional or otherwise invalid or unlawful, perform all duties that are required of the exchange to implement the requirements of the law.

The bill creating the exchange passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously with four members of the Assembly not present for the vote. While lawmakers questioned the effect of the act being found unconstitutional on the operation of the exchange, there was no testimony in opposition to the measure.

The exchange is governed by the Board of Directors, consisting of five voting members appointed by the governor, one voting member appointed by the Senate majority leader and one voting member appointed by the speaker of the Assembly.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford has appointed Dr. Judith Ford with Canyon Gate Medical Group in Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera has appointed Lynn Elkins.

Heller Welcomes Cooperation from House Democrats on Supercommittee Transparency

By Elizabeth Crum | 2:43 pm September 23rd, 2011

Senator Dean Heller is glad to have help from some Dems when it comes to beating the transparency drum.

As I noted in an earlier post today, Heller introduced a supercommittee transparency bill about a month before this new measure sponsored by some House Dems showed up.

“Senator Heller welcomes all efforts to stop the Super Committee from meeting in secret,” said spokesperson Stuart Bybee. “This latest bill is further proof that there is bipartisan concern over this committee’s deliberations and which special interests are influencing the process.”

Redwood National Park /

The committee has been granted tremendous political power in its mission to find more than $1.2 trillion in cuts from the federal budget before year end. As such, members are naturally being schmoozed by lobbyists who want to keep their pet projects safe.

Lawmakers of both parties along with sunlight and transparency advocacy groups are now calling on the committee to meet in public and disclose all meetings with lobbyists. The House bill would require the supercommittee to:

– Stream meetings live on television and on the web;

– Disclose on-line all meetings with lobbyists and special interests within 48 hours;

– Disclose on-line any contributions to their campaign committees or leadership PACs made by registered lobbyists or special interests, as well as all contributions exceeding $500 in general, within 48 hours; and

– Publish recommendations and proposed legislation on-line 72 hours before any vote occurs.



Let’s Get Linky

By Elizabeth Crum | 1:49 pm September 23rd, 2011

Bored with my usual “In Case You Missed It” headline, so I’m mixing it up today, Dear Readers. Livin’ on the edge, that’s me. Here’s some stuff you may have missed this week in your mad rush to live your life:

Presidential/Electoral Stuff

What do Florida and Nevada have in common, besides being all sunshine-y? They are both toss-up states with high unemployment rates, which puts them in play in 2012 presidential politics. Michigan (blue) and North Carolina (red) are leaners rather than toss-ups, but that Motor City jobless rate might be a problem for Obama as well. (H/T Ralston)

Rick Santorum admits to helping out a fellow Senator and tipping off John Ensign way back when. (Doug Hampton said as much when he appeared on Face to Face.)


Here’s the state GOP complaint/request filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics Tuesday for an investigation into Rep. Berkley’s legislative actions related to her husband’s medical practice and related matters. Ralston put together a fun timeline showing what happened next.

Sen. Dean Heller gave his first speech. Quite the populist these days. Those of running for U.S. Senate and trying to appeal to independents, I mean.

I wonder if Heller called these guys copycats? He’s been pushing for transparency of that supercommittee with near-daily press releases since it was formed.


Speaking of copycats, someone at R&R pointed me to a Joe Trippi “Echo” ad in the California governor’s race after I Tweeted something about this Amodei ad tying Kate Marshall to various Dems.

You know its official when the door sign goes up.


Sandoval is having a couple of little fundraisers. And Secretary of State Ross J. Miller says he’s looking at the AG’s (not the governor’s) office in 2014.

Sandoval is not running for vice president. Really, Dear Readers, he’s not.

T-shirts for cheap. (Poor Jim Gibbons.)


Redistricting continues.

Random Stuff

Personal income growth in the states is (you guessed it) down. Nevada is in the lowest fifth.

Someone is encouraging people to move to Nevada, but not for the reasons you might think.

Here’s the Retail Association of Nevada poll if you want to read the whole thing.

We might get the winter Olympics. In 2022. If the world has not ended by then.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Chinese Miss Cosmos pageant. There is. And it’s coming to Reno.




Nevada Agencies Fight Medicaid Fraud, Return Millions Annually To Program

By Sean Whaley | 9:55 am September 23rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Medicaid fraud is a growing problem here and around the country, and two different Nevada agencies are tasked with investigating cases and returning ill-gotten taxpayer dollars to the program.

The cases can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars when they involve multi-state investigations of large pharmaceutical firms, such as the $400 million paid by Merck in 2008 over rates charged to the program for its prescription drugs. Nevada, which played a key role in the Merck case, received $1.5 million as its share of the nationwide settlement with the company.

Or the cases can be more modest, such as the investigation earlier this year of two elderly brothers from Las Vegas, one of whom was eligible for Medicaid while the other was not. The ineligible brother attempted to use his sibling’s Medicaid identity to pay for a surgery.

Unluckily for him but fortunately for taxpayers, both brothers had scheduled surgeries for the same day. When the two different hospitals checked with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services to verify the eligibility information, the situation came to light. The case is still under review.

The dollars involved in Medicaid fraud are not small, and even the money recouped from the more modest cases can quickly add up.

In the first seven months of this year, $1.15 million has been recovered by the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, about half of it state funds. In 2010 the total recovery in both state and federal Medicaid funds was $5.72 million, and $5.5 million in 2009.

The big year for the unit came in 2008 when nearly $10.5 million was recovered, including $1.5 million from the Merck settlement. About $4.6 million was the state’s share of the recoveries.

“Obviously this is an important unit in my office and a top priority,” Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said in a recent interview. “It is important what we do because at the end of the day the goal here is to ensure that we’re protecting the integrity of the Medicaid dollars, the money that comes into the state, and we’re going after the bad players, holding them accountable.”

Medicaid in Nevada will cost $1.6 billion this year

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

Medicaid is a health insurance program for low income residents, many of them elderly or disabled. The cost of the program is shared between the states and the federal government. The program is a big cost to the state general fund and continues to grow, so fraud is a serious problem that drains taxpayer dollars at a time Nevada can least afford it.

For this 2012 fiscal year, the total Nevada Medicaid budget is $1.6 billion, with just over $500 million coming from the state general fund. The federal government is paying 55 percent of the cost of the Nevada Medicaid program. Other revenues also support the program.

Brenda Lee Burch, chief of investigations and recovery for the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services within HHS, said the fraud investigations save state taxpayer dollars.

“I truly believe that one of the best ways my unit can help save taxpayer money here in Nevada is through Medicaid investigations and prevention of fraud and recovering back those wrong payments,” she said.

Mark Kemberling, chief deputy attorney general and director of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit since 2008, said his office is charged with investigating providers of Medicaid services. These can be physicians, a hospital, a long-term care facility and many other types of health care providers. He has been with the unit since 1996.

He has a staff of 17, with 14 positions filled. The costs of the unit are paid for through fines and other assessments resulting from successful prosecutions. No Medicaid dollars or general fund tax dollars pay for its operation.

Burch said her unit is charged with investigating Medicaid fraud by both those individuals seeking eligibility and those already enrolled in the program. Her staff of 16 investigators also review potential fraud in other programs offered by the agency, from cash assistance grants and food stamps to energy assistance grants.

It was her staff who uncovered the case of the ineligible brother trying to obtain medical services through the Medicaid program. Families attempting to share Medicaid cards to receive services for ineligible family members are becoming more frequent, she said.

For the 2011 fiscal year that ended June 30, Burch’s unit received 3,800 referrals regarding allegations of Medicaid fraud. The top two types of allocations were potential duplicate assistance in two states, and eligibility questions because of under-reported income.

So far $500,000 in over payments have been identified in the previous fiscal year for which the agency is seeking reimbursement, with another $400,000 saved in “cost avoidance,” a calculation based on keeping ineligible people off the Medicaid rolls.

Burch said the cases come to her attention from a variety of sources, including the public, a hotline, school nurses, home care staff and pharmacists, among others.

“A medical benefit for a month can be huge if you have a large family and you take into account there could be surgery and all kinds of coverage, so it is the highest cost avoidance we see for all the programs we investigate,” she said.

High stakes Medicaid fraud cases frequently rely on False Claims Act

Some of the biggest Medicaid fraud cases both in Nevada and nationally involve a legal process called qui tam, where a court action is brought against a provider, frequently a pharmaceutical firm, by an individual on behalf of a state or the federal government. It is also known as the false claims act, which Nevada and about two dozen other states have in statute.

The claims are often filed by individuals within the companies as whistle blowers. Those who file such claims can receive a portion of any settlement. There are about 250 such cases currently under way around the country currently, Kemberling said.

The Merck case was one of these and was filed under Nevada’s False Claims Act. It resulted in a landmark legal decision by U.S. District Court Judge Howard McKibben in May 2006 allowing the case to proceed.

After seven years of investigation and litigation, it was settled in 2008, returning more than $400 million to the Medicaid program nationwide. The case involved the prices charged for the prescription drugs Vioxx, a discontinued arthritis drug, and Zocor, a cholesterol drug.

Another false claims act case now under way involves Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company being sued by the United States government and 16 states, including Nevada.

In the legal action, Wyeth is alleged to have failed to provide the same discounts to the government for its drugs, Protonix Oral and Protonix IV, as it provided for private purchasers. By failing to give the government equal discounts, Wyeth fraudulently avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in rebates, and in so doing violated the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, according to the lawsuit.

“What we’re doing is taking the dollars that rightfully belong to Medicaid and putting them back there if somebody fraudulently took them,” Masto said.


Audio clips:

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto says Medicaid fraud investigation is a top priority for her office:

092211Masto1 :25 holding them accountable.”

Masto says the fraud unit does a great job at no cost to the state general fund:

092211Masto2 :18 pays for itself.”

Brenda Lee Burch, chief of investigations and recovery for the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, says fraudulent Medicaid costs can add up quickly:

092211Burch1 :19 that we investigate.”

Burch says recovering improper Medicaid payments is one of the best ways her unit can save taxpayer dollars:

092211Burch2 :17 those wrong payments.”




Gov. Sandoval Announces Economic Development Staff Changes

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:28 pm September 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval has appointed Steve Hill as interim executive director of the newly created Office of Economic Development, a cabinet level position in his administration.

Steve Hill has been named interim executive director of the newly created Office of Economic Development by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Hill will be joined at the office by Terri Janison. Sandoval also announced Sonia Joya will join his office as Southern Nevada director.

Sandoval announced the appointments Wednesday.

Hill is currently the senior vice president at CalPortland, a concrete, sand and gravel supplier in the Las Vegas area. He will begin his new job with the Sandoval administration on Oct. 3

During Governor-elect Sandoval’s transition, Hill served as chairman of the Economic Development Policy Committee and advised Sandoval, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford on economic development issues in preparation for the 2011 legislative session. Hill is also a current member of the Commission on Economic Development.

In his position as interim executive director, Hill will be responsible for developing a State Plan for Economic Development and criteria for the designation of regional development authorities. Hill will also work to establish procedures for entering into contracts with regional development authorities to provide services to aid, promote, and encourage the economic development of this state.

“As a businessman, a former chairman of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and chairman of Service 1st Bank of Nevada, Steve has the knowledge and experience to  bring new business to Nevada while guiding the Economic Development Office,” Sandoval said. “I am pleased that Steve has agreed to lead the office as interim director and I look forward to working with him to revitalize Nevada’s economy.”

Janison will join the Office of Economic Development as a regional director starting Oct. 3.  Currently Sandoval’s director of community relations and a former Clark County School Board president, Janison will work with Hill and have responsibilities for outreach, business relationships and coordination with education and workforce development.

“Terri has done outstanding work in Southern Nevada bringing coalitions together and building our Southern Nevada office,” Sandoval said. “I thank her for her service to her fellow Nevadans and I wish her all the best as she begins her new job helping to diversify our economy.”

Sonia Joya, most recently the state director for former U.S. Senator John Ensign, begins her new position Oct. 3. A graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Joya was Southern Nevada director for then-Gov. Kenny Guinn in 1999. Joya has served in director capacities for elected officials in Nevada for over 15 years.

“I am thrilled that Sonia has agreed to return to state service,” Sandoval said. “Sonia’s experience in the day-to-day operations of the governor’s office as well as Nevada’s congressional offices gives her a unique perspective and skill set as she begins this job.”