Archive for November, 2011

Nevada Think Tank Files Court Complaint Challenging Ability Of Government Employees To Serve In Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 3:02 pm November 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A conservative Nevada think tank today filed a complaint in district court against Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, saying the separation of powers clause in the state constitution prohibits government employees from serving in the Legislature.

Denis works for the state Public Utilities Commission as a computer technician. Attorney Joseph Becker with the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation said his client William Pojunis is qualified to perform, and would like to apply for, Denis’ job.

Attorney Joseph Becker, left, and his client William Pojunis, take questions after filing a separation of powers complaint today against Sen. Mo Denis. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

If NPRI wins its case, Denis and several other state lawmakers who work for state and local government and the Nevada judiciary could be forced to pick between their jobs and legislative service.

Becker said the PUC’s employment of Denis violates the state constitution’s separation of powers clause in Article 3, Section 1.

“Nevada’s constitution is perfectly clear: One individual cannot serve in two branches of government,” he said. “Allowing one person to exercise power in two branches of government leads to numerous conflicts of interests and invites corruption. It also destroys the checks and balances that were built into Nevada’s government to protect citizens from power-hungry politicians.

“Applying this principle to this case has significant implications for this state,” Becker said. “We have 63 legislators and something close to 20 percent of them are affected by this provision. They are working in situations that we believe are unconstitutional. When the court holds in our favor, those lawmakers would either have to leave their executive or judicial branch employment or leave the Legislature.”

Denis said today he could not comment on the complaint because he has not seen it.

“I’ve only been hearing pieces of it,” he said. “At some point I will have a comment.”

The PUC had no immediate comment on the complaint either.

NPRI has one strong ally in its court action. Gov. Brian Sandoval, while serving as attorney general in 2004, issued an opinion that also determined that the separation of powers requirement in the state constitution precluded state government employees from serving in the Legislature.

Written at the request of then-Secretary of State Dean Heller, Sandoval’s March 1, 2004 opinion said in part: “It is the opinion of this office that Article 3, Section 1 of the Nevada Constitution bars any employee from serving in the executive branch of government and simultaneously serving as a member of the Nevada State Legislature.”

Sandoval did not find that the separation applied to local government employment, however.

Heller, now a U.S. senator, challenged lawmakers who also worked for the government in 2004, but the Nevada Supreme Court said it could not consider the case, which was brought against the Nevada Legislature, because it is the Legislature’s responsibility to determine the qualifications of its members.

Becker said NPRI’s case is different because it is challenging the PUC’s ability to employ Denis given the separation of powers clause and his election to the state Senate. The complaint was not filed against the Legislature, he said. The complaint was filed in Carson City District Court.

Pojunis, 66, came to Carson City with Becker to file the complaint, but did not directly answer any questions. Becker said NPRI was approached by Pojunis and decided to take the case. Pojunis is currently unemployed.

Some of the other lawmakers who potentially could be affected by a court ruling supporting the NPRI position include Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who works for the Washoe County court system,; Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury, R-Las Vegas, both of whom work for the Clark County School District, and Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, who works for Clark County.

Becker said the legal action is not politically motivated.

“This is about him (Denis) holding a position as a civil servant that he is not constitutionally allowed to hold,” he said.

The Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, which calls itself a public interest legal foundation, was established a year ago by NPRI. This is the first case brought by the organization.

Andy Matthews, president of NPRI, said the separation of powers clause is a vital part of state constitutions across the country.

“And when you have decisions that are being made in the Legislative Branch that can impact Executive Branch functions, Executive Branch agencies, it’s very important to make sure that the people who are making those decisions in the Legislature are doing so from the standpoint of what is best for the people of this state and what constitutes good policy, not because of some conflict of interest they may have as a result of their service in the Executive Branch as well,” he said.


Attorney Joseph Becker with NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation says the case has significant implications for the state:

113011Becker1 :24 leave the Legislature.”

Becker says the case is not political:

113011Becker2 :14 correct on this.”

Andy Matthews, president of NPRI, says the separation of powers clause is a vital part of state constitutions across the country:

113011Matthews :24 branch as well.”

Study Of Nevada Higher Education Funding Formula Gets Under Way

By Sean Whaley | 4:05 pm November 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A panel of lawmakers, educators and state officials charged with analyzing the funding formula used to support Nevada’s higher education system met for the first time today and finalized a request for proposals for a consultant to help in the review.

The 12 voting members of the Committee to Study the Funding of Higher Education have $150,000 to spend on a consultant to assist it in reviewing how the state allocates tax revenue to the eight institutions in the system, including the state’s two universities and four community colleges. The interim study was approved by the 2011 Legislature.

UNLV students. / Courtesy UNLV Photo Services.

Six lawmakers, three appointees by Gov. Brian Sandoval and three appointees by the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education make up the voting members of the study committee. Another four governor appointees are non-voting members.

“I think when you look at the committee sometimes you think that this is a process that is about the system,” said Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “But in truth this is a process that is about providing access and opportunity to the students who want to pursue a higher education in the state of Nevada.”

There are those who believe there are inequities in the higher education funding formula, he said. The panel needs to protect the state’s existing institutions while at the same time, “allowing for the growth, expansion and entrepreneurial nature that we want to see out of our institutions on behalf of our students,” Horsford said.

The funding review also needs to keep in mind the new economic development strategy discussions under way in the state with the recent release of a report from the Brookings Institution and SRI International, he said. Higher education figures prominently in the diversification efforts, Horsford said.

UNLV student government representative Ricardo Cornejo told the panel the need to review higher education funding was the reason he and others from campuses around the state lobbied lawmakers this past session.

“We’re just very excited this process is getting started,” he said. “For us at UNLV, we want to make sure that our students are being adequately supported.”

The higher education funding study was authorized by Senate Bill 374 by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, who during the 2011 legislative session expressed concern about the funding formulas and whether the College of Southern Nevada was being shortchanged.

The bill as originally introduced re-directed some property taxes to the college.

At a hearing on the original bill in March, then student body President John Creedon said the college was being shortchanged by the formula. The universities get more private funding and grants, while CSN has to be low cost and accessible to those who can’t go to another institution, he said.

Lee said at the March hearing that the funding discrepancy was such that a discrimination lawsuit was a possibility.

The measure morphed into the study instead, however. Lee is not serving on the interim study committee but is expected to testify before the panel.

Today’s meeting saw a lengthy discussion on what should be included in the request for proposals to hire a consultant to provide the needed technical information to consider how the formulas might be changed. The RFP will now be advertised so the panel can select a consultant at its next meeting in mid-January.

Consultant proposals are due to the Legislature by Dec. 30.

The panel is required to forward its recommendations to the Legislative Commission prior to the start of the 2013 legislative session.


Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the review is about student access:

112911Horsford :17 state of Nevada.”

UNLV student government representative Ricardo Cornejo says he wants to be sure the college campuses are properly funded:

112911Cornejo :22 here in Nevada.”



Nevada Prepaid Tuition Program Open Enrollment Period Begins

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:29 pm November 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The 2012 open enrollment period for Nevada’s Prepaid Tuition Program starts Thursday and runs through Feb. 28, 2012, the state Treasurer’s Office announced today.

Since its inception, 14,120 Nevada Prepaid Tuition contracts have been purchased by Nevadans.

“The Nevada Prepaid Tuition program enables parents, grandparents, and other family members to lock in future college tuition rates at today’s prices,” said state Treasurer Kate Marshall. “Our theme, ‘Their Dream, Your Promise, Our Plan,’ is designed to encourage parents to plan for their child’s future college education needs. Like many things, the cost of attending college continues to rise. The Nevada Prepaid Tuition Program provides families with the opportunity to meet future tuition costs at today’s lower rates.”

Courtesy of the Nevada State Treasurer's Office.

The Treasurer’s Office website has an on-line registration process to make signing up even easier that will be available beginning Thursday. From newborns to ninth graders, parents have a variety of options to participate in this program. Parents can pay a lump sum, spread the payment out over five years with 60 equal payments, or pay each month from the time of enrollment until the child is ready to start college.

The program is fully transferable to private or public out-of-state colleges and universities, and may be transferred to another family member, including a first cousin. The program also offers a gift option that can be used by other family members and friends to give the gift of a college education.

“The program is especially affordable if parents begin an account for newborn children, with plans starting as low as $36 a month,” Marshall added. “The earlier you open an account, the lower the overall cost.”

The number of Nevada Prepaid Tuition accounts rose by 15 percent in the 2011 open enrollment period, and saw a 26 percent increase in 2010.

The Treasurer’s Office is also sending Nevada Prepaid Tuition Program brochures to all elementary school children throughout the state with the assistance of the Nevada Department of Education and the individual school districts and schools. Staff has also attended back to school fairs, counselor meetings, and other events to distribute information about the program.

Coalition Calls For Rejection Of Groundwater Pumping Project By Southern Nevada Water Authority

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

CARSON CITY – A coalition of environmental groups opposed to a plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump groundwater from rural Nevada to Las Vegas to supply future demand says the project is unnecessary, expensive and would cause harm to the environment.

The coalition said it has more than 1,000 statements from Nevada residents expressing concern about the project to present to the Nevada State Engineer, who will rule early next year on the first set of groundwater applications reviewed during a lengthy hearing that ended Nov. 18.

Courtesy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Public comment is still being accepted by the agency through Dec. 2.

“In tough economic times, it is outrageous that such a boondoggle could be approved,” said Marie Logan, Nevada organizer for Food & Water Watch. “This pipeline project would only benefit a handful of developers while the 2.6 million Nevada taxpayers and thousands of Las Vegas ratepayers will be stuck paying the bill for a project that will ultimately bankrupt the state’s natural resources.”

The Center for Biological Diversity will also be submitting more than 21,000 comments in opposition to the project gathered nationally to Gov. Brian Sandoval, the water authority and the State Engineer.

Utah ranchers, Native American tribes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and rural Nevadans formally protested the applications during the hearing process. They argued that granting the applications would harm the environment and destroy their way of life. The water applications would potentially affect Utah communities as well.

Several Southern Nevada labor groups have supported the project.

The water authority argued in the hearing that 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.

The authority said the water would not be tapped for many years if the applications are approved. Beyond the hearing process, construction of a 300-mile pipeline to bring the water to Southern Nevada will take 10 to 15 years. The pipeline project cost is estimated at $7 billion, a figure opponents said is well below what it will actually cost ratepayers.

Launce Rake, representing the Great Basin Water Network, said the actual estimate when financing costs are included is $15 billion. The cost of the project will be borne by water customers, who will see significant increases to pay for it, he said. The residential construction growth that was to pay for the project is no longer there, Rake said.

“It’s going to triple residential water bills,” he said. “It’s going to more than double bills for small businesses. And when you start looking at the impact on our recession-ravaged community of sucking $15 billion out of that community, that’s pretty significant.”

Rake said Southern Nevada is now using about 200,000 acre feet of its allocation from the Colorado River. There is a healthy reserve available to ensure a reliable water supply well into the future, he said.

Despite the controversy over the project, or maybe because of it, Nevada’s elected officials have been mostly absent from the debate.

One exception is Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, who testified in opposition to the project at the hearing, citing environmental concerns. He also spoke at the coalition’s event Monday in Las Vegas, citing the potential costs of protracted litigation over the project.

Hogan said the environmental consequences of the project are highest on his list of concerns. But there are also the costs of dealing with potential legal claims arising from the pumping of the groundwater.

The Los Angeles Water and Power Department has expended $1 billion on remediation for environmental damage in the Owens Lake area from that water diversion completed decades ago, he said.

“The remediation that is needed will be what makes those things really become very large layouts in future years,” Hogan said.

Hogan said the need for jobs is one likely reason why many elected officials are staying silent on the pipeline project.

“I think that accounts for some of the timidity,” he said.

Rake said that because taking a position either way would alienate someone,  it has been easier for elected officials to stay out of the debate.

“I do know that there are a number of elected officials who are concerned about the impact of this,” he said. “And I think that a growing number of elected officials are more than just concerned, but they’re becoming aware that the cost, both environmentally and financially, is really, really pretty significant.”


Audio clips:

Launce Rake, representing the Great Basin Water Network, says a growing number of elected officials are concerned:

112811Rake1 :17 really pretty significant.”

Rake says people of all political persuasions should be concerned:

112811Rake2 :25 concerned about this.”

Assemblyman Joe Hogan says the potential for remediation costs are significant:

112811Hogan :31 correcting the situation.”


BLM Rejects Sandoval Proposal To Speed Up Mining Permit Process, But State Says Progress Being Made

By Sean Whaley | 5:15 pm November 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has rejected a proposal from Gov. Brian Sandoval to speed up the notice requirements needed for the approval of new and expanded mining operations, but the agency said in a letter that progress has been made in expediting the process.

Sandoval in September sent a letter to President Obama asking that the Washington, DC-level review of Federal Register notices for mining projects be bypassed. Allowing state offices to send the notices directly would save time and help create jobs in Nevada, he said.

Courtesy of the Newmont Mining Corp.

BLM Director Bob Abbey, in a letter to Sandoval received Nov. 18, rejected the proposal, but said the agency is working to improve the process.

“Early this year, I committed to representatives of Nevada’s mining industry to speed up the process with Notices of Intent and Notices of Availability,” he said. “I am happy to report to you that since our meeting this summer, the efficiency of recent notice reviews by the BLM Washington Office has exceeded expectations.”

Abbey cited a notice that arrived in the BLM Washington Office on Sept. 15 that was cleared for publication on Sept. 26.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said today that despite the rejection of Sandoval’s proposal, there is evidence the permitting process has been improving.

“The letter makes it pretty clear that the administration in Washington won’t be changing their procedures from a regulatory standpoint,” he said. “The good news is we have though seen a significant change in how the regulations are applied in terms of process. We’ve had a number of reports to the office lately that the permitting process has speeded up and they are moving much more quickly.”

Erquiaga cited a Newmont Mining Corp. project that recently benefited from the expedited process.

“They may not be changing their written procedures, but they are actually changing the process and we appreciate that very much,” he said. “This is not an issue to split hairs over the legality of federal rules. The goal is to get these permits through the process so that we can get Nevadans working and we’re seeing some great results with that. The end result is what matters.”

Erquiaga said the governor’s staff has been meeting regularly with state BLM officials, meetings that have produced positive results.

Mary Korpi, director of external relations for Newmont’s North American region, said the project benefiting from the speedy Federal Register noticing requirement is the Phoenix Copper Leach expansion south of Battle Mountain.

That process has in the past taken up to a year, but took only 42 days in this instance, she said. Ultimately 50 new long-term jobs are expected from the expansion.

“It was a significant improvement in the time factor,” Korpi said. “It is now published and out for comment. We are very, very pleased.”

Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said he believes Sandoval’s letter has had an effect on speeding up the permitting process, and noted that Abbey also appreciates the need to move as quickly as possible.

“The mining industry does have a lot of new projects on line and ready to go,” he said. “Where possible, without compromising the environmental integrity of the permitting process, we ought to be working as quickly as possible to get these projects going and get people working. And so yes, I do think his letter has had a great impact.”

There are pieces of the regulatory process that do not add value, Crowley said.

Sandoval noted in his Sept. 16 letter that mine permitting is presently a multi-layer process that requires sequential approval by many different offices before a notice can be sent, which he said lengthens the timeline by many months and in some cases years. Prior to 2001, BLM state offices had the authority to send notices directly to the Federal Register without prior review by Washington, DC, he said.

“This is my first request of President Obama since becoming governor,” Sandoval said in a press release. “I need his help to get Nevadans working again, and we have identified a very specific step he can take to spur job creation in our mining industry.”

In his letter, Abbey rejected Sandoval’s proposal.

BLM Director Bob Abbey.

“We have learned from experience that departmental policy review is very important,” he said. “The BLM Regulatory Affairs Division ensures the delivery of notices to the Federal Register in a manner that meets strict style, formatting and legal requirements.”

Abbey also noted that the timely processing of Federal Register notices, “is central to the BLM’s ability to carry out its mission,” and that the agency issues a directive in December 2009 for consistent handling of notices that had historically experienced delays to improve the processing time required for publication.

He also noted that the agency recently instituted comprehensive training for those involved in developing Federal Register notices to ensure they are standardized and of high quality to expedite the process.


Audio clips:

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, said today that despite the rejection of Sandoval’s proposal, there is evidence the permitting process has been improving:

112811Erquiaga1 :26 much more quickly.”

Erquiaga says the goal is to get Nevadans working:

112811Erquiaga2 :12 results with that.”

Nevada Mining Association President Tim Crowley says he believes Sandoval’s letter has helped:

112811Crowley :23 a great impact.”

Happy Thanksgiving

By Elizabeth Crum | 9:37 am November 24th, 2011

NNB will be off for the holiday and subsequent weekend.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

We’re grateful for our faithful readers and generous supporters.

See you on Monday!


Group Fighting Excessive Federal Regulation Grows To 170 Members In Nevada, 1,000 Nationwide

By Sean Whaley | 4:36 pm November 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – A group established by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) to fight against excessive federal regulations now has 170 members in Nevada and 1,000 nationwide, the organization announced this week.

The coalition Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations says its mission is protecting small businesses and American jobs from the impacts of costly federation regulations.

Dry cleaners. / Photo courtesy of Simon Law via Flickr.

Coalition Chairwoman and former U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln said of the 1,000 member mark hit Monday: “Small businesses across America are rallying behind the need for sensible regulations. With federal regulatory requirements being finalized daily in Washington, small businesses are struggling to balance compliance costs and paperwork with their ability to fill orders, add staff, and stay afloat.

“As our coalition grows, we stand united in calling on President Obama to halt the issuance of new regulations until much needed reforms are made to the rule-making process,” she said.

Randi Thompson, Nevada state director for NFIB, said today that the cause has hit a nerve with small businesses throughout the state. The group has reached out to about 3,000 businesses so far.

“I’d say more than anything it is folks that are impacted by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” she said. “But the EPA is touching everything, from construction to dry cleaners to truckers. They’ve got such a broad reach, that that’s probably the most frustrating agency for Nevada businesses.”

A wide variety of businesses have joined, from landscapers to dentists to dry cleaners to construction companies, Thompson said.

“It is a broad spectrum of businesses,” she said.

Not everyone is convinced that federal regulations are hampering job growth.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a speech on the Senate floor on Nov. 15 called the idea a myth, citing the Labor Department that found “only a tiny fraction of layoffs have anything at all to do with tighter regulation.”

Nevada coalition members recently traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with their elected representatives to discuss their concerns, and it is shaping up as an election issue in 2012, Thompson said. The group met with the Republican members of Nevada’s delegation.

Earlier this month, NFIB President Dan Danner and Senator Lincoln submitted a letter to President Obama urging adoption of five principles into the regulatory process that would help balance the rule-making system.

The standards include giving a seat to small businesses throughout policy discussions, and focusing on providing assistance to small businesses instead of levying costly penalties. The letter also asked that regulators conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis of all new rules, and base policy decisions on validated science and hard data. Finally, it called on lawmakers to make the regulatory process more transparent and accountable to the public.

The Nevada NFIB highlighted the concerns over excessive regulation in October when Reno businessman Raymond Pezonella described the cost of excessive regulation on his soil sampling business.

GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, upon taking office in January, ordered a freeze on most regulations as a pro-business move. He also recently wrote to President Obama asking to help ease the permitting process for mines.


Audio clips:

Randi Thompson, Nevada state director for NFIB says EPA regulations are a major concern of Nevada businesses:

112211Thompson1 :24 for Nevada businesses.”

Thompson says she is not surprised by the level of concern:

112211Thompson2 :32 make a difference.”



Nevada Seeking New State Public Schools Chief To Implement Education Reforms

By Sean Whaley | 1:31 pm November 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada is looking for a new state public schools chief to push forward with education reforms sought by Gov. Brian Sandoval and approved by lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session.

Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction since 2004, is retiring in early April and Sandoval wants to have a new schools chief to take over the Department of Education by then.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said in a press briefing Monday that the selection of a new leader of the state public school system is a critical initiative for the governor but that he is staying out of the search.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education.

Sandoval has not asked Michelle Rhee, the founder and CEO of the education advocacy group StudentsFirst, to apply for the position, he said. Rhee, the former head of the Washington, DC, school system, was invited and attended Sandoval’s State of the State address in January.

“The governor is asking no one to apply, no one in our office will speak to applicants, the governor has no predetermined outcome,” Erquiaga said. “I will say though the governor recognizes it is potentially the most important appointment he will make during his time in office.

“Superintendent searches around the country at the state level and district level sometimes fail because there are not enough applicants,” he said. “So the better pool of applicants we have the better off all of our kids will be.”

Florida had difficulty recruiting a new state schools chief earlier this year because of a lack of qualified candidates. A new chief was finally selected and took over in July.

The Nevada position is posted and open to qualified applicants through Dec. 30. It pays about $121,785 a year plus benefits.

As a result of the education reform legislation, Sandoval now has the authority to appoint the new schools chief. In the past the 10-member Board of Education, all of whom are elected in districts statewide, had the authority to select the superintendent.

Erquiaga said the governor would like to have at least six candidates for the Board of Education to interview in a public process. Three candidates would then be forwarded to Sandoval for his consideration for an appointment by March.

The new legislation also changes the way the state board is selected but Erquiaga said those changes won’t come until January 2013, which is why the search process is being done now with the current board. Sandoval wants a new superintendent in place well in advance of the 2013 legislative session, he said.

The new board as established in Senate Bill 197 will have four elected members, one from each of the state’s congressional districts, one member appointed by Sandoval and one member each selected by the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker. There will also be four non-voting members appointed by the governor representing different public education interests.

Sandoval and lawmakers agreed to a number of education reforms in the 2011 session, including a new teacher evaluation process to ensure the best educators remain in the classroom.


Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says superintendent searches sometimes fail because there are not enough qualified applicants:

112211Erquiaga1 :08 not enough applicants.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval recognizes that the selection of a new superintendent is potentially the most important appointment he will make as governor:

112211Erquiaga2 :15 time in office.”


Nevada News Snippets

By Elizabeth Crum | 6:04 pm November 21st, 2011

Time to close some of these open internet browser tabs, Dear Readers, so here are the most interesting “In Case You Missed It” stories I’ve read this past few days:

– Nevada’s congressional delegation chimes in on the failure of the Supercommittee to be, well, super.

– State Sen. John Lee says (D) he is out of the CD-4 primary against Sen. Steven Horsford. Instead, he’ll run to hold his senate seat.

– Secretary of State Ross Miller to First Judicial District Court in Carson City about an LCB request related to incumbents using the word “re-elect” during campaign season:  ”Objection!”

– Does Nevada’s CD-1 mirror a national divide along a Hispanic fault line in 2012? CSM asks the same question.

– “Unify. Regionalize. Diversify.” That’s the title of a new Brookings plan for economic development in Nevada.

– Sen. Heller, Rep. Berkley and “unsubtle digs” at one another.

– Sen. Reid:  ”Impeach Norquist.”

– The man who would be Las Vegas stadium king.

– Occupy Las Vegas and education outreach.






Gov. Sandoval Orders Assessment Of Transmission Line Construction For Renewable Energy Development

By Sean Whaley | 6:00 pm November 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today issued an executive order directing a state agency and task force to assess the regional market for Nevada’s renewable energy resources.

In a briefing with Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga and Nevada State Office of Energy Director Stacey Crowley, it was explained that the assessment is intended to help determine if alternative energy resources can be developed in the state for transmission to California to meet its ambitious alternative energy goals.

The order directs the New Energy Industry Task Force to facilitate “the timely development of transmission facilities and renewable energy resources in this state  . . .”

Courtesy of the Nevada State Office of Energy.

Crowley said she expects to name the 11 members of the task force by Dec. 1 with the goal of having a first meeting before the end of the year. A technical advisory committee will also be appointed, with representatives from the Public Utilities Commission, among others, to assist in the charge given the panel by Sandoval.

Erquiaga said clean energy is one of the sectors identified in the report released last week by the Brookings Institution and SRI International offering guidance to Sandoval and policy makers on economic diversification and new job creation. The report identifies seven economic sectors, some already in existence such as gaming and tourism, and some emerging such as clean energy, where Nevada should focus its efforts.

“How do we get a market for clean energy generated in this state?” Erquiaga asked. “We have to be able to put it on the grid and transmit it, really, to the hungry market over the hill in California.”

Erquiaga said the transmission line discussion has been going on for some time, particularly by NV Energy.

“Part of this conversation is about the ‘where’ the stuff goes, part of this conversation is about the business case; if we generate it, will they buy it,” he said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also issued an order mandating that areas of the U.S. look at the regional development of transmission lines, Crowley said.

Crowley’s office will oversee the work of the task force, which is an existing statutory committee. The panel has until Aug. 1, 2012 to report to Sandoval on the business case for the production and transmission of renewable energy for both native and regional requirements.

The deadline is to ensure enough time for the drafting of any legislation that may be needed to implement the task force recommendations, and to allow for any budgetary considerations.

“We need to understand the costs associated with that transmission, and the benefits to Nevadans, whether it be new tax base, job creation, etcetera,” Crowley said. “So those numbers need to be determined in order for us to make a business case to say, California we think we can give you our renewable energy. We may have to build some transmission lines to get there, but it will still be worth it for you, there is still value in it for both states.”

Crowley said California has a goal of obtaining 33 percent of its energy needs through alternative sources by 2020.

Nevada’s goal is 25 percent of its energy consumption coming from alternative energy by 2025.

Erquiaga said Nevada officials are working closely with California Gov. Jerry Brown’s staff on the potential of supplying alternative energy to the state. Brown and Sandoval discussed the issue at an energy summit in Las Vegas in August, he said.


Audio clips:

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, says the task force will determine how to create a market for Nevada’s renewable energy resources:

112111Erquiaga1 :12 hill in California.”

Erquiaga says Nevada needs to determine that if the energy is developed, will California buy it:

112111Erquiaga2 :08 they buy it.”

Nevada State Office of Energy Director Stacey Crowley says the study will determine benefits to the state if renewable energy resources are developed:

112111Crowley :25 for both states.”

Nevada’s Jobless Rate Holds Steady at 13.4 Percent In October

By Sean Whaley | 12:45 pm November 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 13.4 percent in October, the third consecutive month the jobless number has held steady, a state agency reported today.

An estimated 176,400 Nevadans were looking for work, according to the monthly report from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR).

Photo courtesy of Jay from Cudahy via Flickr.

While the statewide rate held steady, the jobless rate in the metropolitan areas declined, from 13.6 percent to 13.1 percent in Las Vegas, from 12.6 percent to 12.1 percent in the Reno-Sparks area, and from 12.4 percent to 12 percent in Carson City. The rates for these areas are not adjusted for seasonality.

The unemployment rate in the Elko micropolitan area, encompassing Elko and Eureka counties, reached its lowest level this year, checking in at 6.7 percent.

The national rate fell to 9 percent from 9.1 percent in September.

“This month’s unemployment numbers demonstrate growth in key industries and certain areas, and the overall stability is a sign that job losses may have come to an end,” said Governor Brian Sandoval. “The numbers prove that we must continue our efforts to fight back from this recession job by job and company by company. There is a role for each one of us to help get Nevada working again.”

While the rate of unemployment held steady in October, employers posted another small increase in employment.  Nevada’s employers added 400 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis.

“Nevada’s employment and unemployment picture continued to show signs of economic stability with some modest improvement in October,” said Bill Anderson, chief economist for DETR. “Overall, there are some positives in this month’s numbers, but for a state looking to bounce back from a deep recession, the numbers leave considerable room for improvement.”

On the positive side, the leisure and hospitality industry added 3,200 jobs. The increase adds to recent improvement in the last year. Since October 2010, leisure and hospitality employers have increased payrolls by 14,700, a 4.7 percent increase. The education and health services sector continues to shine with the addition of 1,400 jobs in October, and employment is up a robust 5.8 percent since the same month last year. The gain pushed total employment in the sector to 106,300 workers, setting a new all time high.  Lastly, the trade, transportation and utilities sector added 1,400 positions in October, most of them in retail and transportation and warehousing, but employment remains slightly below year-ago levels.

Anderson said he would characterize the October report overall as “decent”.

“We continue to see signs of stabilization, and now, more and more, we’re starting to see signs of outright improvement,” he said.

“For the coming year, Nevada can expect employment to see modest growth,” Anderson said. “We can reasonably predict the unemployment rate to experience moderate fluctuations and even make some improvement. As it stands, we do expect 2012 to be better for Nevada’s economy than 2011.”


Audio clips:

DETR Economist Bill Anderson says the October report overall is decent:

112111Anderson1 :21 the public sector.”

Anderson says Nevada still has a long ways to go, however:

112111Anderson2 :18 out of this.”



Nevada’s Public Pension Plan Sees Long Term Unfunded Liability Grow Slightly In 2011

By Sean Whaley | 5:09 pm November 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s public employee pension plan saw its long-term funding ratio decrease slightly in the fiscal year ending June 30, dropping to 70.2 percent from 70.5 percent in fiscal year 2010.

The Public Employees’ Retirement System board heard an update on the plan, which covers virtually all state public employees, at a meeting Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS, said in a telephone interview that the slight increase in the long-term unfunded liability of the plan comes even as the pension investments saw a record 21 percent return in fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30. The pension plan is still absorbing a 15.8 percent loss in 2009 and a loss in 2008 as well, she said.

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

While the assets in the plan increased significantly in fiscal year 2011, growing to $25.8 billion from just under $21 billion in the prior year, the value of the unfunded liability grew as well, reaching $11 billion on June 30 compared to $10 billion in 2010.

“So from a long-term benchmarking, it’s kind of status quo from last year to this year on the funding of the system,” Bilyeu said. “We had a significant increase in assets on hand, but are continuing to absorb losses from the down market period as well.”

The numbers and percentages reflect the combined plans for regular public employees and police and fire fighters.

At its high point in 2000 the plan was 85 percent funded.

One interesting note in the report to the board was evidence of a reduction in the public employee workforce due to budget cutbacks, Bilyeu said. The regular employee membership declined by 2.5 percent, a reduction from 90,219 as of June 30, 2010 to 87,975 on June 30, 2011.

The police-fire sector saw an even bigger decline of 3.5 percent, she said. Active members declined from 12,375 in 2010 to 11,936 in 2011.

The long-term unfunded liabilities of the PERS plan, and of public employee pension plans nationwide, are generating concern from policy makers, although Nevada’s plan is considered to be well managed and in better fiscal shape than many other plans around the country.

There are also analyses that argue that the method of accounting for the long-term unfunded liabilities used by public pension officials vastly understates the real size of the potential financial impact to taxpayers.

A recent report by Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, prepared for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, argues Nevada’s pension liabilities are much greater than reported.

The analysis found that when the long-term unfunded liabilities of the plan are calculated using a “market-based” valuation, a measure endorsed my most professional economists, the shortfall is actually closer to $41 billion than the $10 billion as of 2010 cited by PERS and its actuary.

Biggs presented his findings at a NPRI luncheon in Las Vegas earlier this month.


Audio clip:

PERS Executive Officer Dana Bilyeu said the report on the pension plan for 2011 is status quo:

111811Bilyeu :11 of the system.”


Groundwater Pumping Plan Now In Hands Of State Engineer As Marathon Hearing Concludes

By Sean Whaley | 3:10 pm November 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The fate of an ambitious plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump more  than 125,00-acre feet of groundwater from rural areas of the state to slake the thirst of Las Vegas residents is now in the hands of the state engineer after a marathon hearing that began Sept. 26.

State Engineer Jason King heard closing arguments today in the application process, with attorneys representing opponents of the project asking him to deny the water rights sought by the agency.

Attorneys for Utah ranchers, Native American tribes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and rural Nevadans argued that granting the applications would harm the environment and destroy their way of life.

Courtesy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

In her testimony in support of the plan two months ago, 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.

The closing arguments wrapped up weeks of testimony about the effects of the groundwater pumping on the rural aquifers.

Las Vegas attorney Paul Hejmanowski, representing the Mormon church in opposing the groundwater applications in Spring Valley, said there are no protections for rural areas if the pumping ends up causing harm, despite agreements between the water authority and federal agencies to monitor and respond to declines in the water table.

“Mistakes can happen,” he said. “Where are our protections.”

If the applications are granted, all the springs will go dry and “cause groundwater mining on an unprecedented scale,” Hejmanowski said. “These applications need to be denied for the reasons we discussed. They are not in the public interest.”

Paul EchoHawk, an attorney representing affected Native American tribes, including the Goshutes and Shoshone, also argued against granting the applications. He also criticized federal government agencies for not representing tribal concerns at the hearings because they had previously entered into “stipulated agreements” with the water authority on the groundwater pumping plan.

EchoHawk called them “backroom deals” that were entered into without consulting the tribes, and said they should be disregarded by the state engineer in considering the applications.

Attorney Paul Taggart, representing the water authority, argued that substantial evidence has been submitted to support the groundwater requests.

“Don’t mistake as public interest the very small vocal minority when there are millions of people who need this water in Southern Nevada,” he said. “Approve these applications to secure a safe and reliable water supply for seven out of 10 Nevadans, and to secure the future economic development of Nevada.”

In her testimony in September, Mulroy said 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. The river is over-appropriated and a prolonged drought could create a shortage in coming years, she said.

There is no viable alternative to guarantee a supply of water to Southern Nevada, with desalination plants not a realistic short-term option, she said. The agency is seeking 125,976-acre feet of groundwater in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys as part of an ambitious $7 billion project to pipe the water south. The applications have the potential to affect ranching communities in Utah as well.

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.

Opponents argued that more conservation could alleviate the need for the groundwater.

Mulroy said the agency has an aggressive turf reduction project that has helped conserve Southern Nevada’s water supplies.

Courtesy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The parties in the request have until Dec. 23 to file written closing briefs. The public has until Dec. 2 to file any written comments.

A decision is expected sometime next year.


Audio clips:

Las Vegas attorney Paul Hejmanowski says approving the applications will cause the springs in Spring Valley to go dry:

111811Hejmanowski :28 an unprecedented scale.”

Water Authority attorney Paul Taggart says the water is needed to assure the economic viability of Southern Nevada:

111811Taggart :21 development of Nevada.”



Northern Nevada Government And Business Leaders Gather To Push Forward On Economic Development

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am November 18th, 2011

RENO – Officials and business leaders attending a regional summit on economic development here on Thursday emphasized the need to work together regionally to bring in new employers and create jobs.

The summit, called ReCharge Nevada, was attended by about 300 government officials and business representatives to help create a unified front on efforts to help reverse the state’s highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate.

Reno Mayor Bob Cashell said his hope is that all the western Nevada communities will learn to work together on economic development and diversification. It’s not just Reno-Sparks anymore, but job creation efforts have to encompass the counties and cities from Fernley to Yerington, he said.

Reno Mayor Bob Cashell speaks at ReCharge Nevada. / Nevada News Bureau.

“Businesses have to quit undercutting each other,” Cashell said. “And we need to work together. Businesses need to work together. Because what’s good for your business is good for my business. There’s a lot of hard work in front of us now.”

Mike Kazmierski, the newly appointed president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada who came to the job from Colorado Springs, said the meeting is an important first step to getting everyone to work together.

“The first thing we need to do as a region is accept the fact that together we’re going to be stronger,” he said. “And it’s really not just an agency’s responsible to do economic development, it’s every single person’s responsibility.

“And people while they are flying, while they are talking to friends, and neighbors and businesses, need to talk about why they live here,” Kazmierski said. “That’s all they need to say because they live here for a reason.”

At the same time officials were gathered at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center to work on economic development strategies, Gov. Brian Sandoval was in Las Vegas making a similar pitch to the Nevada Development Authority.

The emphasis on diversification and job growth come just as a new report on how to achieve the state’s goals was released on Monday to Gov. Brian Sandoval and the members of the newly constituted Board of Economic Development, created with bipartisan support from the 2011 Legislature.

The report, a joint effort by the Brookings Institution and the Stanford Research Institute, now known as SRI International, identifies seven economic sectors, some already in existence such as gaming and tourism, and some emerging such as clean energy, where Nevada should focus its efforts.

The state has put some green, in the form of cash, into the effort as well.

Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development, said the state has established a $10 million Catalyst Fund to help firms relocated or expand in Nevada. The money will be used to provide grants to local governments for economic development projects.

Hill said it is important that the money be spent efficiently and strategically to pursue the types of economic sectors the state is targeting.

Sandoval and local government officials around the state are focusing on economic development and job creation as Nevada continues to suffer from the recession that first emerged in December 2007. The state has lost 170,000 jobs in that time.


Audio clips:

Nevada economic development official Mike Kazmierski says unity is important for economic development efforts to succeed:

111711Kazmierski1 :18 single person’s responsibility.”

Kazmierski says everyone can help in the effort:

111711Kazmierski2 :09 for a reason.”


National Group Says Brand Name Drug Coupons Will Hike Health Care Costs By $253 Million In Nevada Over 10 Years

By Sean Whaley | 4:48 pm November 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The proliferation of brand name drug “co-pay coupon” promotions lure insured consumers from generics to more expensive brands and will increase health care costs by $253 million in Nevada over the next decade, a new national study says.

The use of these promotions by state and local government workers alone will cost Nevada taxpayers an extra $31 million over ten years, the study says.

National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons.

The practice of offering the co-pay coupons will mean increased costs for employers, unions and state employee plans, according to new research from Visante and released by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA). The association represents the nation’s pharmacy benefit managers who work for the health care plans operated by governments, unions and private employers.

“Brand co-pay coupons lure patients from generics to expensive brands and stick employers, unions, and government employee health programs with the extra costs,” said PCMA President and CEO Mark Merritt. “In Nevada, taxpayers will pay an extra $31 million just to cover the use of brand co-pay coupons by government workers in state and municipal employee health programs.”

The report says the co-pay promotions are aimed only at those who already have prescription drug coverage. The coupons are banned in both the Medicare and Medicaid programs, but are allowed in the commercial market except in Massachusetts because of its comprehensive health care law.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Vice President Karl Uhlendorf issued a statement in response to the study: “For years, America’s biopharmaceutical research companies have helped patients suffering from disease access programs that can help them get the medicines they need. Co-pay assistance programs are an example of this kind of help.

“Coupons and vouchers provide an important benefit to patients by defraying the cost of out-of-pocket payments, breaking down barriers to access and encouraging better medication adherence,” he said.

PhRMA represents the country’s leading pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies. PhRMA members invested an estimated $49.4 billion in 2010 in discovering and developing new medicines. Industry-wide research and investment reached a record $67.4 billion in 2010.

In a telephone interview, Merritt said the purpose of the study is to educate consumers about the true costs of the promotions to themselves and their health care plans, many of which are paid in part by taxpayers.

“I think the first step is education to show payers, whether they be taxpayers or businesses or unions, how much money is being wasted by these co-pay coupons,” he said. “And I think that people have not realized that by getting people to switch from generics to brands, and from less expensive brands to more expensive brands, it costs billions of dollars a year and hundreds of millions to each state around the country.”

Merritt said the practice is increasing because their brand drugs are coming off patent, opening them up to competition from generic drugs.

The coupons may be seen as a value by consumers, but the co-pay does not reflect the real cost of the brand drug, he said.

“Health insurance, two-thirds of it is paid by the companies, by the unions, in the case of public workers, by the taxpayers; and so people need to understand there is a cost to this,” Merritt said. “And I think most people don’t know that. They see the coupon and they think, ‘hey great, I’m saving money and no one gets hurt.’ But the reality is ultimately this will lead to higher premiums for consumers.”


Audio clips:

PCMA President and CEO Mark Merritt says the first step is to educate consumers:

111711Merritt1 :31 around the country.”

Merritt says the practice will lead to higher health insurance premiums for consumers:

111711Merritt2 :23 premiums for consumers.”