Archive for February, 2012

Nevada Attorney General Says Catalyst Fund To Help Economic Development Is Constitutional

By Sean Whaley | 5:15 pm February 21st, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto today issued a legal opinion concluding that a $10 million Catalyst Fund created by the Legislature to help aid in business expansion and economic development does not violate the state constitution.

“The Nevada Constitution does not prohibit the state from disbursing Catalyst Fund money to regional development authorities that by definition must be local governments, or prohibit local governments from disbursing Catalyst Fund money to companies,” the opinion released today says.

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

The opinion, requested by Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, was first reported by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

The fund was created as part of a bipartisan plan by Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Legislature to promote economic development and job creation in Nevada.

The constitutionality of the fund has been questioned by the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

The conservative Nevada think tank cites Article 8, Section 9 of the state constitution, which says the state shall not donate or loan money to corporations except those created for educational charitable purposes.

Nevada To Receive Up To 33 Cents On The Dollar From $50 Million Lehman Brothers Loss

By Sean Whaley | 3:05 pm February 21st, 2012

CARSON CITY – The state Board of Finance was told today that Nevada now expects to receive between 30 and 33 cents on the dollar in recovery from a $50 million investment loss when Lehman Brothers unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.

Nevada state Treasurer Kate Marshall said the state initially expected only 10 to 11 cents on the dollar when the firm filed for bankruptcy protection during the height of the nation’s financial crisis.

Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall.

The estimate used more recently by the Treasurer’s Office was a return of 20 cents on the dollar, Chief Deputy Treasurer Mark Mathers told the board, which includes Marshall, Gov. Brian Sandoval and several other appointees.

A 33 cent return would mean more than $16 million being returned to the state over the next two to three years, Marshall said. It does not include additional money that could be returned to the state as a result of separate litigation against a Lehman Brothers subsidiary, she said.

“I’m happy to report that based on the bankruptcy plan that was submitted and approved by a bankruptcy judge last year, based on conversations and analysis we’ve seen from major banks, and the amounts offered by those banks, we are now expecting a recovery rate in the range of 30 to 33 cents on the dollar for those holdings,” Mathers said.

“Based again on the analysis we’ve seen and the comments from folks who trade in these bonds every day, we will see the vast majority of these monies come back in the next two to three years,” he said.

Ninety-nine percent of the creditors approved the bankruptcy plan, Mathers said.

There have been offers to buy the bonds from the state at a rate of 26 to 27 cents on the dollar, but it is more financially prudent to hold on to them and get the higher return, he said.

The $50 million loss has resulted in less income being generated for a number of state programs, but Mathers said those funding reductions will be eased with the anticipated higher recovery on the investment.

The $50 million loss was used as a campaign issue against Marshall in her successful re-election bid in 2010.

Marshall has said there was no warning ahead of time the firm would file for bankruptcy.

Nevada’s Lehman loss was only a part of $3 billion in losses to states, counties and municipalities across the country when the firm filed for bankruptcy.

After the informational report to the Finance Board, Marshall said her decision to keep the Lehman assets rather than unload them at a “fire sale” proved to be the right decision.

“If you recall when I was at the Legislature right after Lehmans went down there was a big push that I sell everything,” she said. “And I came back and I said I would not do that. That that would be a fire sale; we would lose a significant amount of money. That turned out to be very smart.”

The Board of Finance also has litigation under way with Lehman Brothers Commercial Bank but Marshall could not predict what the state might ultimately see returned from the action.


Audio clips:

Chief Deputy Treasurer Mark Mathers says the state could not receive 33 cents on the dollar from the $50 million Lehman Brothers loss:

02212Mathers1 :24 for those holdings.”

Mathers says most of the money should come back to Nevada within three years:

022112Mathers2 :12 to three years.”

Treasurer Kate Marshall says holding on to the Lehman Brothers assets when they were worth only about 10 cents on the dollar was a smart move:

022112Marshall :15 be very smart.”

Sparks Assemblyman Ira Hansen Announces Re-election Bid

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:22 pm February 21st, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada state Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, announced today he will seek re-election to District 32 in the 2012 general election.

Under the new court-approved redistricting map, Hansen’s district is the largest in size in the Assembly, and includes Lander, Humboldt, Pershing, Mineral and Esmeralda counties and parts of Washoe and Nye counties.

“My goal is to bring common sense solutions and real life experience to issues that affect ordinary workers and small business entrepreneurs,” Hansen said.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Hansen served as a member of the Judiciary, Education, and Natural Resources, Mining and Agriculture committees in his first term in the 2011 legislative session.

Hansen said his legislative successes include tort reform in construction defect law, expansion of 2nd Amendment protections, and illegal immigration reforms.

Hansen is a licensed master plumber and has been a Nevada contractor for 26 years. He is the owner of Hansen & Sons Plumbing & Heating.

“I know what it is like to work long hours and to meet a payroll,” Hansen said.

Hansen, currently serving as a member of the Public Lands Committee, said he is working hard to prevent the “endangered” listing of the Sage Grouse, which would be an economic disaster for rural Nevada. He is also fighting for an expansion of livestock grazing to reduce the buildup of cheatgrass – the cause of catastrophic wildfires in recent decades.

“It is wrong to waste tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars fighting avoidable wildfires,” Hansen said.

A third generation native Nevadan, Hansen and his wife, Alexis, have been married for 32 years. They have eight children and five grandchildren.


Ely Ready To Celebrate 100th Birthday Of Former First Lady Pat Nixon

By Sean Whaley | 9:29 am February 21st, 2012

CARSON CITY – The city of Ely is preparing to celebrate former First Lady Pat Nixon’s 100th birthday next month with a variety of events.

Thelma Catherine Ryan, nicknamed “Pat” by her Irish prospector father, was born March 16, 1912 in Ely. Ryan became the wife of the 36th president, Richard M. Nixon. She served as first lady from 1969 to 1974.

Former First Lady Pat Nixon.

On March 16-17 Ely will recognize the anniversary with a special dinner, train ride, a Pat Nixon exhibit at the White Pine Museum and many other events.

The general public is invited to participate in the many activities. Expected attendees include representatives from the Nixon Foundation, as well as a variety of Nevada government officials and VIPs.


New Senate 18 District In Las Vegas Gets First Democrat Candidate

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 6:33 pm February 20th, 2012

Kelli Ross, the spouse of Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross, said today she will be a Democratic candidate for state Senate District 18 in northwest Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting.

No other Democrats have announced their candidacies, but two Republican Assembly members, Scott Hammond and Richard McArthur, are running for the seat.

The Senate 18 seat was created by the redistricting process, which moved a rural Nevada seat south to reflect the population shift based on the 2010 census.

The state Senate is currently in Democrat control with an 11-10 majority. Both Republicans and Democrats are fighting for control of the house ahead of the 2013 legislative session.

State Senate Will See Large Turnover, Many New Faces In 2013

By Sean Whaley | 3:49 pm February 20th, 2012

CARSON CITY – For years the Nevada state Senate was a pretty stable place, with many lawmakers serving for decades.

From one election cycle to the next, the names and faces in the 21-member body didn’t change very often.

That reality was altered in a big way when term limits finally began to have an impact on the state Legislature starting in 2010.

And in this election cycle, already it appears that a minimum of nine incumbents, or more than 42 percent of the Senate, will be gone as of Election Day on Nov. 6.

Term limits, redistricting and personal decisions by lawmakers not to seek re-election are all playing a role in the significant turnover.

So in addition to the political ramifications for Democrats, who are trying to hold on to their one-seat majority, and Republicans, who are seeking to retake the majority, the Senate will have to face the reality of multiple new members when the 2013 session begins Feb. 4.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said the new reality with term limits and resulting turnover can be viewed as both a challenge and opportunity.

State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.

“I think that it makes the work of caucuses a little bit more . . .; you do more work because you want to make sure you get good people that can move up and work and do the things that need to be done,” he said.

“I think the candidate recruitment is an important part of that, that you’re trying to get good people that can step up,” Denis said. “And at the same time, training people and getting them up to speed. That means you have to do more work in the interim, that kind of thing, so people are up to speed.”

There is a loss of legislative institutional memory when long-time lawmakers leave, but it also provides a chance for new people with fresh ideas to participate, he said.

The Legislative staff has helped by adding more training so new lawmakers are ready to get to work as soon as the session begins, which is also limited to 120 days, he said.

Denis was speaking by phone from Oregon, where Nevada lawmakers serving on an interim study looking at how the Legislature conducts its business in-between sessions were visiting to see how the process works in another state.

The Nevada Legislature only meets every other year and Denis said the panel is looking at ways to improve the legislative process and make it more responsive to the public.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the turnover is not a major issue for Republicans because of the quality of candidates being recruited to fill the 12 seats in play.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

“It’s more of a problem for the Democrats,” he said. “I think their caucus is a little chaotic at this point. And so their bench is pretty thin. They lost a lot of experienced state senators. We only lost a couple, frankly, from this past session. So from our perspective we’re fine with the turnover. Not so sure the Democrats should feel the same way.”

There were worries going into last session that the large amount of turnover in both the Assembly and Senate due primarily to term limits would negatively affect the performance of the Legislature, Roberson said. But a number of new lawmakers in both parties and in both houses stepped up to make a major contribution, he said.

The same scenario is expected in 2013, Roberson said.

“So we’re going to have a lot of smart people, a lot of very capable people, in our caucus in the Senate next session.

“The key thing is, whether you’ve been there 20 years or two, we’ve got to work together to solve the problems of the state of Nevada,” he said. “And we’ve got to get past excessive partisanship and figure out a way to work with each other. That’s what the people want. That’s what I’m committed to do, that’s what our Senate caucus is committed to do.”

Term limits continues to take its toll on the ranks of lawmakers. Four state senators, Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Valerie Wiener and Mike Schneider, both D-Las Vegas, are all leaving office this year due to term limits. The four lawmakers combined have more than 70 years of service in the Senate.

Two other senators who are completing their first terms, Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, and Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, have both announced they will not run for new terms.

Another, Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, is running for the house in Nevada’s new 4th Congressional District. Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, is a candidate for the house seat as well, and would make the turnover numbers even higher if she wins.

In a surprise move last week, Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, resigned from her seat in mid-term because she is moving into the district represented by Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, where she plans to run for election. One of the two lawmakers will be out of a job on Election Day.

And in another move in what was a busy week for the state Senate last week, Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, announced she was resigning in mid-term for personal reasons.

Both Leslie’s and Halseth’s Senate seats will be filled in the 2012 election as well. Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, has already announced her plans to run for Leslie’s seat.

The turnover doesn’t only mean new faces, but new leadership as well. Both Roberson and Denis, the expected caucus leaders for next session, are in the middle of their first terms in the Senate, although Denis also served for a time in the Assembly.

Eight current members of the Senate who are in mid-term and are expected to return in 2013 are freshman, having been elected in 2010. In the 2013 session, three or fewer of the 21 members will have served more than one legislative session in the Senate, although quite a few members do have prior experience serving in the Assembly.

Assembly experience will likely be a factor in the 2013 Senate as well, with a number of Assembly members of both parties seeking Senate seats.


Audio clips:

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, says term limits and turnover makes the work of the caucus even more critical:

022012Denis1 :26 to be done.”

Denis says candidate recruitment is important:

022012Denis2 :22 up to speed.”

Sen. Michael Roberson says Republicans are not as affected by the turnover as Democrats:

022012Roberson1 :26 the same way.”

Roberson says the key is for lawmakers of both parties to work together:

022012Roberson2 :23 committed to do.”


National Group Calls On Nation’s Governors To Freeze Defined Benefit Pension Plans For Public Workers

By Sean Whaley | 2:48 pm February 20th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A national nonprofit organization seeking fundamental reforms to state budgeting today sent a letter to the nation’s governors urging them to follow General Motors’ lead and freeze defined benefit pensions for all public employees.

Bob Williams, a former Washington state lawmaker and president of State Budget Solutions (SBS), sent the open letter, which was in response to General Motors announcement last week that on September 30, 2012, they will freeze the defined benefit pension plans of all salaried workers in an effort to hold down expenses.

GM’s announcement will affect 19,000 salaried workers hired before 2001, who will move from traditional pension with guaranteed payments to a 401(k)-type plan with contributions based on salary and bonuses.

Bob Williams, president of State Budget Solutions.

“It is time for state government to accurately account for and begin reducing massive deficits,” Williams said in the letter. “By freezing defined benefit pensions, you are taking one step closer to truly balancing budgets. Our nation can no longer ignore the realities and push our budget problems onto future taxpayers. Corporate America isn’t always right, but eventually they have to acknowledge the light of reality. GM is a beacon that your administration must follow.”

Nearly all of Nevada’s public employees are members of the Public Employees’ Retirement System, which offers a defined benefit plan upon retirement.

Gov. Brian Sandoval supports a change to a defined contribution plan for future state workers, but the issue did not get much attention in the 2011 legislative session. It is expected to come up again in the 2013 legislative session.

Sandoval favors a change to the retirement plan because of a concern about the potential taxpayer liability for the defined benefit plan. The long-term unfunded liability is estimated at about $11 billion, although some assessments using different measures put it at a much higher amount.

Williams said in his letter that a State Budget Solutions’ compilation of academic studies shows that the total unfunded pension obligation for state and municipal governments is at least $4 trillion based on common actuarial assumptions.

“Across the country, states have understated their true unfunded pension liabilities because lax government accounting rules allow it,” Williams said. “As a result, the plans are severely underfunded and will adversely impact every state budget for decades. Without major reform now, those liabilities will continue to grow.”

In a telephone interview today, Williams said one reason for the growing size of the obligation is the unrealistic rates of return assumed by public pension plans. Nevada assumes an 8 percent return, which it has achieved over the life of the plan.

“But over the last 10 years (the nation’s public pension plans) only averaged about a 3.5 percent, so once you don’t make that annual return then you have to make that up and there is no way the states are,” he said.

The private sector is facing the reality that the defined benefit plans cannot be sustained, Williams said.

The day of reckoning is coming, he said.

“I think it’s going to really wake us up when it probably hits either New Jersey, Illinois or California first,” Williams said. “I mean those are the states that just have an unbelievable unfunded pension obligation. But why not take action when you can.”

There has been a growing call nationally to move public pension plans to a state to a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k)-type plan, from the current defined benefit plan, where retirees are paid a set amount per month based on salary and years of service.

Nevada PERS officials say the current state plan is actuarially sound, and that the unfunded liability will be covered over time. They also note that the contribution rates required to keep the plan healthy are set by an independent actuary and are fully funded by the Legislature. The Legislature also made several changes to the existing PERS plan in 2009.


Audio clips:

Bob Williams, president of State Budget Solutions, says the public pension plans face obligations of more than $3 trillion:

022012Williams1 :29 the states are.”

Williams says the issue could rise to national concern when a major pension plan hits a crisis point:

022012Williams2 :13 when you can.”


Senator Halseth Resigns

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:46 pm February 17th, 2012

Senator Elizabeth Halseth has finally resigned her state senate seat after weeks of being effectively absent from the Nevada political landscape including not attending the Interim Finance Committee meeting this week.

Halseth won the district by 5 points in 2010 even though Democrats had a 2 point advantage.

Democrats now have a 5 point registration advantage.

Paging Dennis Nolan…




Secretary Of State Outlines Process For Filling Potential District Court Judicial Vacancies

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:56 pm February 17th, 2012

CARSON CITY – With the potential for several vacancies within the state District Court system in the 2012 election year, the Secretary of State’s Office has issued a legal interpretation to address the issue of nominating candidates to vacated seats and to clarify questions about the process.

At least one District Court judicial seat in Clark County, and possibly more, could soon be vacant.

District Judge Donald Mosley has announced his retirement as of March 2 after 33 years on the bench, and district Judge Elissa Cadish was recently nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as a U.S. district judge in Nevada.

The interpretation from Ross Miller’s office says that if a district judge seat is vacated after the judicial candidate filing period, which ended Jan. 13, and before April 10, the vacancy will appear on the November general election ballot and candidates are nominated via nominating petitions. (NRS 293.165(2))

Secretary of State Ross Miller.

If the vacancy occurs between April 10 and June 22, the seat will appear on the November general election ballot as well, but the process for nominating candidates is not clear. As a result, Miller’s office can promulgate emergency regulations to set forth the procedures for candidates to be nominated.

If the vacancy occurs after June 22, the vacancy will not appear on the November general election ballot because the deadline to alter the ballot will have passed. (NRS 293.165(4))

Secretary of State Interpretation No. 122901 also includes further analysis of district judge office vacancies and the nominating process.

Washoe Schools Chief Heath Morrison Named National Superintendent Of Year

By Sean Whaley | 5:17 pm February 16th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Heath Morrison, superintendent of the Washoe County School District, today was named the 2012 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.

The announcement was made at the AASA national conference in Houston.

Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison.

In announcing the selection, Daniel Domenech, AASA executive director, had high praise for Morrison.

“Despite the fact that Nevada’s once-booming economy has been in steep decline, Heath has led his community in the development of a district-wide five-year strategic plan to ensure that every child receives a high-quality education and graduates from high school ready for college or a career,” Domenech said. “Already, the district is seeing results. We can learn from his success.”

Morrison has been superintendent of the district since 2009. The district is the second largest school district in Nevada with approximately 63,000 students enrolled in 93 schools. Between 2009 and 2011, the district’s graduation rate jumped from 56 percent to 70 percent with increases in every student subgroup. The district also has achieved significant test score gains and has narrowed the achievement gap in many subject areas.

As the 2012 National Superintendent of the Year honoree, Morrison is entitled to present a $10,000 college scholarship to a student at the high school from which he graduated or to a student from a high school in his current district.

A national blue ribbon panel of educators, business leaders and government officials selected Morrison from four national finalists.

The national Superintendent of the Year finalists are measured against the following criteria:

• Leadership for learning – creativity in successfully meeting the needs of students in his or her school system.

• Communication – strength in both personal and organizational communication.

• Professionalism – constant improvement of administrative knowledge and skills, while providing professional development opportunities and motivation to others on the education team.

• Community involvement – active participation in local community activities and an understanding of regional, national and international issues.

The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the U.S. and throughout the world.



Former Nevada Gov. Richard Bryan Calls Rep. Mark Amodei’s Remarks On Yucca Mountain “Unfortunate”

By Sean Whaley | 4:37 pm February 16th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Former U.S. Sen. and Nevada Gov. Richard Bryan today described Rep. Mark Amodei’s recent comments about Yucca Mountain not being dead as a site to dispose of the nation’s nuclear waste was as “unfortunate.”

“The great majority of Nevadans, dating back more than 30 years ago when I was governor, have taken a position that Yucca Mountain threatens the health and safety of Nevadans,” Bryan said in an interview with Sam Shad on the Nevada NewsMakers television program. “The issue was politicized in terms of its site location and there are a number of scientific issues that should give every Nevadan cause for concern.”

Gov. Richard Bryan.

Bryan was responding to a statement from Amodei, R-Nev., that says in part: “While some of my colleagues in the delegation have successfully managed to slow the project through the congressional appropriations process, I do not believe it is a ‘dead’ issue and think it is more likely the repository will eventually come to fruition through a sound scientific process over time.”

Amodei’s statement also says in part: “Let me be clear, I do not believe Yucca Mountain should become a simple dumping site for the nation’s nuclear waste. I believe the Administration and Department of Energy (DOE) should keep funding for the project, while Congress works with the DOE to make the location a bastion of nuclear research and reprocessing.”

Amodei was elected to the 2nd Congressional District seat in a special election in September 2011.

Bryan said the Obama Administration has indicated that it will not move forward with Yucca Mountain, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has successfully worked to defund the project, and a special bipartisan commission is now calling for a new, “consent oriented” approach to find a suitable location for the disposal of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.

As a result, Yucca Mountain will not move forward as a repository, he said.

“And I think it is unfortunate that Nevadans, both Democrat and Republican alike, would break ranks at this key moment when in my opinion, Sam, we are literally on the threshold of a victory that the great majority of Nevadans have sought for a third of a century,” Bryan said.

Amodei said he does not believe Yucca Mountain is dead because it comes up as a topic of conversation in the House all the time.

“While I understand it’s great politics for some of my predecessors to say it’s dead, and all that other sort of stuff, and more power to them, you can’t sit here and listen to those guys talk on the floor every week and walk back and tell Nevadans that you think it’s dead too, OK?” he said.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.

Googling nuclear waste or Yucca Mountain in the congressional record provides all the proof anyone needs the project remains alive, he said.

Amodei also cited the final report from the Blue Ribbon Commission On America’s Nuclear Future, which found that the Obama decision to halt work on Yucca Mountain is evidence of a nuclear waste management policy that has been “troubled for decades and has now reached an impasse.” Impasse does not mean dead and the report says the impasse cannot continue, he said.

“While nobody wants a nuclear landfill in Nevada, we probably ought to at least talk about it,” Amodei said. “Well if that is breaking ranks, then yes I did.”

Bryan also dismissed any suggestion that funding would flow to Nevada if it accepted the Yucca Mountain project.

“That absolutely is utterly false,” he said. “There has never been any money promised us in terms of real money out there. The industry itself has never offered anything and nor has the federal government. And I guess I would say that even if some money were offered, in my view this is a question of health and safety.

“And when you press those folks who make those assertions, tell us where,” Bryan said. “Show us. Who is offering the money; when, and where, and how much. And Sam, I would respectfully suggest that these misguided Nevadans can’t come up with an answer.”

Bryan, a Democrat who was elected governor in 1982 and 1986 and then to the U.S. Senate in 1988 where he served two terms, is now a member of the Lionel Sawyer & Collins law firm. Bryan fought against the Yucca Mountain project during his time in public office and continues to speak out against it.


Audio clips:

Gov. Richard Bryan calls Rep. Mark Amodei’s comments about Yucca Mountain “unfortunate”:

021612Bryan1 :22 cause for concern.”

Bryan says Nevada is on the threshold of a victory on Yucca Mountain:

021612Bryan2 :16 of a century.”

Bryan says no money has been promised Nevada for accepting Yucca Mountain:

021612Bryan3 :27 health and safety.”

Bryan says those saying there is money available should be specific:

021612Bryan4 :14 with an answer.”

Rep. Mark Amodei says he sees evidence weekly in the House that Yucca Mountain is not dead:

021612Amodei1 :18 dead too, OK?”

Amodei says if seeking to talk about Yucca Mountain is breaking ranks, then yes he did:

021612Amodei2 :15 yes I did.”



State Fiscal Constraints Holding Up Interim Studies Of Public Education, Retirement System

By Sean Whaley | 1:51 pm February 15th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The state of Nevada’s tough financial situation is holding up two separate interim studies approved by the Legislature because of the requirement for alternative funding sources to assist in conducting the reviews.

One is a study of the state Public Employees’ Retirement System and the other is a study of the funding formula now used for public education. Both studies require non-state funding, but proponents are having a hard time coming up with the money.

Typically there is state funding appropriated for interim studies by the Legislature. But the state’s difficult fiscal situation led to the imposition of the financial requirements for the two studies.

Retirement system review requires $250,000 in private cash up front

Gov. Brian Sandoval and lawmakers approved a study of the state public pension system with an eye towards evaluating the need for a change for future state and local government hires to a “defined contribution”  or some modified type of plan.

But the study outlined in Assembly Bill 405 requires a $250,000 contribution from the private sector to be secured before another $250,000 appropriation from the state could be used for such an assessment.

The private funding has been hard to come by.

Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Sandoval, said other options are being explored by representatives of Nevada’s business community interested in such a review.

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert, right, with former budget director Andrew Clinger. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“They had to meet the $250,000 threshold before state funds would be released and so I think the issue was the level of funding required, private funding, versus getting some funding for it,” she said. “There may be some private sector folks that are still going to work on some form of study.

“My understanding is the $250,000 is too high of a threshold but they are looking at coming up with partial funding and maybe doing something on their own versus trying to meet that threshold to get the state funding,” Gansert said.

Sandoval favors a change to the retirement plan because of a concern about the potential taxpayer liability for the defined benefit plan that covers almost all state and local government employees. The long-term unfunded liability is estimated at about $10 billion, although some assessments using different measures put it at a much higher amount.

There has been a growing call nationally to move public pension plans to a state to a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k)-type plan, from the current defined benefit plan, where retirees are paid a set amount per month based on salary and years of service.

Sandoval has advocated such a position, although the concept did not see any serious discussion in the 2011 legislative session.

Nevada PERS officials say the plan is actuarially sound, and that the unfunded liability will be covered over time. They also note that the contribution rates required to keep the plan healthy are set by an independent actuary and are fully funded by the Legislature. The Legislature also made several changes to the existing PERS plan in 2009.

Public education study requires at least $125,000 to move forward

The legislative study looking at potentially new ways of funding public education was sought by the Clark County School District. But no state funding was provided for the review.

At the first meeting of the New Method for Funding Public Schools interim study in January, Clark County School District official Joyce Haldeman said $125,000 in anticipated funding from a private foundation to pay for a study would not be available.

The district is looking for other funding for the study.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, the chairman of the interim study, gave the district until Feb. 21 to identify at least $125,000 for a study. The panel is scheduled to meet Feb. 28, but the meeting will be cancelled if no funding is secured.

The Clark County School District would like to see new factors included in the 45-year-old funding formula, such as additional financial weight given to educate special education students, English-language learners and children in poverty.

Questions have been raised as to whether either study is actually needed, however.

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy director of policy for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said in an interview in June, 2011, regarding the PERS unfunded liability that legislative studies do not typically generate change in subsequent legislative sessions.

And Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, a member of the public education interim study panel, asked for justification for the proposed review at the January meeting, noting a 2007 study by lawmakers identified no inequities in the Nevada Plan formula for public education.

After spending nearly $250,000, the conclusion was that the Nevada Plan was highly equitable, he said.


Audio clips:

Heidi Gansert, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff, says the level of private funding required for the PERS study to go forward is too high:

021512Gansert1 :15 form of study.”

Gansert says business leaders may come up with a lower level of funding and conduct their own study:

021512Gansert2 :10 the state funding.”


Nevada Lawmakers Approve Regulations For First In Nation Self-Driving Vehicles

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:30 pm February 15th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada took a bold step forward today as lawmakers approved regulations allowing for the operation of self-driving vehicles on the state’s roadways.

The first in the nation regulations were approved by the Legislative Commission, and could provide for economic development opportunities in Nevada.

“Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles,” Department of Motor Vehicles Director Bruce Breslow said. “These regulations establish requirements companies must meet to test their vehicles on Nevada’s public roadways as well as requirements for residents to legally operate them in the future.”

In creating the regulations, the department partnered with Google, automobile manufacturers, testing professionals, insurance companies, universities and law enforcement all with a common vision of saving lives. Several other states currently have bills in front of their legislators that will follow Nevada into the future.

Google has developed a self-driving car and gave Gov. Brian Sandoval and other state officials rides in one of their vehicles in the capital in July, 2011.

Nevada became the first state in the nation to legalize the use of driverless vehicles with legislation passed this past session.

Gov. Brian Sandoval was the first governor in the nation to go for a ride in Google's autonomous car in July, 2011. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“Our work doesn’t stop here,” Breslow said. “The department is currently developing licensing procedures for companies that want to test their self-driving vehicles in Nevada. Nevada is proud to be the first state to embrace this emergent technology and the department looks forward to sustaining partnerships as the technology evolves.”

Breslow said self-driving vehicles will be distinguished as “autonomous test vehicles” by the red license plates they will display. When the technology is ready for general public use, a green license plate will be displayed on vehicles registered with autonomous technology.

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

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

Washoe County Residents Will Soon Be Able To Register To Vote Online

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 10:25 am February 15th, 2012

CARSON CITY – For the first time ever, Washoe County voters will soon be able to register and make changes to their current voter registration online.

Beginning in mid-April, the Washoe County Registrar of Voters office, working in collaboration with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, will make the switch to Nevada Online Voter Access (NOVA); allowing citizens to go directly online and register to vote or update their current information.

Photo courtesy of Joebeone via Wikimedia Commons.

During a presentation to the Washoe County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Registrar Dan Burk said the switch over to NOVA registration will not only be easier for citizens, but also cost effective, and will insure the integrity and security of voter registration, requiring a match for both the last four digits of the social security number as well as the Nevada DMV Identification before the on-line process can be completed.

“Although voters will still have the same cut-off date to register, the good thing is now, instead of going to the DMV, Registrar’s office, or picking up paperwork and sending in back to us, citizens will soon be able to do this online,” Burk said. “It’s a huge leap forward.”

Voters using the new online system will also be able to confirm that they are registered and be able to download their sample ballot by going to and selecting the “Am I Registered?” button on the webpage. The list of districts, as well as a map of each precinct is also available through the “Precincts and Districts” box.

The initial funding for NOVA registration in Washoe County was paid for by $86,000 in federal funding provided through the Help America Vote Act.

Washoe and Clark will be the first two counties in the state offering online voter registration but the system will soon be expanded to all counties in Nevada. Currently, there are more than 215,200 registered voters in Washoe County’s 643 precincts. With a total population of approximately 420,000, Washoe County, with a 67 percent registration base is substantially higher than most jurisdictions in the United States.

“Online voter registration has the potential to have direct savings to the taxpayers,” Burk said. “In the future, it will allow us to hire fewer temporary workers to input all of the data, since people will be registering themselves online.”

To use the online system, citizens will need to be at least 18 years old and have a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driver’s license or Nevada identification card. The application process will pull the signature on file with the DMV and apply it to the voter’s registration record and this will be used for identification for all future elections.

Long-Awaited Ethics Opinion Published, Attorney Hired To Reduce Backlog

By Sean Whaley | 4:21 pm February 14th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A long awaited opinion regarding the conduct of former Lyon County manager Dennis Stark has been published by the state Ethics Commission.

Stark appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, and had been waiting for a published opinion in his case. Stark was found at the hearing to have committed one willful ethics violation.

In a Nevada News Bureau story highlighting his case in November 2011, Stark said  he wants to appeal the Ethics Commission decision but could not do so without the published opinion. Not having a resolution to his case has made it difficult for him to find a new job, he said.

Stark could not be reached today for comment on the publishing of the decision in his case.

Stark’s case was just one of about 60 backlogged opinions that had not been published because of staff limitations at the Ethics Commission.

The publication of the Stark opinion coincided with Ethics Commission representatives appearing before the state Board of Examiners today for approval of a $65,000 contract with an attorney to eliminate the backlog.

The board, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved the contract with JMB Consulting after previously supporting a request by the agency to seek money from a legislative contingency fund to hire an attorney to erase the backlog.

Attorney Janette Bloom, operating as JMB Consulting, was hired on a temporary contract through June 30 to get the opinions published.

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer said the commission is working to find ways to ensure the backlog does not continue into the future.

“I think we’re already implementing some streamlining of the preparation of the opinions,” he told the board. “I am convinced that once this is behind us that we will be able to catch up and stay on track.”

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer with Executive Director Caren Jenkins. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Caren Jenkins said the contract with Bloom is based on her eliminating the entire backlog.

The Stark matter involved allegations that he used his position as the county manager to influence matters affecting the county library system’s budget to save his wife’s job with the library.

The commission determined that Stark violated the state ethics laws by initiating and participating in a private meeting with a library board member to discuss matters affecting his wife’s employment. He was fined $1,000.

Stark has called the infraction minor and the result of fabricated testimony.


Audio clip:

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer says the commission is making changes to streamline the process so a new backlog does not develop:

021412Beyer :11 stay on track.”