Archive for April, 2012

Purchase Of ‘Air Time’ Not Frequent But Some Nevada Lawmakers Want to Review

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am April 16th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A little-known benefit of Nevada’s public employee pension plan is the right to purchase up to five years of service towards retirement.

Referred to by some as “air time,” or the ability to add years of retirement without actually putting in the time in a public sector job, the benefit can allow state and local government workers to retire early, collecting annual pensions years before they would be eligible otherwise.

A 60-year old state worker with five years in the Public Employees’ Retirement System, could, for example, buy five years of retirement credit and retire right away with a pension worth about 25 percent of salary.

Teachers and many other public employees are in the state pension plan. / Photo by DanielbdaDirector via Wikimedia Commons.

A 50-year-old teacher with 25 years of service could buy five years and retire right away with about 75 percent of salary. Regular public sector workers in Nevada can retire at any age with 30 years of service.

Former Clark County D.A. David Roger a case in point

An example of the use of air timewas reported recently by the Las Vegas Review-Journal concerning former Clark County District Attorney David Roger, who purchased five years of service and retired at age 50 to take another job. According to the newspaper, Roger paid about $330,000 to purchase the five years. He is now eligible for an annual pension of about $150,000 five years before he would be eligible otherwise.

But the cost of purchasing a year of retirement credit is not cheap, and a review of such purchases in Nevada suggests it is not used all that frequently by public employees.

Even so, some state lawmakers say the benefit, along with other aspects of the public pension program in Nevada, are worthy of review in the 2013 legislative session.

The 2011 Legislature approved a study of the public employee retirement system, but a $250,000 private sector donation was required before the review could get under way. The contribution has yet to materialize.

The primary interest for many policy makers, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, is whether Nevada’s public employee pension plan should be changed from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, similar to a private sector worker’s 401(k), for new public workers going forward.

Air time purchases are offered in many states

Some states make it much less costly for public workers to purchase retirement credits. The ability to buy “air time” was recently highlighted in a news report in USA Today, which found 21 states that allow for such purchases.

Numbers provided by PERS to the Nevada News Bureau shed some light on the use of the benefit.

About $17.2 million was spent on purchase of service in fiscal year 2011, not counting a special program created by the Legislature for teachers who work in at-risk schools. This represents about 1.2 percent of the $1.4 billion in total contributions made to PERS that year from both public employers and employees.

In fiscal year 2010, the number was $13.5 million out of $1.4 billion in total contributions or just under 1 percent.

These amounts may include some purchases of service by a local government in order to encourage workers to retire as a way to save money in the budget.

The Washoe County School District last week, for example, approved 68 early retirement applications to help resolve a $40 million budget shortfall.

The PERS website has a calculator to show what it would cost to buy a year of service. Based on the average salary for all active regular employees of $49,000, it would cost a worker nearly $20,000 to buy one year of service at age 55.

For a police officer or firefighter with an average salary in 2011 of about $74,000, the cost to buy one year of service at age 55 would be nearly $30,000. Public safety employees can retire at any age with 25 years of service.

So dividing these amounts into the $17.2 million in purchase of service in 2011 would equal 860 years of service purchased if all the purchases were by regular employees. For police and fire, the number of years purchased would be about 573 years.

With nearly 100,000 active employees in 2011 and each earning a year of retirement credit for working, the number of purchases appears to be a small piece of the public employee retirement puzzle. The PERS system covers state workers, local government employees and school district personnel across the state.

Air time purchases not that common in Nevada

Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS, said the agency does not collect data by individual on the purchase of service. Even if it did so, pension information about individual retirees has long been considered confidential, although this issue is now before the Nevada Supreme Court.

The Reno Gazette-Journal is seeking individual retirement information and won a court ruling in Carson City District Court in its favor. That ruling has been appealed to the Supreme Court by the PERS board.

But based on anecdotal evidence, Bilyeu said the purchase of service benefit is not used to any great degree of frequency by Nevada public employees.

“You can tell from the numbers that it is not a huge thing for us,” Bilyeu said. “We don’t have a lot of five-year purchases. We usually get purchases of 18 months or a year by an employee to get to 10 years to retire at age 60.”

An employee nearing 30 years of service might purchase a year or half a year to retire a bit early, she said.

The USA Today report said air time is coming under scrutiny as states try to curb retirement spending and make their pension systems resemble private-sector plans. Federal law allows air-time purchases only in government pension plans.

Nevada lawmakers may take up the “air time” issue next year

Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, said the $17.2 million in air time purchases in 2011 may not seem large in the context of one year revenue for PERS.

“However, if one were to figure the benefit costs over a lifetime to be paid out, I suspect the resulting math would astound normal citizens who can never hope to have such a staggering benefit,” he said. “So it’s not the $17.2 million but the lifetime cost that’s important to consider. Paying $20,000 or $30,000 per year purchased may be insignificant to the lifetime benefit.

“Bottom line, Assembly Republicans have raised this and other related issues to PERS as potential issue for the 2013 session to address,” Kirner said.

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy director of policy at the conservative think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute, said his concern with the purchase of service is that employees may not be contributing enough money to cover the cost of the additional retirement benefit.

When years are purchased, PERS assumes it will get an 8 percent return on its money, he said. If that target is not met over the long term, taxpayers could be on the hook to make up any shortfalls, Lawrence said.

“So if you’ve got a bunch of employees buying air time early in their career, and PERS doesn’t get the return that they are assuming, then taxpayers in ensuing years are going to have to make larger contributions into the account to pay back the unfunded liability,” he said. “So this is something that is of concern because it can exacerbate the unfunded liability.”

The PERS plan was 70.2 percent funded as of June 30, 2011.

But Lawrence said he isn’t surprised at the small amount of money going to purchases because most employees probably don’t have $20,000 or more to buy a year of service.

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Audio clips:

Geoffrey Lawrence of NPRI says taxpayers could be on the hook for air time purchases if the pension plan doesn’t hit its investment target:

041212Lawrence1 :28 the unfunded liability.”

Lawrence says the low use of the program is not surprising:

041212Lawrence2 :15 deal, you know.”

 

 

 

Pew Study Gives Nevada Low Marks For Evaluating Effectiveness Of Tax Incentives

By Sean Whaley | 2:43 pm April 13th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A new study by the Pew Center on the States identifies Nevada as one of 16 states that did not publish a document between 2007 and 2011 that evaluated the effective of tax incentives.

Nevada received a poor grade in the study: Evidence Counts: Evaluating State Tax Incentives for Jobs and Growth. The study identified 13 states leading the way in conducting such evaluations, another 12 showing mixed results and the remainder, including Nevada, that “have not taken the basic steps needed to know whether their incentives are effective.”

Courtesy of the Pew Center on the States.

The study found that every state has at least one incentive program and most have several. States offer credits, exemptions and deductions to businesses in specific industries, such as manufacturing or movie production. They also give them to firms willing to locate in struggling neighborhoods, or to firms that pledge to hire new workers.

The Nevada Legislature’s Fiscal Analysis Division conducted a review of the state’s tax abatements and exemptions authorized under Nevada law. The 294-page report, released in February of 2009, identified several tax abatements, tax exemptions and tax incentives, including those for new or expanding businesses and for “green building” construction.

Efforts to create tax incentives in Nevada have been mixed. A bill introduced in the 2011 legislative session that would have offered transferable tax credits to attract filmmakers to Nevada did not win approval.

But a $10 million Catalyst Fund created by the 2011 Legislature to help aid in business expansion and economic development did see approval. It is a component of Nevada’s new Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which in February released its plan to grow and diversify the state economy.

The plan includes benchmarks to assess whether Nevada is achieving its ambitious job-creation goals. Gov. Brian Sandoval has called for the creation of 50,000 new jobs by the end of 2014.

“Policy makers should know whether these tools deliver a strong return on their investment,” said Jeff Chapman, senior researcher, Pew Center on the States. “Regular, rigorous, and comprehensive evaluations of tax incentives are critical to their ability to do so.”

Pew reviewed nearly 600 documents and interviewed more than 175 government officials and experts to examine how – and how well – states gauge the effectiveness of their tax incentives, if they do so at all. The study does not take a position on whether tax incentives for economic development are good or bad, but does identify promising approaches to evaluation.

Yerington Public Lands Bill To Get DC Hearing Next Week

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:24 pm April 13th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., is praising the decision by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands to hold a legislative hearing for H.R. 4039, the Yerington Land Conveyance and Sustainable Development Act, on Tuesday.

The hearing is an important first step before the bill can be marked up by the committee and brought to the House floor for consideration.

“For more than four years, the city of Yerington and Lyon County have worked on this sustainable development plan to enable all community stakeholders to benefit from an increase in adjacent private lands,” Amodei said in a prepared statement. “The conveyance of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land would enable the city and county to grow while providing needed tax revenue and the potential for hundreds of long-term, high-paying jobs.”

The bill would convey approximately 10,000 acres of BLM land to the local governments for industrial, recreational and cultural development. The transfer would allow the governments to leverage the substantial infrastructure investments being made by Nevada Copper at its nearby Pumpkin Hollow project.

It is being sponsored by Amodei, along with Nevada Reps. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

The Pumpkin Hollow project is a new copper mine being developed by Nevada Copper. A ground-breaking ceremony for construction of the mine was held in February.

“Nevada’s unemployment rate is the highest in the nation and Lyon County’s is the highest in Nevada,” Amodei said. “According to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, in February roughly 6,500 Nevadans gave up looking for a job and left the labor force all together. If we’re serious about the economy, then this community-driven plan, with no cost to taxpayers, is exactly the sort of thing the federal government needs to fast-track.”

Amodei, elected to the 2nd Congressional District seat in a special election in September, is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Nevada Copper invested nearly $50 million in exploration to justify the $1 billion investment necessary to fully develop the mine. The mine will produce 250 to 300 million pounds of copper per year. The initial shaft sinking is already producing economic benefits with the creation of 30 to 40 jobs. An additional 250 to 500 construction jobs could start in 2013 if the land transfer is successful. At full operation in 2015-2016, Pumpkin Hollow is projected to employ 750 to 800 people directly.

Big Changes Made To Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:57 pm April 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A state agency today reported that significant changes have been made to the unemployment insurance benefit structure affecting both current and future recipients.

In February 2012, federal legislation extended the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program through December 2012. The recent change in federal law will affect nearly 75,000 Nevada claimants who currently receive, as well as those who may file, for EUC, said Renee Olson, administrator for the state Employment Security Division.

The changes affect how work searches are documented and the number of weeks claimants can receive EUC benefits. Recipients will now be required to attend a reemployment services orientation as well, she said.

Californians who lost jobs due to freeze. / Photo courtesy of FEMA.

Under the new regulations, all individuals filing new EUC claims, or transitioning from EUC Tier I to Tier II, must participate in reemployment eligibility assessment and reemployment services programs.

“The purpose of the orientation is to ensure job search compliance, assist claimants with their reemployment efforts and improve the likelihood of claimants securing new employment,” Olson said. “If selected to participate in these services and an individual fails to comply, benefits must be denied. All EUC claimants will receive a letter providing specific details on the reemployment service orientation and work search requirements.”

An appointment notice will be mailed to EUC claimants to advise them of their mandatory orientation session with the time and location of the orientation. All individuals receiving EUC must complete and document two to three substantive work searches each week for submission and review by division representatives at the orientation event. Failure to attend the scheduled orientation or provide adequate proof of work search is cause to terminate unemployment benefits.

“The changes to the regulations are designed to transition individuals from unemployment benefits to gainful employment,” said Frank Woodbeck, director of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). “In doing so, we will rebuild our economy, as well as provide individuals with a more permanent income. We will remain diligent in helping our customers become job ready and in supporting them in reaching their career goals.”

One portion of the regulation won’t take effect until September 2012. At that time, the number of weeks a recipient can receive benefits will be reduced to a maximum of 73 weeks, down from the 99-week maximum that has been in place since 2009.

The federal legislation did not add additional funds for those who have already exhausted their unemployment benefits, Olson said.

 

Carson City Judge Rejects Gaming Tax Petition, Supporters Say They Will File New Version

By Sean Whaley | 4:06 pm April 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A Carson City District judge today rejected an initiative petition proposing to create a new and higher rate of taxation for Nevada’s largest casinos, finding that the 200 word description of effect of the measure was misleading.

In rejecting the petition, Judge James Todd Russell said he did not believe he had the authority to rewrite the description himself.

Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller, who attended the hearing on his proposed gaming tax hike, said he will file a new proposal with the Secretary of State’s office reflecting Russell’s concerns and begin the signature gathering effort all over again.

The proposed petition was challenged by the Nevada Resort Association, which cited several concerns with the measure, including the use of the term “unrestricted” instead of  “nonrestricted” to identify the affected gaming properties, and the use of the term “gross revenue” instead of “gross gaming revenue.”

Miller, through a group called Nevadans for a Fair 9% Gambling Revenue Tax (NF9GRT), filed the initiative petition in February. It would set a new tax rate of 9 percent on net casino gambling revenue above $250,000 per calendar month.

Under current law, net casino gambling revenue in excess of $134,000 per calendar month is taxed at a 6.75 percent rate.

Las Vegas attorney Maggie McLetchie, representing Miller’s group, argued that Russell could rewrite the description of effect for the proposed petition, thus allowing the signature gathering process to begin again without the potential for a new legal challenge.

Attorney Maggie McLetchie and Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller talk with the press after a court ruling against their gaming tax petition. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

But Carson City attorney Matt Griffin, representing the resort association, said Russell did not have the authority to rewrite the proposal, which would in effect take away the association’s due process rights.

The description is flawed and the only solution is to reject the petition and require a new one to be filed, he said.

After the hearing, McLetchie said the NRA is using the legal process to stall the petition effort.

“They are obviously trying to exploit a process that is in place to ensure that voters are informed about the effects of a law to try to drag this out for as long as possible,” she said. “And I think it is unfortunate and I think it is antithetical to the very nature of the initiative process.”

McLetchie said judges have in the past rewritten descriptions of effect on other initiative petitions.

“The interest of the NRA is in trying to delay this process for as long as possible,” she said. “Our interest is trying to get this into the hands of the voters.”

The group has until Nov. 13 to collect 72,352 valid signatures from Nevada voters to send the proposal to the Nevada Legislature in 2013. If the Legislature does not enact the proposal within 40 days, it would go to voters in 2014 and take effect in 2015 if approved. The Legislature could also opt to put a competing proposal on the ballot for voters to consider.

The Legislature would have to get a two-thirds vote to approve the tax hike on casinos instead of sending it to the voters. But Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said a competing tax proposal dealing with the same subject could be placed on the 2014 ballot by a simple majority vote of the Legislature because voters would have the final say.

If both measures received more than 50 percent of the vote, the one receiving the largest number of votes would take effect.

Miller said he is pursing the gaming tax option in the face of a possible business profits tax appearing on the ballot in 2014 as well. The gaming tax, and another petition that could lead to an increase in the mining tax, would be on the ballot as alternatives to a business tax, he said.

Miller said the proposed business profits tax is a bad idea.

State AFL-CIO leader Danny Thompson said earlier this month his labor group is moving forward with a broad-based business profits tax ballot measure to raise money for education. It would assess a 2 percent tax on net profits in excess of $500,000.

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Audio clips:

Las Vegas attorney Maggie McLetchie says the NRA is trying to stall the petition:

041112McLetchie1 :09 long as possible.”

McLetchie says the group just wants to get the proposal to the voters:

041112McLetchie2 :07 of the voters.”

 

 

Nevada Ranks In Top 20 For Economic Competitiveness In New ALEC Report

By Sean Whaley | 1:07 pm April 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s polices of low taxes and small government ranked it 18th among states in its ability to compete and grow its economy, according to a report released today by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Called “Rich States, Poor States,” the fifth edition of the report ranks the states based on their economic policies and examines which states are taking the right corrective actions to emerge from the current economic downturn.

Nevada’s No 1 ranking among states for having no personal or corporate income tax are two reasons why the state’s economic outlook is so favorable.

Nevada’s ranking has slipped, however, in the past few years that ALEC has released the report, from 7th in 2008 and 2009 to 11th in 2010 and 17th in 2011. The overall ranking is based on 15 state policy variables that the authors say drive competitiveness.

But economist Dr. Arthur Laffer, described as the father of supply side economics and one of the report’s co-authors, praised Nevada’s efforts and the performance of Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“You are an extraordinarily competent state and you’ve got a great governor; Sandoval is just spectacular,” he said. “But I think you’ve had some tax increases in the last few years that have pushed you down a little bit.

“Do remember you are competing against some pretty good states,” Laffer said. “So I wouldn’t take the 18 as being a terrible ranking nor your drop as being terrible. The greatest blessing that has ever happened to Nevada is being next to California.”

The report shows that Nevada, Texas and Arizona are benefiting from California’s 38th spot in the rankings.

The report says California has lost 2,500 employers and 109,000 jobs because of relocation over the past four years.

A chart in the report on population changes “is a stunning picture that encapsulates the consequences of the policy implosion in California,” the report said. “It also shows us that the states with the largest inflows bordered California, which had one of the largest outflows of all 50 states.”

Nevada ranked sixth among states for population gain from 2001 to 2010, while Arizona ranked 3rd. California ranked 49th and actually lost population during the period.

“I used to describe California as a supernova, sending off solar systems of economics to the neighboring states,” Laffer said.

In a statement in response to the report, Sandoval said: “There’s no arguing Nevada has been hit hard by the great recession, but things are beginning to look up. We are beginning to see signs of economic recovery, with job growth in important sectors and steady increases in state revenue collections, but it’s important that we maintain our momentum by reducing the regulatory burden, keeping taxes as low as possible, and improving government efficiencies.”

Some of the negatives in the report are Nevada’s property tax burden of $34.60 per $1,000 of personal income, ranking the state 32nd, and its sales tax burden of $29.46 per $1,000 of personal income, ranking it 40th among states.

Other favorable factors are Nevada’s No. 1 ranking for the fewest public employees at 422.1 per 10,000 of population, and Nevada’s status as a right-to-work state.

Other negative factors are Nevada’s minimum wage of $8.25, ranking the state 45th, and the state’s imposition of recent tax changes, ranking the state 46th at $10.37 per $1,000 of personal income.

The Nevada Legislature and Sandoval agreed in 2011 to extend a package of tax hikes that were set to expire to help balance the budget without further spending cuts. Sandoval recently announced he plans to extend the package for another two years beginning July 1, 2013, to avoid further cuts to education.

In a conference call to discuss the report, Laffer and the other authors, Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Williams, director of ALEC’s Center for State Fiscal Reform, and Indiana state Sen. Jim Buck, ALEC’s tax and fiscal policy task force chairman, offered their thoughts on which states are making the right choices and those that are heading down the wrong path.

“One of the great, understated facts of state policy is that states do not enact policy changes in a vacuum,” the report said. “When a state changes policy, for better or for worse, it immediately affects its competitiveness.”

Utah was first in the report. New York was 50th.

One point noted by the report’s authors is the need for states to make meaningful reforms to their public employee pension plans, as both Utah and Rhode Island have done.

“It’s going to need to take  states on both sides of the ideological divide to tackle that,” Williams said. “If we don’t get the pension liabilities under control it’s going to  be very difficult to keep taxes under control.”

Pension reform is not a partisan issue, he said.

ALEC is the largest nonpartisan organization of state Legislatures, focusing on the principles of low taxes, limited government, individual liberty and federalism.

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Audio clips:

Economist Dr. Arthur Laffer says Nevada fares well in the report:

041112Laffer1 :19 next to California.”

Laffer says Nevada is benefiting from California’s poor economic policies:

041112Laffer2 :06 the neighboring states.”

Jonathan Williams of ALEC says states must make fundamental reforms to their public employee pension plans:

041112Williams :10 taxes under control.”

 

 

 

Sen. Heller Downplays Any Rift With Gov. Sandoval On Job Creation Efforts

By Sean Whaley | 3:22 pm April 10th, 2012

CARSON CITY – U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., today downplayed the notion of any disagreement with GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval arising from their opposing views on the Small Business Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2010.

Heller voted against the measure, calling it a bank bailout bill, while Sandoval praised the measure last fall as a way to help create jobs in the state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

Heller, interviewed on the Nevada NewsMakers television program, said: “It was a bailout. It was another bank bailout. Two things I vote against when I’m in Washington, DC: tax increases, more stimulus, more bailout. I guess that’s three. I put stimulus and bailout in the same picture. But that’s what I vote against.”

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Sandoval, in announcing the receipt of $13.8 million from the act in September 2011 to lend to small businesses to spur job growth, said: “This funding will go a long ways towards helping new small businesses get off the ground and creating jobs for Nevadans.”

In the NewsMakers interview, Heller said the way to get Nevadans back to work is lower taxes, smaller government, reasonable regulations, free markets and capitalism.

“That is what is going to long term sustain growth in this state moving forward,” he said.

“The governor and I are not at odds,” Heller said. “Certainly both of us want to bring jobs into Nevada and both of us want to see the economy turn around. How do you do that is the question. And he’s doing it for all the right reasons. I don’t see us at a difference here. All I’m saying is there may be more than one route.”

Heller is running for a full term in the Senate, and is being challenged by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. Heller was appointed to the Senate seat in May, 2011 by Sandoval.

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

Berkley voted for the measure.

Nevada received the $13.8 million through the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). Nevada expects to generate a minimum of $10 in new private lending for every $1 in federal funding.

Heller’s comments came as the U.S. Department of the Treasury on Monday released a report showing that the Meadows Bank of Las Vegas has increased its small business lending by $45.9 million since receiving capital through the Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF).

The SBLF is a separate program authorized by the same act.

Nationwide, institutions participating in the SBLF significantly increased small business lending in the last quarter of 2011 by $1.3 billion over the prior quarter – for a total of $4.8 billion over their baseline, the report showed.

“This report shows that the Small Business Lending Fund is having a powerful impact,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin in a news release issued today. “The program is helping spark new lending to local entrepreneurs looking to invest in their businesses and create new jobs.”

The SBLF helps small businesses by providing capital to community banks that hold under $10 billion in assets. The dividend rate a community bank pays on SBLF funding is reduced as that bank increases its small business lending, providing a strong incentive for new lending to small businesses so they can expand and create jobs.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Dean Heller says the Small Business Jobs Act was a bank bailout:

041012Heller1 :14 I vote against.”

Heller says he and Gov. Sandoval are not at odds:

041012Heller2 :16 than one route.”

February Gaming Win Up 5.7 Percent With Strength Seen Across All Major Markets

By Sean Whaley | 12:05 pm April 10th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada casinos won $932.2 million in February for a 5.7 percent gain over the same month in 2011, even without the Chinese New Year event that annually brings high rollers to the Las Vegas Strip, the Gaming Control Board reported today.

Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the control board, said the February win was solid and seen across the state. Only three small markets showed declines in the monthly report.

The Strip was up 3.3 percent with a win of $530.7 million.

Photo by Antoine Taveneaux via Wikimedia Commons.

The gains came even though the Chinese New Year fell in January this year. The January gaming win topped $1 billion, the first time that milestone has been reached since September 2008.

“This month, really what it shows, is that core customer really was strong,” Lawton said.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported today that visitor volume in February was up 6.4 percent over February 2011. Convention attendance was up by more than 23 percent. Air traffic was up 6.6 percent.

All these numbers helped the state overcome the lack of the Chinese New Year in February, he said.

Looking at the Strip without baccarat, all gaming volumes are up for the fiscal year and in February as well, Lawton said. Slot volume on the Strip has seen increases in 10 of the last 12 months.

“So those are the things we’ve been looking for all along, is that, OK, baccarat has been carrying the load,” he said. “We need the core customer to come back and have this nice blend of the two and that is kind of what we’re experiencing now. So it’s good.”

Lawton said there is a lot of good news in the February report.

“That’s now five consecutive monthly increases for the state; we haven’t seen that since 2006,” he said. “I mean the list goes on and on. There is just a lot of positives that we can draw from this month’s results.”

The gaming percentage fee tax collections, which help fund the state budget, are now up $10.8 million over what was forecast by the Economic Forum.

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Audio clips:

Gaming Control Board analyst Michael Lawton says the February results show the core customer was strong:

041012Lawton1 :23 Chinese New Year.”

Lawton says the statewide strength is what the gaming industry has been waiting for:

041012Lawton2 :13 So it’s good.”

Lawton says the state has now seen five consecutive monthly gaming wins:

041012Lawton3 :12 this month’s results.”

 

New Highway Patrol, Capitol Police Appointments Made By Department Of Public Safety

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 10:47 am April 10th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Two top state law enforcement positions have been filled by the Nevada Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Troy Abney was named as chief of the Nevada Highway Patrol after a national search. Abney has 28 years of law enforcement experience, including serving as the assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol where he led 786 sworn and non-sworn members.

Abney brings 28 years of increasingly progressive law enforcement experience to the position. His most recent position was the director of training at the Oregon Department of Public Safety.

“Chief Abney’s extensive professional and personal knowledge, skills, and abilities will be an excellent fit for the Nevada Highway Patrol and the state of Nevada,” said DPS Deputy Director James Wright.

Abney takes over from Tony Almaraz, who retired.

The agency also announced the selection of Tom Navin as chief of the Capitol Police Division.

Navin’s 25 years of law enforcement experience with the San Jose Police Department includes a wide range of career assignments, including supervising the Patrol Division and Traffic Enforcement Unit. He completed his career by serving as chief pilot for fixed-wing operations.

“Chief Navin comes to the department with a wealth of knowledge in the law enforcement field and will bring great leadership to the division,” said DPS Director Chris Perry.

Navin has a passion for flying and is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a Gold Seal Certified Flight Instructor. He has a degree in emergency medical care and rescue and is currently pursuing a law degree from Northwestern California University School of Law.

Navin replaces Jay Logue, who retired.

Nevada Out Of Running For New Federal Race To The Top Funds

By Sean Whaley | 3:46 pm April 9th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada is out of the running for next round of federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge funds to improve early childhood education.

Nevada submitted its application in November 2011.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services announced today that $133 million from the 2012 Race to the Top fund will be available for continued investments in state-level, comprehensive early education reform.

The agencies have invited the next five applicants from the Fiscal Year 2011 slate – Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin – to apply for a share of the funds.

“The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge has demonstrated the dedication among states and early education and child development experts to raise the bar on early learning,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Continuing to support states with 2012 funding will help build on the momentum from the 2011 competition, and engage more states in furthering their critical work to transition effective early learning programs into systems of excellence.”

In 2011, 35 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico applied to Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, creating plans that increase access to high-quality programs for children from low-income families, and provide more children from birth to age 5 with a strong foundation needed to succeed in school and beyond. In December 2011, nine states were awarded grants: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.

Eligibility for 2012 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge funding was based on the strength of applications among states that participated but did not receive awards in the 2011 competition. New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, Illinois and Wisconsin each earned approximately 75 percent or more of total points possible on a 300-point scale in the 2011 competition. The five states will each be eligible to apply for up to 50 percent of last year’s potential award amount.

Following the 2011 competition, the U.S. Department of Education conducted a thorough review of applicant and reviewer feedback, as well as reviewers’ scores and comments. The review found minor scoring inconsistencies for seven states: Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Wisconsin.

These discrepancies did not have an effect on the 2011 competition. Nonetheless, the department consulted with the original peer reviewer in each case, and as a result, scores changed slightly for five states: Hawaii was 135.2 and has been revised to 125.2; Kentucky was 208.4 and has been revised to 207.2; Massachusetts was 267 and has been revised to 257; New Mexico was 236 and has been revised to 236.2; and Wisconsin was 234 and has been revised to 224. The overall score did not change for Nevada or New York.

Nevada ranked 29th among those submitting applications.

Nevada also missed out on race to the top funding for its public education system in 2010.

Teachers Union President “Excited” That Business Profits Tax Ballot Proposal Moving Forward

By Sean Whaley | 1:56 pm April 9th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The president of the powerful state teachers union said today she is “excited” that another labor organization, the AFL-CIO, plans to pursue a business profits tax initiative petition.

“It will be a big deal,” said Lynn Warne, head of the Nevada State Education Association. “We’re excited that Danny (Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO) has decided to move forward with this. Anything we can do about funding our schools adequately in this state is great.”

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

Warne did not say in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program that the teachers’ union will be throwing its weight behind the petition drive, however.

Thompson said last week his group will push forward to collect the 72,352 signatures by  November 13 to take the tax proposal to the 2013 Legislature. Lawmakers will have 40 days to approve the proposal or it will go to the voters in 2014. Lawmakers could also offer a competing tax proposal to appear on the ballot, but a two-thirds vote would be required to move any tax measure forward in the Legislature.

Thompson said the proposed tax, which would be assessed on net business profits in excess of $500,000 at a rate of 2 percent, has been projected by some analysts to bring in about $1 billion a year to the state general fund. The money would go to fund public and higher education. The initiative petition has not yet been filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun last week, Warne said the teachers union has not signed off on Thompson’s proposed tax petition because of concerns regarding the language. Warne said she supports in concept the effort by to raise money for schools.

The teachers union had indicated in January that it would sign on to the tax proposal.

In the NewsMakers interview, Warne said 2014 could be a major election year in Nevada with GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval up for re-election and a business profits tax measure on the ballot as well.

Sandoval has moved “a bit in the direction of needing to keep our education budgets whole,” she said. But Sandoval’s plan to continue a package of taxes set to sunset on June 30, 2013 into the next budget to avoid further cuts to education is inadequate, Warne said.

“We’re still at funding levels that are lower than the 2003 funding for the education budget, so no, it’s not enough and I think the governor would acknowledge that as well,” she said. “But it’s going to help.”

Warne said the two competing tax measures being pushed by Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller, one seeking to give the Legislature the authority to raise the mining tax and a second that would increase the gaming tax on the state’s largest casinos, are being pursued to confuse voters about the business tax proposal.

“Mining and gaming are the low hanging fruit in this state in terms of targets for tax increases,” she said. “And so Monte has picked those. There are a lot of questions as to his sincerity as to whether or not he would want to see those move forward. He has even made comments that should gaming try and strangle Danny’s effort then he will back off his gaming initiatives.”

Warne said the association has never had any discussions with Miller regarding his two petitions.

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Audio clips:

NSEA President Lynn Warne says the association is excited the AFL-CIO is moving forward with a business profits tax:

040912Warne1 :13 adequately is great.”

Warne says Sandoval’s plan to continue the sunsetting taxes isn’t enough but it will help:

040912Warne2 :18 going to help.”

Warne says there are questions as to whether Monte Miller is sincere about his tax petitions:

040912Warne3 :18 those move forward.”

State GOP Cites Voter Gains In Four Key Senate Districts, Democrats Question Relevancy Of Analysis

By Sean Whaley | 3:33 pm April 6th, 2012

CARSON CITY – While Democrats registered more voters in March than Republicans, a GOP official noted this week that the party has made gains in four state Senate districts that are key to who will control the house in the 2013 legislative session.

A spokesman for Senate Democrats questioned the importance of the GOP analysis, however, noting that Democrats registered more voters than Republicans in two of the seats from February to March.

Democrats now hold an 11-10 edge in the 21 member Senate, and both parties agree that the five races that are in play among the 12 Senate seats on the November general election ballot are crucial to which party will hold the majority.

Secretary of State Ross Miller reported on Tuesday that Democrats registered 1,590 more voters statewide than Republicans in March.

Through March, Democrats have 452,219 active registered voters, while Republicans have 403,565 and nonpartisans total 175,992. The remainder of the 1,095,017 active voters belong to minor parties.

But Republicans made gains in four of five state Senate races considered competitive between the two major parties based on the number of active voters as tallied by the Clark County Election Department. All are in Clark County and all are open races with no incumbents.

The numbers of active voters as reported by Clark County are through April 5, and are different than those reported by the Secretary of State’s office through March 31.

The GOP improvement is based on Clark County voter registration numbers earlier this month, prior to an update that moved some voters to inactive status.

Inactive voter status includes voters who have moved. Inactive voters are eligible to vote so long as they have met all other legal requirements to vote.

The GOP analysis shows:

- In Senate District 5, where former Henderson city councilman Steve Kirk and Annette Teijeiro, both Republicans, face Democrat and former state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, Democrats now lead 40.5 percent to 37.4 percent, with the GOP closing the gap by 0.9 percent. Democrats now have a 1,677 vote lead.

Author: David Ball, via Wikimedia Commons.

- In Senate District 6, where GOP attorney Mark Hutchison is facing Benny Yerushalmi and Thomas Welsh, both Democrats, Democrats now lead 41.4 percent to 38.2 percent, with the GOP closing the gap by 1.2 percent. Democrats now have a 1,785 vote lead.

- In Senate District 9, where Republicans Mari Nakashima St. Martin and Brent Jones face Democrats Justin Jones and Frederick Conquest, Democrats now lead 39.6 percent to 35.3 percent, with Republicans closing the gap by 0.5 percent. Democrats have an 1,831 vote lead.

- In Senate District 18, where Republicans Scott Hammond, Richard McArthur and Conrad Vergara face Democrats Kelli Ross and Donna Schlemmer, Republicans now lead 40.7 percent to 37.7 percent, with Republicans adding to their advantage by 0.6 percent. Republicans now have a lead of 1,619 voters.

- In the Reno race in Senate District 15 between Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, Democrats added slightly more voters in March, 93, than Republicans, 32. Republicans have a voter lead of 1,430 votes, or 40.1 percent to 38 percent. These are based on the Secretary of State’s numbers through March 31.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, campaign chairman for the Senate Republican Caucus said: “Our primary advantage is the excellent candidates that will represent the GOP in every crucial state Senate race this election cycle – candidates that are 100 percent dedicated to improving Nevada’s education system and economy.

“Our candidates will work harder, have better campaign organizations, and will have all the resources they need to win in November,” he said. “Our confidence level is higher than ever that Senate Republicans will go into the next legislative session with a 12-9 majority.”

Michael Luce, executive director for the Nevada Senate Democrats, said the updated active voter rolls in Clark County leave Senate Democrats, “with a sizable advantage that will grow larger as we move closer to the election.”

“The numbers of inactive voters in these districts makes this issue irrelevant, as they were all less than 1 percent,” he said. “While Republicans appear to be celebrating what is essentially a routine recoding of some voters who did not update their addresses, our strategy is to continue ramping up our voter registration efforts as evidenced by Democrats outpacing Republicans last month in new registered voters.”

Luce also noted that over 30,000 voters classified as inactive voted in the 2010 election, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

 

Transportation Board Member Questions Selection Process For New Agency Director

By Sean Whaley | 10:59 am April 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A member of the state Transportation Department Board of Directors questioned today the proposed selection process for a new agency director.

Member Tom Fransway questioned whether the construction industry should be involved in the process of selecting the finalists to bring to the board for an appointment to replace Director Susan Martinovich, who is retiring on Sept. 6.

Fransway said the director and governor should pick the finalists.

At that point, the construction industry and others could get involved, he said.

“Because you are leaving with the highest of standing,” Fransway told Martinovich. “You know the job description. You know the ins and outs of the way the department is handled. And I am very comfortable with having you go through the applications, after HR (human resources) looks at them, along with the governor’s office, because this is a cabinet level position.”

Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation, is retiring in September. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

But other members of the board, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, supported the selection process and the involvement of the construction industry in picking finalists for the position.

Martinovich said the process outlined to the board at its meeting today is new, and is intended to make the selection transparent for the public.

Two members of the construction industry, one from northern Nevada and another from the south, would be among seven members of a selection committee to review the applicants and recommend at least three finalists to the board. Also involved in the review would be a representative of the Nevada Association of Counties, representatives of the northern and southern Regional Transportation Commission boards, a transportation industry member and a member of the governor’s staff.

Martinovich will also assist in the applicant review in a non-voting capacity.

The review process by the nominating committee will be subject to the state’s Open Meeting Law

Sandoval said he wanted the industry involved because otherwise it would be too much of a closed process if it was just the current director and governor’s office involved in picking the finalists.

“For me it’s important to have their input into the process,” he said. “So I’m trying to broaden it out. It is new. There is no doubt about this. But I appreciate the director’s comments about being open and transparent and having the opportunity to have as much input from the folks that are going to be dealing with the new director on a daily basis.”

The timeline is to accept applications for six weeks beginning April 9. The nominating committee will forward its selections to the board at its June 25 meeting. The candidates will be interviewed in a public meeting on July 23 at which time a new director will be selected.

Board member Frank Martin said having the construction industry involved in the selection is critical, “because they are a very integral part of what that department does every day.”

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, also a board member, asked that it be made clear that having the construction industry involved in the selection process will not create an issue for the new director when contracts are awarded.

There is no way any currying of favor could occur in the process of awarding contracts, she said.

Martinovich agreed, saying the contracts are low bid and they are scrutinized by many officials within the agency before being approved by the director, and if they are over $5 million, by the board.

“So I don’t see an issue with that,” she said.

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Audio clips:

Board member Tom Fransway says the director and governor’s office should pick the finalists:

040512Fransway :36 cabinet level position.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he asked that the construction industry be involved:

040512Sandoval :16 a daily basis.”

Board member Frank Martin says having the industry involved is critical:

040512Martin :12 does every day.”

 

Sen. Dean Heller Asks House Committee To Focus On GSA, Not Nevada, At Upcoming Hearing

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:26 pm April 4th, 2012

CARSON CITYU.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., today sent a letter to U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.,  chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, requesting that his upcoming hearing focus on the misdeeds of the General Services Administration (GSA), not Nevada.

On Tuesday Mica announced his committee will conduct a hearing of GSA’s activities, including a training conference held in Henderson in October 2010. GSA chief Martha Johnson resigned after she dismissed two deputies and suspended other career employees over the incident.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

“Heller’s letter says in part: “I agree that the GSA’s actions are inexcusable. Taxpayer dollars should be spent responsibly and those responsible for any misuse should be held accountable.  However, while you investigate this matter, it should be noted that it was not the location that caused the misuse of taxpayer funds. The convention services my state offers are the best in the world, and no town in Nevada should be singled out due to the poor judgment by the GSA.

“Right now, Nevada leads the nation in unemployment,” he said. “It is my hope that members of the House and Senate can focus on the misjudgments of the GSA without unfairly targeting Nevada’s unparalleled accommodations and convention services.”

The $823,000 conference was held at the M Resort and Casino, and included a clown and a mind reader. It was the subject of a critical report by the GSA Office of Inspector General.

 

 

2011 Public Employee Salary Data Shows Nearly 1,000 Workers In The $200K Club

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am April 4th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nearly 1,000 state and local government workers, many of them firefighters and police, make over $200,000 a year when all pay and benefits are counted, according to a 2011 pay analysis published today by the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

The number of public employees earning $200,000 or more could be even higher, but the conservative think tank said some government entities, including the cities of Reno and Henderson, the Washoe County School District and the state of Nevada, did not provide information on the cost of benefits.

A Nevada think tank has added 2011 public employee salary information to its website.

There were 932 public employees who hit the $200,000 mark in 2009, 1,174 in 2010 and 995 in the most recent data now available at Transparent Nevada.

The top salary spot in Nevada is held by William Zamboni with the Nevada System of Higher Education’s School of Medicine at $1.3 million in 2011, although much of his earnings are the result of income from his medical practice.

Las Vegas Police Department Assistant Sheriff Michael McClary earned nearly $545,000 in total compensation, according to the data provided to NPRI, while Chris Ault, football coach at the University of Nevada, Reno, earned $521,000.

Andy Matthews, president of NPRI, said that giving the public and policy makers access to the salary information helps ensure that critical data needed to make spending decisions is available for review by everyone.

Taxpayers can use the data to determine on their own if government officials are being responsible with public money, he said.

Despite claims that government budgets are already stretched thin, the salary data suggests otherwise, Matthews said.

“There are still a lot of instances of overspending, and abnormally high government salaries at various levels of government here in our state, and this at a time when so many of us in the private sector are hurting, and Nevada’s families and business owners and individuals are really struggling,” he said. “I think it’s really a reminder that we have a ways to go still in terms of reigning in excessive government spending.”

A lot of the high salaries are at the local government level. Examples include a Clark County fire captain who brought in more than $525,000 in total compensation in 2011 and a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, English professor who received more than $326,000 in total compensation.

There are 145 Las Vegas Police Department employees who earned more than $200,000 last year, and another 59 police and correction officers in North Las Vegas who exceeded $200,000 for the year.

A lot of the salaries need to be scrutinized, Matthews said.

“For example the base pay of the city clerk in North Las Vegas is more than $145,000,” he said. “Well, the base pay for Gov. Sandoval is just a little more than $143,000.”

Matthews said there is some good news in the 2011 data that suggests elected officials are responding to concerns about public salaries, particularly with firefighter salaries.

The number of firefighters earning more than $200,000 declined in 2011 compared to 2010, he said. For example, the number of Clark County fire fighters in that salary level came down from 199 in 2010 to 140 in 2011.

“I would say these numbers are still too high but at least represents some steps in the right direction,” Matthews said. “And I think that the fact that we at NPRI have started to publicize this information and make this known; I think that that certainly has played a role.”

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Audio clips:

NPRI President Andy Matthews says there is still evidence of excessive public salaries:

040512Matthews1 :23 excessive government spending.”

Matthews says the base pay of the North Las Vegas city clerk is higher than that for Gov. Brian Sandoval:

040412Matthews2 :12 more than $143,000.”

Matthews says there has been some improvement in reducing high salaries:

040412Matthews3 :16 played a role.”