Archive for June, 2012

Nevada Taxable Sales Sees Modest But Solid Gain In April

By Sean Whaley | 2:31 pm June 29th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s taxable sales climbed by 5.1 percent in April over April 2011, continuing a 22 consecutive month trend of positive numbers for the important economic indicator, the state Department of Taxation reported this week.

The $3.5 billion in taxable purchases in April were buoyed by double-digit gains in several major categories, including construction; up 16.1 percent, merchant wholesalers-durable goods, up 10.2 percent; and motor vehicle and parts dealers, up 10.5 percent.

For the fiscal year through April taxable sales are up 7.2 percent over the same period in the 2011 fiscal year.

Clark County was up 4.9 percent in April, while Washoe County eked out a small 0.2 percent gain. Thirteen of 17 Nevada counties reported gains in taxable sales in April.

Bryan Wachter, director of government affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada, said the solid gains in April came even without a lot of shopping ahead of Easter, which fell on April 8 this year. Much of the Easter shopping came in March, he said.

“It did get a little bit warmer starting in March, so we saw a lot of purchases that people traditionally make when it starts getting warmer made a little bit earlier in the season than maybe last year,” he said. “All things considered April was a very good month.”

General merchandise stores were up 2.4 percent in April, clothing and accessories stores were up 1.8 percent, furniture and home furnishings were up 5 percent, and accommodations were up 13.4 percent.

The home furnishings increase, “is a great number, especially given our housing situation,” Wachter said. “The fact that that number has consistently remained up we view as positive.”

The accommodations number is good news, since Nevada needs its gaming and tourism industries to come back as well, he said.

Sales and use taxes collected from purchases are 4.2 percent ahead of projections for the state general fund for the fiscal year through April, meaning there is nearly $28 million more than was forecasted for the period.

Wachter said this will mean additional money for education and health and human services in the next budget cycle.


Audio clips:

Bryan Wachter, director of government affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada, said April was a good month for taxable sales:

062912Wachter1 :25 very good month.”

Wachter says the home furnishings increase is particularly good given the state of Nevada’s housing market:

062912Wachter2 :27 in that category.”

Sandoval ‘Extremely Disappointed’ Clark County Suing To Recover Funds Taken By Lawmakers In 2009

By Sean Whaley | 1:34 pm June 29th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval says he is disappointed that Clark County has decided to sue to recover $102.5 million in property taxes taken by the 2009 Legislature to balance Nevada’s budget, but said the “state is on very solid ground in this case.”

“We’ve been trying to work with Clark County, again, for months,” he said in a Thursday interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program. “And I was extremely disappointed that they weren’t willing to come to the table to try and resolve this. And those chose to litigate rather than try to work it out.”

Author=User:Avjoska via Wikimedia Commons.

The county submitted a claim for the money to the state Board of Examiners in September 2011 following a Nevada Supreme Court ruling in May 2011 that said the Nevada Legislature improperly took $62 million in 2010 from the Clean Water Coalition fund to balance the state budget. Washoe County submitted a claim for $21.5 million to the state citing the same case.

Negotiations had been under way between the state and Clark County for several months before the lawsuit was filed. Washoe County has not sued to recover the taxes.

“As I say, at the end of the day, I think it would be more prudent, and more reasonable, for the Clark County Commission to work and try to resolve this short of litigation,” Sandoval said. “It doesn’t do any good for the state and counties to be in court.”

Sandoval said he does not believe Clark’s claim, “is anywhere near” $100 million.

“If we have to, we’ll play this out in court and see what the outcome is,” he said.

The Supreme Court Clean Water ruling led to an agreement by Sandoval and a majority of state lawmakers to extend a set of taxes that were set to expire on June 30, 2011, into the current budget to balance the spending plan. The tax extension replaced local revenues Sandoval had originally proposed to use to balance the state budget.

Based on the Clean Water ruling, the two counties decided to seek the return of money used by the 2009 Legislature as well. The Legislature in 2009 required the state’s two largest counties, Clark and Washoe, to give up 9 cents per $100 in assessed valuation collected in property taxes to the state. The actions by lawmakers in 2009 occurred before Sandoval became governor.

“I am disappointed that after months of negotiating, we have not been able to reach an agreement,” Clark County Manager Don Burnette told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a report published June 14.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he is extremely disappointed that Clark County decided to sue over the refund request:

062912Sandoval1 :10 and resolve this.”

Sandoval says the dispute should be resolved through negotiation:

062912Sandoval2 :12 be in court.”



Views Mixed On Effect Of New National Public Pension Reporting Rules On Nevada PERS

By Sean Whaley | 11:50 am June 29th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) has voted to approve two new standards that the group says will substantially improve the accounting and financial reporting of public employee pensions by state and local governments.

“The new standards will improve the way state and local governments report their pension liabilities and expenses, resulting in a more faithful representation of the full impact of these obligations,” said GASB Chairman Robert H. Attmore. “Among other improvements, net pension liabilities will be reported on the balance sheet, providing citizens and other users of these financial reports with a clearer picture of the size and nature of the financial obligations to current and former employees for past services rendered.”

The new rules were approved June 25 and take effect beginning in 2014.

There are differences of opinion about whether the new reporting requirements will mean significant changes for how the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) calculates and funds its long-term liability.

Dana Bilyeu of PERS says the changes won’t be significant in Nevada

Bilyeu, executive officer of Nevada PERS, said the new rules are not expected to change the metrics that form the basis for how the public pension plan liability is currently being funded over the long-term. Pension funding is governed by the Actuarial Standards of Practice, not GASB, she said.

The GASB rules require uniform reporting of pension liabilities for the purpose of providing comparable information, for instance, when states or municipalities sell bonds, Bilyeu said The new rules may lead to confusion because there will be two different numbers used to calculate pension liabilities when they take effect, she said.

The funding side of the public pension plan in Nevada will continue to use assumptions built around plan experience such as an eight percent return annualized over 30 years, Bilyeu said.

The rate for the financial reporting rule will be different, but not dramatically so, in Nevada, she said, in light of current plan experience.

“In Nevada, at least preliminarily, I don’t see a huge difference,” she said. “What they’re trying to do is put standards in place so there is uniformity in reporting in the bond market, as well as for other uses of financial statements.”

For states such as Illinois that do not fully fund their public pension plans on a consistent basis, the reported liability discount rate for financial reporting could be much lower, closer to 4 percent, Bilyeu said.

The concept is designed to allow the users of the financial statements, as in the bond market, to evaluate what the default risk is for the sponsor by showing a measure of how that sponsor pays on other debt, such as pension debt.

Bilyeu said she is concerned that the rate of return used for financial reporting purposes will be used by critics of the public pension program to argue contribution rates should be higher than those calculated now to fund the system using the estimated 8 percent discount rate.

The financial reporting rule will lend itself to much more volatile results over time, she said.

The two different numbers that will be reported in future years are not meant to be comparable, Bilyeu said. In fact GASB specifically indicated that the new pension reporting requirements are deliberately drafted so as not to influence funding decisions, she said.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute says the changes could spur PERS reforms

Geoff Lawrence, deputy policy director at the libertarian think tank, said at the least the new rules will present a more accurate report showing that public that pension liabilities, in Nevada and elsewhere, are much greater than what are being estimated currently.

There is still a lot of uncertainty because the actual rules won’t be available for review until August.

But since the long-time liability of PERS is only 70 percent funded, the new reporting could push the system to imposing higher contribution rates to make it fully funded, he said.

“It looks like GASB is going to allow pension systems that they consider well-funded to continue with the same accounting methods that they’ve used in the past regarding the discount rate,” Lawrence said. “And well-funded pension systems are usually considered those within 80 percent funding level or above. Now Nevada PERS, along with many other states, currently falls below that funding ratio.”

If forced to use a lower discount rate, Nevada and other public pension plans will see their unfunded liabilities grow by tens of billions of dollars, he said.

If a 5 percent return calculation is used for PERS, the liability is closer to $35 billion than $10 billion, and would require much higher contribution rates, Lawrence said.

“I guess the take away for most citizens and lawmakers and so forth is that cities, counties and the state are now going to face higher annual contribution rates in order to work towards retiring that unfunded liability amount which is going to be much higher,” he said.

The contribution rate for this year and next in Nevada is 23.75 percent of a regular public employee’s wage, with half paid by the employer and half by the employee. The contribution rate will be recalculated in November for the next two-year budget. The rate for public safety employees is much higher.

Higher contribution rates mean bigger financial hits to taxpayers.

The new rule will spur some public recognition that pension liabilities are being under reported, Lawrence said.

“We are going to have these two sets of numbers, and one is the official GASB number which most economists are going to throw their weight behind,” he said. “And it’s going to show some disconnect at the legislative level and within PERS administration that is probably going to compel some type of drive towards changing the fund management rules at the state level.”

Changing the state pension plan to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan would eliminate the unfunded liability for the future, but the liability for the current plan will still have to be funded over time.

Nevada PERS, which covers most state and local government workers, is a defined benefit pension plan, guaranteeing a set retirement income based on years of service and salary.

The Pew Center on the States recently reported that the financial health of Nevada’s public employee pension plan is cause for serious concern because it is only 70 percent funded as of fiscal year 2010 with a $10 billion gap. The funding ratio in Nevada is below the 80 percent benchmark that fiscal experts recommend for a sustainable program.

Bilyeu has argued, however, that Nevada has always fully funded its annual pension obligations as calculated by an independent actuary, and that this is a better measure for determining the health of a public employee pension plan than the funding ratio.

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he intends to pursue changes to PERS in 2013

Sandoval on Thursday reiterated his intention to make changes to the pension plan in the 2013 legislative session during an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

“Of course I’m concerned about our PERS system, the public employee retirement system, and the fact that it is underwater,” he said.

Sandoval said one of his disappointments of the 2011 session was getting a bill through providing for a study of PERS, but only if private sector funding was obtained. That money was not forthcoming and the study did not proceed.

“Right now I’m working to get a study done so that we can have the background, but at the end of the day we know that we have to reform our PERS system because we can’t keep going in the direction that we are,” he said.

There are critics of the new GASB rules

A national group, the National Public Pension Coalition, has criticized the new rules.

“These accounting changes undermine the retirement security of teachers, cops, firefighters and other public workers by making unfunded liabilities appear much larger than they actually are,” said Jordan Marks, executive director of the group. “These unnecessary changes add a new layer of red tape resulting in wasteful administrative costs for taxpayers, enabling politicians to slash the modest pensions of public workers while continuing to let Wall Street off-the-hook.”

The new rules are found in Statement No. 67, Financial Reporting for Pension Plans, which revises existing guidance for the financial reports of most pension plans, and Statement No. 68, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions, which revises and establishes new financial reporting requirements for most governments that provide their employees with pension benefits. The complete rules will not be available for review until August.

The GASB is the independent, not-for-profit organization formed in 1984 that establishes and improves financial accounting and reporting standards for state and local governments. Its seven members are drawn from the board’s diverse constituency, including preparers and auditors of government financial statements, users of those statements, and members of the academic community.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he will pursue changes to PERS in the next legislative session:

062912Sandoval :10 that we are.”

Geoff Lawrence of NPRI says Nevada PERS does not meet the definition of a well-funded plan:

062912Lawrence1 :29 that funding ratio.”

Lawrence says the new GASB rules could require higher contribution rates to retire the unfunded liability:

062912Lawrence2 :24 be much higher.”

Lawrence says the new rules could prompt changes to PERS fund management rules:

062912Lawrence3 :27 the state level.”



Sandoval Defends Secrecy, Tax Breaks Needed To Lure Apple To Northern Nevada

By Sean Whaley | 3:36 pm June 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today defended the secretive process that led to a decision by Apple to build a data center and related facilities in the Reno area that will bring $1 billion in investment over the next decade.

“This is a long-term negotiation,” he said in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program. “We’re talking to companies all the time and there is always a confidentiality provision. If there was some public discussion with regard to what the negotiations were it could have nixed the deal. And I don’t want to take that risk.

“Once the deal was struck then it immediately was given to the local governments,” Sandoval said. “There were public hearings that all occurred yesterday and the day before before the Washoe County Commission, before the Washoe County School Board, before the Reno City Council, that gave ample opportunity for comment and debate.”

A big part of the deal was $89 million in state and local tax breaks to lure the Cupertino, Calif., company to Northern Nevada. Sandoval also defended the incentives being provided to Apple.

Courtesy of Apple

“There are 49 other states who would have loved to have what we have,” he said. “And there were negotiations that went on back-and-forth. I had an opportunity to meet with some of the Apple officials early on and I think it was a great outcome for Nevada.

“I think it’s going to be a very strong magnet for us,” he said. “It shows that we’re in the game. It’s very competitive for these data centers across the United States. And Apple is going to look to see where we can go.”

“When you catch an apple, we had to do what we had to do to get them here,” Sandoval said.

“But yes, we’re giving those $89 million but we’re also going to be getting so much more than that,” he said. “We are still going to be receiving tax revenue for our schools and for our local governments. It’s going to be producing tertiary jobs in the community as well. There are going to be 40-plus full-time jobs at Apple. There is going to be a huge amount of construction that is going to produce 400 to 500 jobs. I can’t say it over and over enough that it is a big win for us.”

The deal depends on all the tax breaks being approved.

“We hope to build Apple’s next data center in Reno to support Apple’s iTunes Store, App Store and incredibly popular iCloud services,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet told AllThingsD.

Sandoval said the development is unique because there is no data center now in Northern Nevada, so the agreement and related tax breaks is not anti-competitive with other area businesses that might want incentives to expand.

“It’s apples and oranges,” he said. “Of course we want to help the existing businesses in the state of Nevada.”

The state also wants to pursue other companies that might bring data centers or other business components here, Sandoval said.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the Apple deal means that Nevada is competitive for attracting new companies:

062812Sandoval1 :25 we can go.”

Sandoval says Nevada is getting a lot in return for the $89 million in tax breaks:

062812Sandoval2 :24 win for us.”

Sandoval says the negotiations with Apple had to be confidential:

062812Sandoval3 :15 take that risk.”


Nevada Groups React To U.S. Supreme Court Decision On Health Care Law

By Sean Whaley | 1:52 pm June 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada groups and organizations weighed in on the controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the health care law today, with comments across the spectrum.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank, called it a, “practical and significant blow to individual liberty.”

Photo by Franz Jantzen courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Our nation’s founders intended the constitution to greatly restrict the power of the federal government, but unfortunately, this ruling further expands federal authority,” said Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation. “Not even King George believed he had the authority to compel colonists to buy the tea tossed overboard in Boston Harbor, yet we now have an expansion of federal authority which, through the force of taxation, mandates as a practical matter that citizens must buy private-sector goods.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at NPRI, said: “Just because the Supreme Court has ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional doesn’t change the damage this flawed policy will do to individuals in America’s health care system.

“The primary shortcoming of the health care industry is that government policies have induced too much cost-shifting and neutered the effectiveness of the price system,” he said. “The ACA just doubles down on this shortcoming by increasing the degree of cost-shifting to ludicrous proportions. Small businesses will pay more, families and individuals will pay more, and states could pay more.”

Nevada State Medical Association (NSMA) President Florence N. Jameson, M.D., a Las Vegas obstetrician-gynecologist and founder of Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada, said in part: “Unfortunately, major health care problems are not resolved by this law. The Congress and the president must continue to work to find an acceptable way to sustain Medicare for seniors and persons with disabilities and the Medicaid program for indigent and chronically ill children and seniors.

“Governor Brian Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature will have to determine the impact on Nevada Medicaid of the Supreme Court’s decision, but it doesn’t make the funding of the Medicaid program easier,” she said. “It means that they must address again the often unfair way that health insurance coverage fails patients when they have the greatest need for medical care.”

Randi Thompson, Nevada state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, which was the named plaintiff in today’s landmark decision, said: “The Supreme Court may have ruled that the act may be constitutional, but it’s not good policy.

“I agree with the dissenting statement that the Affordable Care Act exceeds federal power in mandating the purchase of health insurance,” she said. “The court confirmed the mandate is a tax on every American. Add the mandate tax to a host of other new taxes in the new heath care law and you have the most costly bill every thrust on the American taxpayer.”

Michael Ginsburg, Southern Nevada director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said: “This law expands coverage to more than 30 million people and eliminates the worst insurance company abuses such as premium price-gouging, discrimination and denial of care for the sick in order to increase corporate profits. This decision makes clear that implementation of the law must move forward at the state and federal level without further delays from partisan political interference – including governors and elected officials.”

Scotty Watts, president of the Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans, said: “Today is an historic day for Americans of all ages, an affirmation of a law that helps children, workers, and retirees obtain affordable health care. Americans can now live more secure, knowing that their health and well-being are no longer tied to the whims and greed of the big insurance companies.”

“Today is a tremendous victory for Nevada  seniors, their children, and their grandchildren,” he said. “But we cannot rest on our laurels.  In the 2012 elections we cannot let politicians roll back the progress we have made.”

Nevada was one of 26 states that challenged the constitutionality of the law that resulted in today’s ruling. Nevada was represented by Las Vegas attorney Mark Hutchison, who worked on the case for free after Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto declined to challenge the law at former Gov. Jim Gibbons’ request.

Nevada State Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange said the decision, “offers relief to Nevadans with preexisting conditions, young people who can stay on their parents’ healthcare plans until they are 26 and seniors who rely on lower prescription drug costs.

“However, despite the Supreme Court settling this issue, Mitt Romney is still promising to fight old political battles of the past that would roll back protections from some of the worst abuses by the private insurance industry,” she said. “It’s time to move forward, end the partisan games and get back to work creating good paying middle-class jobs that stay here in Nevada.”

Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, said today: “What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare.

“Let’s make clear that we understand what the Court did and did not do,” he said. “What the court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it’s good policy.”

President Obama said in remarks at the White House: “The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law. And we’ll work together to improve on it where we can.  But what we won’t do – what the country can’t afford to do – is refight the political battles of two years ago, or go back to the way things were.

“With today’s announcement, it’s time for us to move forward – to implement and, where necessary, improve on this law,” he said. “And now is the time to keep our focus on the most urgent challenge of our time: putting people back to work, paying down our debt, and building an economy where people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead.”


Gov. Sandoval Says Effect Unclear On Nevada Medicaid, Delegation, Candidates Weigh In On Affordable Care Ruling

By Sean Whaley | 11:04 am June 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding much of the Affordable Care Act on the state’s Medicaid program remain unclear.

“The implications for Medicaid costs are still unclear, but Nevada will prepare to meet the serious financial implications of this decision,” he said in a statement shortly after the court ruled.

The court said in the ruling today that states could not be penalized if they did not go along with the Medicaid provisions in the law.

In an interview today on the Nevada NewsMakers program as the decision was announced, Sandoval said his intention would be not to opt in to the Medicaid expansion because of the costs to the state.

“And as I have said all along, that if that component had been found constitutional, it would cost us $60 million in this budget and $100 million in future budgets,” he said in the interview. “We can’t afford that. And to make that decision and to opt into that program, would mean that I would have to look at cutting education, at other what I think are untenable outcomes. So as I sit here today, it wouldn’t be my intention for this state to opt in.”

A statement from Sandoval’s office issued later in the day said the decision indicates states will have an option to expand Medicaid, but, “additional guidance is needed in order to understand the penalties for not expanding the Medicaid program and we must determine if there are savings to the general fund by shifting existing costs to the federal government. We will continue to examine today’s opinion to fully understand its implications.

“Therefore, given what we know today, the governor does not intend to automatically accept the Medicaid expansion,” the statement said. “These serious budgetary implications, including the impact on education spending, require further analysis – not just of the next biennial budget but of the long-term costs. Further information will be provided as the budgeting process unfolds over the next few months.”

In his initial statement on the ruling, Sandoval also said: “I believe the Congress should act to reform this law and ease the serious burdens it places on the states and the nation’s businesses. The American people remain deeply divided on the wisdom of this law and they are still entitled to see it changed.”

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said he too wants to see the law changed.

U.S. Supreme Court.

“This law has now been affirmed as a colossal tax increase on the middle class, and its excessive regulations are stripping businesses of the certainty they need to hire at a time when Nevadans and the rest of the country are desperate for jobs,” he said. “The president should work with Congress to find real solutions to healthcare reform so the excessive mandates and taxes in this law do not further add to our national debt or continue to stifle economic growth.

“This onerous law needs to be repealed and replaced with market-based reforms that will provide greater access, affordability, and economic certainty to our nation,” Heller said.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the matter is now settled.

“It’s time for Republicans to stop refighting yesterday’s battles,” he said.

“I’m pleased to see the Supreme Court put the rule of law ahead of partisanship, and ruled the Affordable Care Act constitutional,” Reid said. “Passing the Affordable Care Act was the greatest single step in generations toward ensuring access to affordable, quality healthcare for every American – regardless of where they live or how much money they make.

“No one thinks this law is perfect,” Reid said. “But Democrats have proven we’re willing to work with Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act.”

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said the ruling doesn’t make the health care act a good law.

“This is still the same flawed bill that was forced through Congress on a party line vote in the dead of night with special interest provisions like the ‘Cornhusker Kickback’ and the ‘Louisiana Purchase’,” he said. “And today we have learned that the law amounts to a huge tax increase on the American people in a struggling economy. We know that a majority of Americans think the law should be repealed and that it will increase health care costs, reduce access to care and add to our deficit.

“Instead of injecting more government into our health care system, our focus should be on patients, especially our seniors who rely on access to quality health care,” Heck said. “Our system is working for most Americans and it can work for all Americans through common sense reforms like moving insurance coverage towards an individual-based model, increasing competition by allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines, incentivizing the purchase of insurance through tax credits, and letting people, not the government, decide what services they need and want.

“The Supreme Court had their word on June 28, but the American people will have the final word on November 6,” Heck said.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera said it is time to refocus on jobs.

Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, who is challenging Heck in the 3rd Congressional District, said: “Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, it’s time that those in Washington moved on from trying to score political points instead of finding solutions. This decision doesn’t change the reality that too many Nevada families and small businesses are struggling to pay for the rising costs of health care.

“One thing we know for sure, if Washington politicians don’t stop the bickering and finger pointing and focus on what matters – creating jobs and getting our economy back on track – nothing will get done,” he said. “This shouldn’t be about politics – it should be about getting something done.”

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said it is time to repeal the law.

“Advocates for Washington-based management of health care and unprecedented tax increases on the middle class won today,” he said. “However, I will continue to work for patient-centered solutions, reductions in health care costs, and improving health care access for all Nevadans.

“I look forward to the opportunity to vote the week of July 9 for full repeal of this harmful government intrusion into health care,” Amodei said. “Congress created this mess and it’s our responsibility to clean it up. We owe it to the middle class to give them specific, well-thought out options focusing on portability of insurance across state lines and affordability, while not interfering with the patient-doctor relationship.

“This 2,700-page monster offends seniors, veterans, middle class families and employers,” he said. “I will continue to take every opportunity to repeal and address this mess for Nevadans in a practical way without picking political winners and losers.”

State Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he was pleased with the ruling.

In a campaign email, the 4th Congressional Democratic candidate said: “Today’s decision is a victory for those with pre-existing conditions, for women who now don’t have to pay more than men for care, and for Nevada seniors who will save on prescription drugs.

“Now Republicans in the House are scheduling a vote to repeal the health care law, instead of working on a jobs bill,” Horsford said. “The Republican Congress needs to stop playing political games and start working on getting our economy moving and creating jobs for Nevadans.”

GOP Congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian said the law needs to be repealed.

The candidate for the 4th Congressional seat said: “I have consistently stood against Obamacare and remain committed to its full repeal. Rather, we need to press forward with legislation that will extend the same tax incentives that businesses receive for providing health insurance to individuals who purchase their own plans. We need to get serious about tort reform and stabilize Medicare reimbursement rates. We need to make insurance portable and purchasable across state lines.

“When they should be focusing on promoting economic growth and creating jobs, Democrats insist instead on ramming through job-killing policies that increase taxes on Americans, like Obamacare,” Tarkanian said.

There was no immediate response from Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.

A big issue for Nevada is what the ruling means to the state’s Medicaid program.

The head of Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services said in May that as many as 150,000 more residents will be eligible for Medicaid coverage if the state has to comply with the Medicaid provisions. Bringing new residents onto the rolls was estimated to cost the state an estimated $574 million between now and 2020, said HHS Director Mike Willden.


Audio clip:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says it would not be his decision to opt into the Medicaid expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act:

062812Sandoval :24 to opt in.”



Tarkanian Campaign Says FEC Complaint Filed By Democrats An Attempt To Distract Voters

By Sean Whaley | 7:32 am June 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Danny Tarkanian for Congress campaign says a complaint filed with the Federal Elections Commission by the Nevada State Democratic Party is inaccurate and an effort to distract voters from their own failures.

“At a time when Nevadans are suffering under the weight of 11.6 percent unemployment and the nation as a whole awaits any sign of improvement in our struggling economy, Nevada Democrats and their liberal candidate, Steven Horsford, are trying to distract voters from their own failures on the economy and jobs by lobbing patently false attacks against the surging Republican candidate for Nevada’s Congressional District 4, Danny Tarkanian,” a statement from the campaign said.

Danny Tarkanian, candidate for Congress.

“For example, on the eve of the historic Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, Steven Horsford and Nevada Democrats are not trying to defend the merits of this overreaching and failed government program,” the statement said.

The campaign said one of the claims by the Democratic Party in the complaint, that he accepted an illegal $2,500 contribution above the legal limit from DeWayne Zinkin, is in error.

“In fact, had the Democrats paid attention to the details here, they would have seen that the contribution in question was in fact two separate donations from a father and his son,” the statement said. “It is this level of inattention from Washington Democrats that has led our economy to spiral out of control and jobs in Nevada to become harder to find – it is no wonder Steven Horsford is trying to shift attention from those facts.

“This repetitive and inaccurate line of attack is not only a symptom of Steven Horsford’s desperation and lack of faith in his own ideas, but a perfect example of why Nevada voters need, want, and prefer Danny Tarkanian to be their next Congressman,” the statement said.

Tarkanian won the June 12 Republican primary and now faces state Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the November general election in the new congressional district created as the result of the U.S. Census.

The Democratic Party filed its complaint on Wednesday.

Nevada Democrats File New FEC Complaint Against 4th Congressional Candidate Tarkanian

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:23 pm June 27th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Nevada State Democratic Party today filed a new complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against Danny Tarkanian for Congress.

The complaint alleges Tarkanian has received illegal campaign contributions and that he has failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating expenditures.

Tarkanian won the June 12 Republican primary and now faces state Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the November general election in the new congressional district created as the result of the U.S. Census.

The Tarkanian campaign had no immediate comment on the complaint.

4th Congressional GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian.

Among the reasons for the complaint:

- Tarkanian accepted an illegal $2,500 contribution above the legal limit from DeWayne Zinkin.

- Tarkanian failed to refund multiple illegal corporate contributions within the 30 day required period from five different entities.

- Because of a lack of proper accounting, Tarkanian failed to properly report as much as $250,000 in operating expenditures, which makes it impossible to determine what Tarkanian is spending money on.

“If Danny Tarkanian runs his business as sloppily as he runs his campaign’s finances, we’d strongly suggest he take an accounting 101 course,” said Nevada State Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange. “Understanding elementary accounting may not find him the $17 million he recently became in need of, but it would at least potentially stop him from breaking the law. While Danny Tarkanian may think he can play by his own set of rules, we’re going to hold him accountable.”

Lange was referring to a recent federal court decision in California that made Tarkanian and his family liable for a $17 million court judgment relating to a development project in Anza, Calif. Tarkanian has said he and his family were defrauded in the case.

It is the second complaint filed by the Democratic party against Tarkanian.

In May the party filed a complaint with the FEC regarding what it said were numerous irregularities in the first quarter FEC report of Danny Tarkanian for Congress.

The alleged irregularities included Tarkanian’s failure to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign debt leftover from his failed 2010 Senate campaign.

The Tarkanian campaign responded to the first complaint by saying: “After we complete our review of the complaint and the facts, any errors in the reports will be remedied immediately, and any other issues will be fully rectified.”


Group Representing Nevada Businesses Files Court Challenge To Teacher-Backed Margin Tax

By Sean Whaley | 10:35 am June 26th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs filed a lawsuit today against the “Education Initiative” (margin tax Initiative) charging that that the petition’s description of effect is deceptive and incomplete and that it violates the single-subject rule.

The complaint was filed in Carson City District Court.

“From the title on down, the initiative is deeply flawed and misleading,” said Josh Hicks, of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the attorney for the Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs. “The initiative has nothing to do with education and includes many aspects that are not mentioned in the initiative’s description. We believe that as written, this initiative violates Nevada law.”

The complaint notes that the 26-page “Education Initiative” mentions education only once in its description of effect and that it makes no provision for requiring that education funding be increased over current levels by “even a penny.”

The complaint also notes that the petition’s terms allow for a decrease in classroom funding, which would be an “unpleasant surprise” to Nevadans who sign it.

The Nevada State Education Association filed its petition with Secretary of State Ross Miller on June 6. It would levy a 2 percent tax on companies making gross revenues in excess of $1 million a year.

NSEA President Lynn Warne said at the time the tax would bring in an estimated $800 million a year from large Nevada corporations. She also said the petition is expected to withstand any legal scrutiny.

NSEA President Lynn Warne answered questions about the margin tax proposal when it was filed June 6. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Hicks said the initiative imposes a margin tax on businesses and increases the size of the Nevada Department of Taxation, a multi-million dollar government agency, to administer and audit the new tax.

“The petition’s title and description of effect will confuse Nevada voters and mislead them into signing a petition that does not do what it purports to do and that does do many things that are hidden from view,” he said.

As an example, Hicks noted that the description of effect makes no mention that taxpayer information will be posted on the internet in clear violation of taxpayer privacy rights guaranteed by Nevada law since 1979. In addition, the complaint notes that the description does not mention that even unprofitable and failing businesses that are losing money will still be subject to the tax and that “an increased taxation on failing businesses is certainly not going to improve the unemployment rate.”

“Quite clearly, this initiative is designed solely to increase general tax revenues and to take advantage of citizen’s concerns about education in order to mislead them into signing the petition and, later, into voting for it,” Hicks said. “Nevada law is quite clear in prohibiting such deceptions.”

The Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs is supported by a variety of Nevada organizations including: the Nevada Taxpayers Association; Retail Association of Nevada; Charles Baird; Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce; The First National Bank of Ely; Nevada Farm Bureau Federation; The Chamber; Nevada Manufacturers Association; Nevada Bankers Association; Nevada Petroleum Marketers Association; Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association; National Federation of Independent Business ; Nevada Trucking Association; Financial and Intangible Assets Enterprises of Nevada ; Las Vegas Sands Corporation; Keystone Corporation; and Nevada Chapter, Associated Builders and Contractors.


Nevada Wins $4 Million Grant For System To Measure Student Achievement

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 10:19 am June 26th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s Department of Education has been awarded a $4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to develop a system to measure individual student achievement over time.

Nevada was one of 24 states to receive funding to support the design and implementation of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS).

The grant will come to Nevada in a three-year cycle. The funds will allow the Nevada Department of Education much needed access to link, by the use of one unique student identifier, students starting from pre-kindergarten through high school and following them through postsecondary education and workforce development.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has asked that this data be used to both improve student outcomes and to fill Nevada’s diverse economic job needs.

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

“All the accountability measures we have enacted require better use of data,” Sandoval said. “This grant will move Nevada closer to a fully integrated system that follows learners from childhood to adulthood.”

Julian Montoya, assistant director of Assessment Data and Program Accountability, said: “Having this type of P-20W data will allow us to develop an early warning system. With an early warning system, we can direct students to the type of college or career ready jobs and into a field which will allow them a successful outcome for both the student and their state.”

Sandoval issued an executive order on Oct. 7, 2011 asking a state education panel to take the necessary steps to create a system to track students through their school years, following in the steps of other states as part of an overarching effort to reform education and improve student performance in Nevada. The grant is an important component of the effort.

That group, the P-16 Council, is working on the issue and will meet again July 5.

A national report showed that Nevada made progress in this effort in 2011. The Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) seventh annual state analysis, Data for Action 2011, shows that states have made major progress building their student data systems. More states than ever – 36, up from zero in 2005, including Nevada – have implemented all of DQC’s 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems.


Berkley Defends Actions In Preserving Kidney Program, Calls For Comprehensive Immigration Reform

By Sean Whaley | 8:06 pm June 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – U.S. Senate candidate and Rep. Shelley Berkley defended her efforts to preserve a kidney transplant program in Nevada in 2008, saying she never advocated for anything that was not in the best interests of patients and patient care.

Berkley, D-Nev., defended her role in preserving the program in response to questions in an interview on the Face To Face television program.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.

Berkley, who is facing U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., in a battle for the seat that could tip the balance of power in the Senate, also expressed disappointment that the U.S. Supreme Court today did not completely reject Arizona’s immigration law.

In a lengthy discussion of her ethics review, Berkley defended her actions.

“The reality is I’ve never done anything, or never advocated for anything that wasn’t in the best interest of patients and patient care,” she said.

Berkley said she has sponsored or co-sponsored over 100 pieces of health-related legislation, from breast cancer to osteoporosis, because of her commitment to patient care in Nevada.

“Would I have really stood back and done nothing when I knew that there was a possibility that the only kidney transplant program in the entire state of Nevada was going to be closed,” she said. “At the time it was going to be closed there were 200 Nevada patients waiting for a kidney transplant. This is a life-saving operation.”

The House of Representative’s Ethics Committee is expected to announce its course of action in the Berkley ethics issue by July 9. A complaint filed by the Nevada Republican Party,, prompted by a New York Times report, involves allegations that Berkley used her position to help her husband’s medical practice.

On the U.S. Supreme Court decision today repealing three of four major sections of the Arizona immigration law, Berkley said she was disappointed that the law was not rejected in its entirety.

She echoed the comments of many other elected officials today by saying the ruling makes it clear Congress and the president must address comprehensive immigration reform. The alternative is 50 different laws on immigration in the 50 states, Berkley said.

Berkley also offered qualified support both for the federal stimulus package approved early on in the Obama presidency, as well as the federal health care law that will see a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday.

Berkley said she voted for the health care law because in balance, it was best for Nevadans, particularly the 600,000 residents who don’t have health insurance. The vote was not the result of pressure from then-house majority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi or anyone else, she said.

Berkley said she supported the stimulus bill even though it was not a “silver bullet” because it was a good first step and necessary to move the economy forward.


Audio clips:

Rep. Shelley Berkley says her votes on a kidney transplant program were to ensure patient care:

062512Berkley1 :08 and patient care.”

Berkley says she had to act to save the program:

062512Berkley2 :20 life-saving operation.”


Nevada Independent American Party Files Presidential Candidate With Secretary of State

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:13 pm June 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – John Wagner, state chairman of the Independent American Party, today filed the party’s U.S. presidential and vice-presidential candidates with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office.

John Wagner.

Presidential candidate Virgil Goode is a former congressman from Virginia. Vice presidential candidate Jim Clymer is the immediate past national chairman of the Constitution Party. The Independent American Party is the Nevada state affiliate of the national Constitution Party.

Goode was a member of Ron Paul’s Liberty Caucus when he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was chosen as the Independent American Party’s presidential candidate at the National Convention in Nashville, Tennessee in April.

The Independent American Party also filed the names of the party’s presidential electors in order to vote in the Electoral College.

“Now the people of Nevada have a real choice for president, not just the twin party candidates that offer us more of the same,” Wagner said.


Gov. Brian Sandoval Says Today’s Ruling On Arizona Immigration Law Shows Need For Federal Reform

By Sean Whaley | 10:59 am June 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Arizona immigration law case points out the need for Congress and the president to come together and reform the country’s immigration laws.

“While I have always supported Arizona’s Tenth Amendment right to enact laws to address its unique concerns with public safety and have said all along the law is not needed in Nevada, I understand and respect the Supreme Court’s application of the Supremacy Clause,” he said.

Photo by Michael L. Dorn via Wikimedia Commons.

In today’s ruling, the court struck down much of the law passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed into law by GOP Gov. Jan Brewer.

One provision, requiring police to perform immigration checks on those they arrest or stop for questioning, was upheld by the court.

But other provisions, including one authorizing police to arrest immigrants without warrants where probable cause exists that they committed a public offense making them removable from the country, were struck down by the court.

Also rejected were sections making it a state crime for “unauthorized immigrants” to fail to carry registration papers and other government identification; and a ban on those not authorized for employment in the United States to apply, solicit or perform work.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., expressed concern at the section of the law that was upheld by the court.

“I am greatly concerned that the provision putting American citizens in danger of being detained by police unless they carry their immigration papers at all times will lead to a system of racial profiling,” he said in a statement.

“Immigration reform should continue securing our borders; punish unscrupulous employers who exploit immigrants and undercut American wages; pass the DREAM Act; and require the 11 million who are undocumented to register with the government, learn English, pay fines, pay taxes and go to the end of the line to legalize their status,” he said.

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada praised the ruling.

“This ruling is a victory for everyone who respects basic human rights and equal treatment and protection under the law,” PLAN organizer Mario De La Rosa said in a statement. “While we had hoped for the entire law to be struck down, we agree with the court’s decision to rule against SB1070′s most egregious violations of the United States Constitution.”

De La Rosa said the group will continue to advocate for and work towards a more humane and fair immigration process, and will work to block any efforts by Nevada policy makers to enact similar laws.

Several Nevada lawmakers introduced immigration-related bills in the 2011 session, but they failed to win support.


Nevada’s Higher Education System Gets Failing Grade For Student Access, Success In National Report

By Sean Whaley | 3:43 pm June 22nd, 2012

CARSON CITYNevada is one of four states to receive an “F” grade for student access and success in its higher education system from the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a report released this week.

The third edition of its Leaders & Laggards series, “A State-by-State Report Card on Public Postsecondary Education,” was released Tuesday. The report examines public colleges and universities in all 50 states, including four-year and two-year institutions, and is designed to provide an in-depth evaluation of data and a careful analysis of postsecondary performance and policy across states.

Courtesy of the Nevada State Treasurer's Office.

“With tuition growing, debt loads increasing, students questioning the marketplace value of their degrees, and large amounts of taxpayer dollars invested, the business community and the public are starting to ask questions of policymakers and higher education leaders,” said Margaret Spellings, president of ICW and a former U.S. Education Secretary. “This report begins to look at how states are doing in preparing students for jobs after college and the value state taxpayers are getting in meeting the demands of local economies and employers.”

The chamber is urging policy makers, the business community, and educators to craft a reform agenda that promotes transparency to the public, demands better data on performance and improved measurement of student outcomes.

For the first time, the report grades postsecondary institutions in the following six areas:

  • Student access and success
  • Efficiency and cost-effectiveness
  • Meeting labor market demand
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Policy environment
  • Innovation

The Nevada System of Higher Education received an F grade for “student access and success” at both its four-year and two-year institutions.

Of the failing grades for student access and success in Nevada, the report said: “The four-year institutions rank in the bottom 10 states in terms of completion rate and the percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants. The two-year institutions, despite having a retention rate in the top 10 states, ranked near the bottom on completion rates, credentials produced per 100 full-time equivalent undergraduates, and the percentage of Pell recipients.”

Nevada higher education officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Nevada’s three four-year institutions mustered a C grade for efficiency and cost effectiveness, and D grades in the categories of meeting labor market demand and transparency and accountability.

Its four two-year colleges received a C grade for meeting labor market demand, and D grades for efficiency and cost effectiveness and transparency and accountability.

Nevada’s higher education system as a whole received a C grade for its policy environment, a D grade for innovation: openness to providers, and an F grade for innovation: online learning.

“I think the results help illuminate that some state systems are doing a far better job of graduating students with the dollars they’re spending, and that too few states are providing students, families, and taxpayers with the information they need to make good choices or hold higher education institutions accountable,” said Rick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which conducted research for the report. “With tuition rising at three times the rate of inflation, we want to work with the business community to ensure that students who invest in their education learn the knowledge and skills necessary to enter an increasingly competitive global workforce.”


State Lawmaker Says Action To Delay Tourism Contract Exceeds Legislative Authority

By Sean Whaley | 1:12 pm June 22nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – State lawmakers have put a new tourism contract to promote Nevada on hold despite the concerns of one lawmaker that the move exceeds legislative authority.

Concerns have been raised by Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, about the intent to award the two-year, $3.2 million contract to an out-of-state firm.

Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest public relations firms in the country, was selected by a state agency to handle the promotion of Nevada for the next two years.

“We haven’t had a bad tourism plan in the past, so I have some real reservations,” Horsford said during Thursday’s Interim Finance Committee meeting. “And to bring in a national firm, that I think is based out of New York, to come in here in our state and promote rural communities, that they don’t even know where they are, let alone what they do; I have some real questions and reservations about that.”

Horsford is running for the 4th Congressional seat, which includes a large swath of rural Nevada in addition to parts of Clark County.

Ultimately lawmakers decided to hold off on approving budgetary changes sought by Claudia Vecchio, director of the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, that would allow the contract to go forward, citing several questions they wanted answered first.

Tourism Director Claudia Vecchio. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

That decision was opposed by Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said lawmakers are exceeding their constitutional authority by intervening in an Executive Branch function.

“The fact of the matter is that some people didn’t like the contract so now they’re not going to appropriate the funding,” he said. “That’s going backwards and that’s not our job.”

The Legislature appropriates revenue and authorizes expenditures, but it is up to the Executive Branch to implement those decisions, Kieckhefer said. The decision was an attempt to do a de facto denial of the contract and it overstepped legislative authority, he said.

“I totally understand the concern that we’re spending a significant amount of money on a big contract with an out-of-state vendor,” Kieckhefer said. “But the simple fact of the matter is that no Nevada company was in the top five in this (Request for Proposals).

“I wish we would spend money in Nevada and we do as much as we can,” he said. “But this bid process followed every law that we have in statute, followed every policy set by the Legislature in terms of bidder preference and things like that, and the simple fact of the matter is that this was the best company to do the job. And their job is to drive more traffic to Nevada to enhance our economy, to enhance our biggest industry, which is still hospitality and tourism and gaming.”

Delaying a contract that will help the state’s economy grow is ludicrous, Kieckhefer said.

Vecchio defended the contract and selection process at the meeting. Nineteen companies submitted proposals, but none of the four finalists were from Nevada, a fact which generated comment from at least one Nevada public relations firm.

Burson-Marsteller, which is actually based in Los Angeles, was the unanimous selection of an evaluation committee made up of Nevada tourism professionals, Vecchio said. The company will be working with Red Rock Strategies out of Las Vegas, she said.

The contract has been drawn up and signed by both parties, but it remains contingent upon approval of state officials.

Vecchio said the firm will provide national and international contacts that will benefit the state.

“The value that you get back, and the value that comes back to a destination by working with the best in the business, is tenfold, twentyfold over what it is with somebody who just has that local perspective,” she said.

Burson-Marsteller has proposed an idea for a smart phone application that will provide a way for visitors to craft itineraries and access to services in both cellular telephone service and non-service areas, Vecchio said. Much of rural Nevada does not have cellular phone service, but the information will be downloaded to the phone and so will be available to visitors, she said.

“That’s a game changer for this state,” Vecchio said. “So it is the understanding of our visitor needs that is so important to our success.”

Vecchio, appointed in October 2011 by Gov. Brian Sandoval to the tourism job,has previously worked for Burson-Marsteller in Dallas as well as for the Edelman public relations firm in Chicago.

Horsford said he is certain that there are firms in Nevada with the regional and national experience that could perform the work although he said he did not know the identities of all 19 applicants.

“The Legislature set a policy that 5 percent preference should be given to Nevada-based businesses,” he said. “So this is a policy that the Legislature and the governor believe was important, particularly at this time when so many business, and advertising and PR is no exception, need the work.”


Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the company picked for the tourism contract does not know Nevada:

062212Horsford1 :25 reservations about that.”

Horsford says Nevada has a policy to give a preference to state firms:

062212Horsford2 :21 need the work.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says the IFC vote exceeded its authority:

062212Kieckhefer1 :27 implements those things.”

Kieckhefer says the selection process followed all the rules:

062212Kieckhefer2 :23 in this RFP.”:

Tourism Director Claudia Vecchio says a national firm will provide major benefits to the state:

062212Vecchio :17 that local perspective.”