Archive for July, 2012

Washoe County GOP Files With FEC As Federal Committee

By Elizabeth Crum | 7:42 pm July 17th, 2012

The Washoe County GOP has filed with the FEC as a federal committee, with pointed language about its independence from the Nevada Republican Party (“WCRP” is Washoe County Republican Party):

Under Commission regulations at 11 CFR 110.3(b)(3), the WCRP is not affiliated with the Nevada Republican State Central Committee (NRSCC). Specifically, the WCRP confirms to the Commission that it is not funded by the NRSCC; is not under the management or control of the NRSCC; and does not conduct its activity (including making contributions) in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of the NRSCC, or any other political committee established, financed, maintained, or controlled by the NRSCC. 

Accordingly, the WCRP will conduct its activity as a federal local party committee that is unaffiliated with its state party committee

View the full Washoe GOP FEC filing here.

Nevada News Bureau is seeking comment from GOP officials and will post updates here when we have them.

Chamber Chimes In On Nevada’s U.S. Senate Contest

By Elizabeth Crum | 5:40 pm July 17th, 2012

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is inserting itself in four key U.S. Senate races including Nevada’s Berkley-Heller contest via a new television ad that is now airing statewide.

The ad criticizes Berkely for “government-mandated health care” (i.e., her vote for the Affordable Care Act) along with her 2009 vote for the Waxman-Markey “cap and trade” bill that sought to regulate carbon pollutants. The ad then praises Dean Heller for opposing the Affordable Care Act and voting for measures that would presumably lower energy costs.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce building

The TV spot cites a 2009 Heritage Foundation study that claimed cap and trade measures could increase energy costs by more than $800 for a family of four.

When President Obama first proposed the measure, it was a hot political issue and various independent groups estimated the costs at widely varying amounts. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost per household at an average of $1,600 per year, but that figure did not factor in energy rebates that were also part of the bill.

In response to the chamber ad, Berkley’s campaign released a lengthy response that defends clean energy initiatives and highlights votes she cast for various small business benefits along with measures to boost the tourism industry.

The chamber is also running ads in Hawaii, New Mexico, and North Dakota. The four ads are pro-Republican and criticize Democratic candidates’ positions on issues including domestic energy production, health care, and government spending.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in May announced a campaign blitz and launched ads targeting other Senate seats including Florida, Missouri, and Ohio, along with 17 House races across the nation. They also highlight lawmakers’ records as rated in their annual 2011 How They Voted scorecard.




Gov. Sandoval Says Many Questions Must Be Answered Before Medicaid Expansion Decision Can Be Made

By Sean Whaley | 2:28 pm July 13th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today he needs a lot of questions answered before he can decide whether to expand Medicaid eligibility in Nevada, and that it could take several months to resolve all the uncertainties.

“There’s no specific time schedule,” he said. “I mean I understand right now we’ve had the Supreme Court decision. Everyone has been waiting for that. I think there are still people that are trying to interpret it.

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

“There’s still a question within the law regarding the penalty provision,” Sandoval said. “That if a state, whether it ops in or opts out, whether it is still subject to some type of a penalty. Although the federal government can’t withhold all of your Medicaid money there is still an outstanding question about whether it can withhold some of it.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has to interpret the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding most of the Affordable Care Act and answer the many questions before a decision can be made in Nevada, he said.

“The answers to those questions will have a lot to do with how we’re going to estimate the expenses in this state,” Sandoval said. “So it’s premature right now. We’re doing the best that we can with the information that we have. And once I have that information then I can make an informed decision.”

State officials are busy preparing information on what expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, as proposed in the health care law, would cost Nevada. The information should be in Sandoval’s hands within two weeks. But having that information does not mean that Sandoval will be ready at that time to make a decision.

The federal government will pick up most of the cost of an expansion for the first several years, but there will be costs to the state as well.

Sandoval also said Nevada decided in the 2011 legislative session to establish its own health care exchange under the law, and that the process of doing so is moving forward. This despite the fact that a $72 million contract sought by the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange to create the information technology needed to operate the exchange beginning Oct. 1, 2013, was delayed today.

The contract with Xerox State Healthcare was scheduled for a vote by the Board of Examiners, including Sandoval, but was pulled because the board overseeing the Exchange was unable to approve it on Thursday.

Six dozen Republican members of Congress have called on the nation’s governors not to implement the exchanges, arguing they add to the cost of doing business. Several governors, including Rick Perry of Texas, who is in Nevada today campaigning for Mitt Romney, have said they won’t move forward with establishing an exchange.

“My biggest concern as I’ve said all along is that I don’t want the federal government coming to the state of Nevada running our exchange,” Sandoval said. “This is a state issue that we should be handling. We have a great board. We have a great director. And we’re going to move in accordance with the law.”


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says there is no timetable to make a decision on expanding Medicaid:

071312Sandoval1 :12 to interpret it.”

Sandoval says questions remain, including the penalty provision for opting out of a Medicaid expansion:

071312Sandoval2 :17 some of it.”

Sandoval says that when he has all the information he can make an informed decision:

071312Sandoval3 :24 an informed decision.”

Sandoval says Nevada needs to run its own health exchange:

071312Sandoval4 :13 with the law.”




$3 Million Tourism Contract Approved By State Board, Funding Still In Limbo

By Sean Whaley | 2:14 pm July 13th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The state Board of Examiners today approved a $3 million contract with an out-of-state firm to spearhead tourism efforts in Nevada after being told the selection process was thorough and fair.

The board, with members Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto voting, approved the two-year contract with the California-based offices of Burson-Marsteller.

Approval came despite the fact that the contract remains in limbo. The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee in June delayed approval of budgetary changes sought by the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs needed to pay the contract.

The budget changes were deferred after state Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, a candidate for the 4th Congressional District seat, questioned if the firm had any knowledge of Nevada. The Interim Finance Committee won’t meet again until Aug. 23.

Sandoval said he was satisfied that the selection process was proper. He also noted that Nevada has some preferences for Nevada firms competing for contracts, but that the provisions did not come into play to the selection process.

If there was a tie, for example, then a Nevada firm would get the nod, but there was no tie in this case.

“I’m confident in the process,” Sandoval said after the vote. “I think that it was a well-vetted process that was consistent with what the state has always done. It was consistent with the law. There was a committee that was comprised of both private sector experts in the area as well as experts within the state of Nevada that fairly graded each of the applicants.”

Nineteen firms, eight from in-state and 11 from outside Nevada, submitted proposals to secure the contract.

“I think that the entity that was selected will do well for the state of Nevada,” Sandoval said.

Claudia Vecchio, director of the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, along with Greg Smith, state administrator and chief procurement officer of the Nevada State Purchasing Division, reviewed the selection process for the board.

The request for proposals was handled like any other such contract, with no special treatment provided to any firm, Smith said.

Vecchio defended the contract and selection process at the Interim Finance Committee meeting, noting that none of the four finalists were from Nevada, a fact which generated comment from at least one Nevada public relations firm.

Burson-Marsteller, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, 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.


Audio clip:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the selection process was fair and followed the law:

071312Sandoval :19 of the applicants.”



Rep. Berkley Launches Two Ads In Ongoing Fight With Sen. Heller On Medicare, Ethics Issues

By Sean Whaley | 6:12 pm July 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Shelley Berkley for Senate campaign today launched two new ads, one criticizing Sen. Dean Heller for voting to “essentially end Medicare” and a second telling viewers that her work to preserve a kidney transplant program was only aimed at helping Nevadans.

One ad focuses on Heller’s two votes in support of a plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that would have kept Medicare in place for people 55 or older but changed it for others by privatizing it and relying on government subsidies.

The other is a response to a decision by the House Ethics Committee announced last week to establish an investigative subcommittee to determine whether she inappropriately furthered the business interests of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner by working to preserve a kidney transplant program at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas in 2008.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.

In the ad, Berkley notes that the complaint about her activities was filed by the Nevada State Republican Party.

The ad says in part: “The Las Vegas Sun says Berkley’s advocacy wasn’t driven for personal gain. It was aimed at helping Nevadans.” It also mentions Heller’s two votes to “end Medicare as we know it.”

Heller launched an ad focusing on the ethics allegations against Berkley earlier this week.

The new Berkley ad campaign was first reported by the Las Vegas Sun.

Heller, a Republican appointed to the Senate in April 2011, and Berkley, a longtime Democratic Congresswoman representing Las Vegas, are locked in a tough battle for the Senate seat.

An announcement today from the Berkley campaign  commented on the new ads.

“While Dean Heller continues to look out for his special interest friends on Wall Street by voting to essentially end Medicare by turning it over to private insurance company bureaucrats, Shelley Berkley is a champion for Nevada seniors and patients  – working tirelessly to protect and strengthen Medicare and Social Security,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, Berkley for Senate communications director. “This fall, Nevadans will understand the clear choice they have in this election between a fighter for the middle-class like Shelley Berkley and someone like Dean Heller, who would throw seniors under the bus to protect taxpayer giveaways to Big Oil companies and corporations that ship jobs overseas.”

In response to the ads, Chandler Smith, Heller for Senate spokeswoman, said: “How about the truth, Congresswoman? For the first time since 2009, a bipartisan committee of five Democrats and five Republicans unanimously decided Congresswoman Berkley’s actions required a formal investigation on the basis of a non-partisan report. In the very same ad she asks for the ‘truth,’ Shelley Berkley desperately tries to shift blame and repeats PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year over and over again. No matter how much she may want to distract from her own problems, Congresswoman Berkley’s ethics troubles do not give her a free pass to lie to Nevadans.”

In a media event today to highlight the fact that early voting for the November general election is 100 days away, U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid said Berkley worked to help Nevadan’s in need of care. He mentioned his own experiences with his wife Landra who has undergone treatment for breast cancer.

“I think this is going to be fine for Shelley,” he said. “She’s a terrific candidate. She is a person who has always fought for Nevadans. And certainly she should fight for these people who are sick and in danger of dying.”

He also responded to a question about whether Berkley adequately disclosed that her husband was affiliated with the kidney transplant program. Questions about her work to preserve the program were first raised by the New York Times in a report published in September 2011.

Berkley and other members of Nevada’s Congressional delegation were able to preserve the program. But the New York Times said her efforts, “also benefited her husband, a physician whose nephrology practice directs medical services at the hospital’s kidney care department — an arrangement that expanded after her intervention and is now reflected in a $738,000-a-year contract with the hospital.”

Reid said anyone who lived in Southern Nevada knew that Berkley’s husband was a nephrologist.

“Well I think you will find she didn’t violate any rules whatsoever,” Reid said. “They can look into this more and I’m sure they will, but I don’t think there is a problem with that.”



Sen. Harry Reid says Berkley was right to fight for the kidney transplant program:

071212Reid1 :15 danger of dying.”

Reid says any ethics review will find no rules violations:

071212Reid2 :11 problem with that.”


Nevada Gaming Win Plummets In May By Double Digits, Down 18.2 Percent on Strip

By Sean Whaley | 4:34 pm July 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada gaming revenues took a big tumble in May, shrinking by nearly $100 million over the same month a year ago to $885 million for a 10.1 percent decline, the state Gaming Control Board reported today.

Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the control board, cited two primary reasons for the double-digit decline: May 2011 was an exceptionally strong month, so the comparison with May 2012 was expected to be a challenge; and high roller card players on the Las Vegas Strip had exceptionally good luck.

The two factors led to an 18.2 percent revenue decline on the Strip to $475.1 million in May over May 2011.

The decline came even as a number of strong special events, including the Chinese Labor Day celebration and a Floyd Mayweather fight versus Miguel Cotto on May 5, lured visitors to Nevada and the Strip in particular.

The “comp” to May 2011 was a challenge because the May 2011 statewide win was 16.1 percent, and the Strip was up 28.9 percent. May 2011 also saw the largest win recorded by the state since September 2008. Since May 2011, there has been only one month where the win exceeded that amount, in January 2012.

Lucky gamblers were the other factor.

“The state was definitely negatively impacted by some really, really poor performance in table games,” Lawton said. “Table games win of $282.7 million was down 26.4 percent, or $101.6 million.”

Baccarat win of $74.3 million was down 48 percent, or $68.5 million in May compared to May 2011. The hold on the game, or the amount retained by the casino out of all the money wagered, was only 8.1 percent versus 12.2 percent last year.

“We don’t normally expect to see single-digit hold percentages for baccarat,” he said.

The hold was low on 21, the other big card game, as well, Lawton said. The win was $72.4 million, down 29 percent, or $29.5 million. The hold was 8.6 percent, versus nearly 12 percent in May 2011. It was the lowest 21 hold percentage ever seen going back to the 1980s, he said.

“We really noticed some statistical anomalies with these table games, and that happens,” Lawton said. “The table games are a lot more volatile than the slot machines. And every once in awhile you will have months where this happens. It’s just unfortunate on a month when the comparison was so difficult.”

There were some bits of good news in the monthly report and in related information. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported today that visitor volume was up in May, by 2.4 percent to 3.45 million visitors over May 2011.

And some smaller casino markets fared well, including a 20.1 percent gain in Laughlin and a 9.2 percent increase on the Boulder Strip. Downtown Las Vegas was down, but only by 2.1 percent.

Washoe County was down 5.2 percent, a better performance than the state overall.

“The Las Vegas locals had a good month, up 6.59 percent, which is good,” Lawton said. “For the calendar year the Las Vegas local markets are up 5.43 percent.”


Audio clips:

Gaming Control Board analyst Michael Lawton says poor performance in table games was a major factor in the May decline:

071212Lawton1 :14 or $101.6 million.”

Lawton says table games are more volatile than slot machines:

071212Lawton2 :27 was so difficult.”



State Officials Crunching Numbers For Gov. Sandoval To Make Decision On Medicaid Expansion

By Sean Whaley | 3:22 pm July 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada officials are busy preparing cost and enrollment estimates so Gov. Brian Sandoval will have reliable information before deciding whether to expand Medicaid following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month upholding much of the Affordable Care Act.

But even if Sandoval does not expand Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as provided for in the law, the program is expected to grow significantly as Nevadans who are now eligible but not enrolled decide to sign up when the health insurance mandate takes effect on Jan 1, 2014.

The effective date is in the middle of the first year of the upcoming two-year budget now being prepared by the Sandoval administration. The Legislature will take up the budget, and the Medicaid issue, when the 2013 session starts in February.

State officials are readying data for Sandoval to make a Medicaid decision

Mike Willden, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, and state Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp, are gathering the data to show the anticipated effects on the state budget of these two distinct Medicaid groups.

“Our goal is to have the numbers over to the governor by the end of next week,” Willden said. “We’re just not ready to give out numbers yet and I don’t want to give out bad numbers. There are 10 moving parts.”

Mohlenkamp said the court threw everybody “a bit of a curve,” when it decided states do not have to opt into an expanded Medicaid program.

State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“So we’re now in the process of analyzing what that looks like, the pros and cons of that, the financial impact on the state of the options, and, is it absolutely straightforward; you either opt in or opt out,” he said. “Or are there other options within the Supreme Court ruling that we can consider.”

Sandoval’s initial response was to reject an expansion

When the Supreme Court said the federal government could not penalize states if they do not choose to opt into the Medicaid expansion, Sandoval’s initial comment was that the state could not afford to do so. But he is awaiting the information before deciding how to proceed.

“This is going to be a governor’s office decision,” Mohlenkamp said. “The governor will make the decision as to the policy of the state going forward. He has not yet made that decision. He’s looking for a very critical analysis of what the options are and the pros and cons for the state.”

The bigger cost to the state general fund will likely come from those eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid, because the state share of adding those individuals is projected to be 38 percent in 2014, compared to a 62 percent share from the federal government.

This cost to the strapped state budget will occur whether or not an expansion is approved by the Nevada Legislature.

All of the analysis is dependent on the implementation of the federal health care law. Republican members of Congress and GOP presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney want to repeal the law.

Federal funding will cover most, but not all, of a Medicaid expansion

Federal funding will pay for 100 percent of any Medicaid expansion for the first three calendar years beginning in 2014, with the state required to pick up a percentage of the cost beginning in 2017. The first year state cost is 5 percent, in 2018 the state cost is 6 percent, in 2019 the state cost is 7 percent, and in 2020, the state cost is 10 percent.

But Willden said there are also administrative costs to the state that are not fully covered by the expansion but instead are shared between the federal government and the state at a 50-50 match. They include information technology costs and the cost to hire new eligibility workers, for example, he said.

State Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“And so we’re trying to again cost out for the governor, clear through 2020, because there are state costs involved in those out years even though everybody says it’s 100 percent federal the first three,” Willden said. “There are state costs in the out years, there are also state costs associated with the administrative costs for the new eligibles.”

There will be some savings because mentally ill people now being treated by the state at full cost to the state general fund will be Medicaid eligible, and there will be some savings to the counties because they now use county general fund money to pay for medical care for individuals who would become Medicaid eligible, he said.

The counties are analyzing that potential impact, Willden said.

Another question that is being researched with federal officials is whether the opt-in option would require a full commitment to the 138 percent of poverty level, of if some lesser level could be pursued, he said.

“The goal is to try to get all of this to come together in the next couple of weeks,” Willden said. “That way the governor would have enough information to at least review on the opt in, opt out opportunity.”

Medicaid expansion would cover new groups, including childless adults

If Medicaid is expanded in Nevada, new participants will be childless adults, who are not covered by the state program now, Willden said. The other expansion will come from parent caretakers of children who are covered at 75 percent of poverty now.

Medicaid now covers primarily low-income children, the disabled, pregnant women and seniors. These groups are now covered at different poverty rates ranging from 100 percent to 138 percent.

State lawmaker concerned about long-term financial implications of an expansion

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who will be involved in the Medicaid issues in 2013 as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said Sandoval is taking a prudent course because there are so many unanswered questions given the Supreme Court’s surprise decision allowing states to opt out of the expansion.

A critical question is what happens with the generous federal funding after 2020 and as Congress and the President grapple with unsustainable spending on federal programs, he said.

“It is a very good deal in the first couple of years,” Kieckhefer said. “I mean the feds pay 100 percent of the medical costs for the first three years. That’s a great deal. It then goes down to 90 percent after the fifth year. And there is nothing that mandates that that goes on forever.

“So I think the stronger concern is, how does the federal government continue to justify paying 90 percent of those costs as it’s trying to deal with the massive federal deficit and reducing that deficit,” he said. “And I think that there is a strong likelihood that eventually the feds start shifting that cost burden back to the states and that’s a risk that the state needs to weigh.”

Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said her plan is to have an overview of the court ruling from staff at the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Aug. 23.

“I want to just make sure that we have a really good understanding of what all the possibilities and ramifications are,” she said. “I want that to be the first informational piece and then we can go from there.”

Nevada’s health insurance exchange is another factor in the complex review

Another variable in the assessment is the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange now being readied in Nevada where residents will be able to shop for health insurance beginning Oct. 1, 2013. Nevadans between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for subsidies when they purchase insurance.

The ACA rules appear to indicate that if Medicaid is not expanded, Nevadans who would have been covered in an expansion could go to the Exchange and receive a tax credit as long as all other requirements are met.

The Exchange is gearing up now with federal funds, but the state will have to pick up the cost of its operation when federal grants run out in 2015, Willden said.

Another issue is whether there are enough doctors and other medical providers to offer services to an expanded population, he said.

Willden said in May that as many as 150,000 additional Nevadans would be eligible for Medicaid if the law was upheld by the court, but that estimate was two years old and was made before the court said states could opt out of the expansion.

He estimated that bringing new residents onto the rolls would cost the state general fund an estimated $574 million between now and 2020.

But Kieckhefer said only $63 million of that cost estimate was due to the Medicaid expansion. The rest was due to those already eligible who were expected to enroll as a result of the mandate to obtain insurance.


Audio clips:

Mike Willden of Nevada Health and Human Services says his agency is trying to estimate the cost of a Medicaid expansion program through 2020:

071212Willden1 :22 the new eligibles.”

Willden says the goal is to get the data to the governor in the next couple of weeks.

071212Willden2 :13 opt out opportunity.”

State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp says the pros and cons of a Medicaid expansion are being analyzed:

071212Mohlenkamp1 :19 we can consider.”

Mohlenkamp says Gov. Brian Sandoval will make the call on a Medicaid expansion but that he has not done so yet:

071212Mohlenkamp2 :16 for the state.”

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says he is concerned about the potential long-term financial obligation to the state:

071212Kieckhefer :26 reducing that deficit.”


State Public Employee Pension Plan Sees 2.9 Percent Return In Fiscal Year 2012

By Sean Whaley | 5:07 pm July 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s Public Employees’ Retirement System earned an estimated 2.9 percent return on its investments in the fiscal year ending June 30, and is now valued at $25.8 billion, an official with the plan said today.

The 2012 return is below the 8 percent anticipated annual return for the system’s investments over the long term.

While well below the record 21 percent return in Fiscal Year 2011, and the 10.8 percent return in Fiscal Year 2010, the 2012 gain will be in the top 20 percent of performers for large public pension plans for the year when adjusted for risk, said Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS.

“So as far as looking at all of the big institutional investors across the country, we’re quite competitive with that kind of return,” she said. “In fact I think it’s going to be one of the top performing funds in the nation. You can only get what these markets are going to give you.”

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

The three years of positive returns follow a 15.8 percent loss in 2009.

A final report on the year’s performance will be presented to the board overseeing the plan in August.

The estimated returns are after fees are paid to the investment managers overseeing the retirement funds on behalf of the nearly 100,000 state and local government employees and 41,000 retirees participating in the public pension plan as of June 30, 2011.

“When you talk to the investment professionals, I think most of them would say that what we’ve sort of taken here is a pause in what has been a very large increase in the overall equity markets over the last couple of years,” Bilyeu said. “So maintaining a positive return, maintaining the corpus of the trust, and really just pausing I think is what you see happening here. And that’s what I sort of think this particular fiscal year was.”

The uncertainty over the presidential election is partly responsible for the lackluster equity market, she said.

Over 28 years, the average return for the plan is 9.2 percent after fees have been paid, above the 8 percent assumed return. Some critics of the state’s defined-benefit public pension plan say the expectation of an 8 percent long-term return is overly optimistic given the volatile markets of the past decade.

The plan was only 70.2 percent fully funded at the end of fiscal year 2011, a level below the minimum 80 percent some experts say is the best measure for a healthy plan. The long-term unfunded liability equated to $11 billion as of June 30, 2011. The funding ratio through 2012 will be reported to the board in November.

Some estimates put the unfunded liability at much higher levels based on a different type of analysis.

The Pew Center on the States said in June the financial health of Nevada’s public employee pension plan is cause for serious concern because it is below the 80 percent benchmark that fiscal experts recommend for a sustainable program.

Bilyeu argues that a better measure of the health of a pension plan is whether it is being funded each year at the levels recommended by an independent actuary, which is the case for the PERS plan. Not all public pension plans across the country are funded annually to the recommended levels, she said.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is advocating for a change to the pension plan for future workers from a defined benefit to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. Defined contribution plans eliminate any future unfunded fiscal liability for states. The 2011 Legislature took no action on the issue but it is expected to resurface in 2013.

The PERS fund is currently invested 35 percent in bonds and 65 percent in equities and other “risk exposed” investments.

“Over the long haul we remain very, very committed to the investment strategies we have,” Bilyeu said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”


Audio clips:

Dana Bilyeu of PERS says equities took a pause in Fiscal year 2012:

071112Bilyeu1 :33 fiscal year was.”

Bilyeu says the 2.9 percent return will be among the best performing large institutional funds for 2012 after being adjusted for risk:

071112Bilyeu2 :10 in the nation.”


Heller Campaign Releases New Ad Outlining Berkley’s Alleged Ethics Problems

By Sean Whaley | 11:21 am July 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A new ad released by the Dean Heller for Senate campaign this week documents what it describes as an established pattern of Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., using her office for personal gain.

“Berkley pushed legislation and twisted the arms of federal regulators, advocating policies for financial gain, saving her husband’s industry millions,” the ad says. “Shelley Berkley took care of herself, and she got caught.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., addresses the Nevada Legislature in 2011. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The ad comes just as the House Ethics Committee voted unanimously late last month to establish an investigative subcommittee to determine whether she inappropriately furthered the business interests of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner.

In a new development today, Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston is reporting that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has asked Secretary of State Ross Miller to confirm that Nevada law mandates that Berkley must stay on the ballot even if she withdraws because of ethics problems.

In a statement in response to the Heller ad, the Berkley campaign said: “Shelley Berkley’s one and only concern is Nevada patients, which is why she fought to prevent Nevada’s only kidney transplant program from being shut down by Washington bureaucrats and why she has worked to ensure Medicare recipients continue to receive the care they need.

“While Shelley Berkley won’t stop fighting for Nevada’s patients, middle-class families and seniors, Senator Dean Heller is pulling the rug out from under them by voting twice to end Medicare by turning it over to private insurance companies, protecting taxpayer giveaways to Big Oil companies and defending tax breaks for Wall Street corporations that ship American jobs overseas,” the statement concluded.

The Heller campaign expanded on the brief ad in a press release issued today, citing a report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) from 2011 identifying Berkley as one of the most corrupt members of Congress.

The report said in part: “The congresswoman vocally advocates for Washington policies that financially benefit her kidney surgeon husband. In turn, she has become a major recipient of campaign donations from those in the kidney care industry.”

The release also cites the New York Times report published in September 2011 detailing her efforts in 2008 to preserve a Nevada kidney transplant program at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas.

Berkley and other members of Nevada’s Congressional delegation were able to preserve the program. But the New York Times said her efforts, “also benefited her husband, a physician whose nephrology practice directs medical services at the hospital’s kidney care department — an arrangement that expanded after her intervention and is now reflected in a $738,000-a-year contract with the hospital.”

Berkley has defended her efforts to preserve the transplant program and said her only concerns were for the patients waiting for transplants.

“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 in a recent interview on the Face To Face television program.

The ethics review announced Monday is expected to be an ongoing campaign issue for Berkley, who is seeking Heller’s Senate seat. Heller was appointed to the seat by Gov. Brian Sandoval in April 2011.

The race is considered to be critical for both Republicans and Democrats seeking control of the Senate in the 2012 election.

The Heller ad is the latest in what is expected to be a barrage of attacks by the two candidates over the next four months. An ad criticizing Heller for his votes in support of changes to the Medicare program, paid for by the Political Action Committee Patriot Majority, was in turn criticized by the Heller campaign this week for being false and misleading.


GOP Members Of Congress Ask Governors To Reject Health Exchanges, Nevada Program Already Well Under Way

By Sean Whaley | 12:30 pm July 10th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A letter from 12 U.S. Senators and 61 members of the House to the nation’s governors asking them to oppose the creation of health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act comes too late to have any effect in Nevada.

No members of Nevada’s Congressional delegation signed the letter, which says in part: “These expensive, complex, and intrusive exchanges impose a threat to the financial stability of our already-fragile state economies with no certainty of a limit to total enrollment numbers. By refusing to create an exchange, you will assist us in Congress to repeal this violation which will help lower the costs of doing business in your state, relative to other states that keep these financially draining exchanges in place.”

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota are the first names on the letter signed only by Republicans and dated June 29.

The GOP-controlled House is set to vote this week on whether to repeal the law, but the Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to consider such a measure.

Gov. Brian Sandoval.

GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval moved forward in the first days he took office in January 2011 to implement the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, despite his concerns about the constitutionality of the law. The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled most of the law constitutional. Nevada was one of 26 states to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

Sandoval announced his intentions in his 2011 State of the State address: “I firmly believe that many aspects of the law are unconstitutional, and I will continue to fight to have them overturned. In the meantime, however, the law imposes many deadlines, and we cannot wait until litigation is resolved. We must also plan for a Health Insurance Exchange so that we – and not the federal government – control the program.”

A health care exchange is basically a one-stop shop for purchasing health insurance.

Several governors have said they won’t create their own health exchanges, among them Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Among the states that have not moved forward to create an exchange include Louisiana, Florida, Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

But Nevada’s program is well along and will have a state based Exchange operational by Oct. 1, 2013. To date the Exchange has been awarded approximately $24.7 million in federal grants to pay for its establishment and implementation.

“Nevada was prudent to begin implementation over a year and a half ago rather than wait and risk federal intervention,” said Jon Hager, executive director of the Exchange, in a recent news release. “Thanks to advanced planning and foresight, Nevada is positioned to implement a state based health insurance exchange that is built with the needs of Nevadans in mind.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates approximately 21.3 percent of Nevadans, or 563,000 people, are uninsured. The Exchange’s mission is to increase the number of insured Nevadans by facilitating the purchase and sale of health insurance that provides quality health care through the creation of a transparent, simplified marketplace of qualified health plans.

Nevada’s exchange was created by Senate Bill 440 of the 2011 Legislature. It was passed unanimously of those voting in both the Senate and Assembly at the end of the session. Four members of the Assembly were excused and did not vote.

Heller Senate Campaign Calls Patriot Majority Attack Ads On Medicare Votes False

By Sean Whaley | 11:50 am July 10th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A television ad campaign sponsored by the pro-Democrat Patriot Majority attacking GOP Sen. Dean Heller on his Medicare votes has expanded to Las Vegas and is again being called false by his campaign.

The ads say Heller voted to “end Medicare,” twice, once while serving in the House from the 2nd Congressional District and once after being appointed to the Senate by Gov. Brian Sandoval in April 2011

Heller voted in April 2011 in support of a plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that would have kept Medicare in place for people 55 or older but changed it for others by privatizing it and relying on government subsidies. It was part of an overall deficit reduction plan that passed the House on a mostly party-line vote.

He voted in the Senate in May 2011 to proceed with the Ryan bill. The vote failed on a 57-40 mostly party-line vote.

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

The ads have been running in Northern Nevada and have now expanded to the Las Vegas area. The Northern Nevada ad features Washoe Valley residents Jimmie and Dexter Sale who would not have been affected by the Ryan Medicare plan because of their age.

The new ad says Heller voted twice to “end Medicare as we know it” and that the legislation would have “raised seniors’ health costs nearly $6,000 a year.”

Heller, who is running for his first full-term in the Senate, is being challenged by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. The race is considered critical to both parties’ efforts to control the Senate in the 2012 general election.

“Shelley Berkley and Harry Reid just keep repeating the same ‘Lie of the Year,’ hoping they can keep misleading seniors all the way through November,” said Chandler Smith, spokeswoman for the Heller for Senate campaign. “Shelley Berkley has always done whatever it takes to score political points, so her ‘Mediscare’ tactics really come as no surprise.”

The Berkley campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ads, which are being paid for by the third-party political action committee.

The Heller campaign said Democrat attacks in the Medicare ad were deemed PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” in 2011. The analysis by the group said Democrats ignored the fact that the Ryan plan would not have affected people currently in Medicare or those 55 to 65 who would join the program in the next 10 years.

Democrats also used harsh terms such as “end” and “kill” when the program would still exist, although in a privatized system, PolitiFact said. And they used pictures and video of elderly people who clearly were too old to be affected by the Ryan plan, the analysis said.

The Heller campaign said Berkley voted for the Affordable Care Act “that cut $500 billion out of the Medicare program.”

Heller has voted to preserve the Medicare program, the campaign said, by voting against both the Affordable Care Act and the Budget Control Act, which provides for possible Medicare cuts of up to $11 billion a year (about $140 billion over ten years) if deficit reduction targets are not reached.

Heller has consistently voted to ensure physicians are properly reimbursed so they will continue participating in the Medicare program and provide necessary services for seniors, the campaign said.

House Ethics Committee Appoints Investigative Subcommittee To Review Rep. Berkley Ethics Questions

By Sean Whaley | 3:24 pm July 9th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The House Ethics Committee announced today that it has established an investigative subcommittee to review ethics questions raised about Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and whether she inappropriately furthered the business interests of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner.

The committee voted unanimously on June 29 to establish the subcommittee.

“Pursuant to the committee’s action, the investigative subcommittee shall have jurisdiction to determine whether Representative Shelley Berkley violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other applicable standard of conduct in the performance of her duties or the discharge of her responsibilities, with respect to alleged communications and activities with or on behalf of entities in which Representative Berkley’s husband had a financial interest,” committee Chairman Jo Bonner and Ranking Member Linda Sánchez said in a statement.

Rep. Shelley Berkley - D-Nev.

“The committee notes that the mere fact of establishing an investigative subcommittee does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred,” the statement said.

The decision means the ethics questions surrounding Berkley will continue to ferment as her bid for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., heats up ahead of the November general election.

The race is considered to be critical for both Republicans and Democrats seeking control of the Senate in the 2012 election.

The House Ethics Committee announced that Rep. Michael Conaway will serve as the chairman of the investigative subcommittee, and Rep. Donna Edwards will serve as the Ranking Member. The other two members of the subcommittee are Reps. Robert Latta and Adam Schiff.

“No other public comment will be made on this matter except in accordance with committee rules,” the release said.

The ethics questions were first raised in a New York Times report published in September 2011. The Nevada State Republican Party then filed a complaint based on the reports, which involved her efforts to preserve a Nevada kidney transplant program at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas.

Berkley and other members of Nevada’s Congressional delegation were able to preserve the program. But the New York Times said her efforts, “also benefited her husband, a physician whose nephrology practice directs medical services at the hospital’s kidney care department — an arrangement that expanded after her intervention and is now reflected in a $738,000-a-year contract with the hospital.”

The report said that Lehrner helped build a political action committee that relied on Berkley to push its causes.

“She has co-sponsored at least five House bills that would expand federal reimbursements or other assistance for kidney care, written letters to regulators to block enforcing rules or ease the flow of money to kidney care centers and appeared regularly at fund-raising events sponsored by a professional organization her husband has helped run,” the newspaper reported.

Berkley has defended her efforts to preserve the transplant program and said her only concerns were for the patients waiting for transplants.

“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 in a recent interview on the Face To Face television program.

Jessica Mackler, campaign manager for Berkley’s Senate campaign, released a statement on the committee’s action:  “We are pleased with the committee’s decision to conduct a full and fair investigation, which will ensure all the facts are reviewed. We are confident that ultimately it will be clear that Congresswoman Berkley’s one and only concern was for the health and well being of Nevada’s patients.

“That’s why she joined then Republican Congressman Dean Heller to prevent Nevada’s only kidney transplant program from being shut down by Washington bureaucrats,” the statement said. “With more than 200 Nevada patients desperately waiting for a lifesaving kidney transplant, it would have been irresponsible of her not to work with the state’s entire Congressional delegation to protect the program.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Executive Director Rob Jesmer also commented on the House Ethics Committee decision: “It speaks volumes that even Shelley Berkley’s Democrat colleagues unanimously voted to move forward investigating Berkley’s use of her office to enrich her and her husband. Since Berkley entered the political arena we’ve seen a long pattern of ethical questions surrounding her conduct.”

Federal Agency Names New Accountable Care Organization in Nevada

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 11:30 am July 9th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today that Nevada is among 40 states where people with Medicare can receive health care from an Accountable Care Organization (ACO).

ACOs are organizations formed by groups of doctors and other health care providers that have agreed to work together to coordinate care for people with Medicare.

The ACO is called the Nevada Primary Care Network and is based in Las Vegas. The ACO has 89 physicians and will serve Medicare beneficiaries in Nevada.

The new ACOs named today around the country will be serving 1.2 million people with Medicare. All ACOs have entered into agreements with CMS, taking responsibility for the quality of care they provide to people with Medicare in return for the opportunity to share in savings realized through high-quality, well-coordinated care.

“Better coordinated care is good for patients and it saves money,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “We applaud every one of these doctors, hospitals, health centers and others for working together to ensure millions of people with Medicare get better, more patient-centered, coordinated care.”

U.S Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Participation in an ACO is purely voluntary for providers. The Shared Savings Program and other initiatives related to Accountable Care Organizations are made possible by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Federal savings from this initiative could be up to $940 million over four years.

“This new group of ACOs adds to a solid foundation,” said CMS Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “The Medicare ACO program opened for business in January, and already, more than 2.4 million beneficiaries are receiving care from providers participating in these important initiatives.”

The 89 ACOs announced today bring the total number of organizations participating in Medicare shared savings initiatives on July 1 to 154.

The selected ACOs operate in a wide range of areas of the country and almost half are physician-driven organizations serving fewer than 10,000 beneficiaries, demonstrating that smaller organizations are interested in operating as ACOs. Their models for coordinating care and improving quality vary in response to the needs of the beneficiaries in the areas they are serving.

To ensure that savings are achieved through improving care coordination and providing care that is appropriate, safe, and timely, an ACO must meet quality standards. For 2012, CMS has established 33 quality measures relating to care coordination and patient safety, appropriate use of preventive health services, improved care for at-risk populations, and patient and caregiver experience of care.

CMS also announced that beginning this year, new ACO applications would be accepted annually. The application period for organizations that wish to participate in the Shared Savings Program beginning in January 2013 is from Aug. 1 through Sept. 6, 2012.

Attorney General Urges Nevadans To Apply For Free Foreclosure Review By New Sept. 30 Deadline

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:01 pm July 6th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The deadline for a free, federal independent foreclosure review for Nevadans whose homes were in foreclosure in 2009 or 2010 has been extended to Sept. 30, 2012, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said today.

The previous deadline was July 31.

Photo by respres via Wikimedia Commons.

Ordered by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the independent foreclosure review will determine whether individuals suffered financial injury and should receive compensation or other remedy because of errors or other problems which occurred during the foreclosure process.

“Do not wait until the extended Sept. 30 deadline to submit your application for a free and independent foreclosure review,” Masto said.

According to the OCC’s recent report, as of May 31, 108,687 Nevadans who are eligible for the review received a mailing and 4,267 Nevadans submitted requests for review.

Information about Independent Foreclosure Review may appear in this format in advertisements and postcard notices that eligible borrowers recently received by mail.

More information, including edibility and online applications is available at or 888-952-9105 (between 8 am and 10 pm (Eastern), Monday through Friday, and between 8 am and 5 pm Saturday). All requests for Review Forms must be submitted online or postmarked no later than September 30, 2012. Not every finding will result in compensation or other remedy.

In first announcing the program on May 31, Masto said: “I encourage Nevadans hurt by foreclosure errors and who are eligible, to apply for a free review before the July 31 (now Sept. 30) deadline. In doing so, beware of anyone who asks you to pay a fee for any foreclosure review service and immediately report those persons or companies to my office.”

To be eligible, the foreclosure process must have been active between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2010. The property securing the loan must have been a primary residence, and the mortgage must have been serviced by: America’s Servicing Co., Aurora Loan Services, BAC Home Loans Servicing, Bank of America, Beneficial, Chase, Citibank, CitiFinancial, CitiMortgage, Countrywide, EMC, EverBank/EverHome Mortgage Company, Financial Freedom, GMAC Mortgage, HFC, HSBC, IndyMac Mortgage Services, MetLife Bank, National City Mortgage, PNC Mortgage, Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Mortgage, U.S. Bank, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo, or Wilshire Credit Corporation.

More than 4.3 million forms and letters explaining the process were sent to eligible homeowners in 2011. Nevada residents who received a letter should be aware it is a legitimate program.

Anyone who wants to report an independent foreclosure review scam can contact the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Hotline at 702-486-3132 or visit


Online Voter Registration Expands To Washoe County

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 5:36 pm July 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Washoe County residents can now register to vote and make changes to their current voter registration profile through and, the online system on Secretary of State Ross Miller’s website.

The Secretary of State’s Elections Division and the Washoe County Registrar of Voters collaborated on the project that allows all voters to have electronic access to their information.

Photo by radder86 via Wikimedia Commons.

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

Registered voters can access their voting information at by entering their first and last names, date of birth, and driver’s license number or social security number. From there, they can update their address or change their party affiliation without completing a paper application and submitting it to the Washoe County Registrar of Voters.

Online voter registration is currently available to residents with DMV-issued identification in Clark, Churchill, Lyon, Elko, Humboldt, Pershing and Washoe counties. The Elections Division is collaborating with all Nevada counties to launch online voter registration prior to the general election.

Eligible voters who are presently registered in another Nevada county but living in Washoe County may now register with the online voter system, which is federally funded by the Help America Vote Act.

Residents have until Sunday, Oct. 7 to register online to vote in the November 6 general election.