Posts Tagged ‘Board of Regents’

Regent Ron Knecht Confirms He Was Let Go From His State Job, Says No Cause Given

By Sean Whaley | 1:41 pm May 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Board of Regents candidate Ron Knecht confirmed today he was let go from his state job with the Public Utilities Commission in March, saying no cause was given despite his request for an explanation.

“I can’t tell you a lot,” he said. “I’m no longer working there.”

Ron Knecht.

Knecht said he does know he was not fired for cause.

“My performance reviews were always outstanding,” he said.

Knecht, who spent more than a decade with the PUC as a senior economist, said the agency does not believe it has to give a reason because he was an at-will employee.

The agency today would say only that Knecht no longer works there.

“They believe they don’t need to give a reason when they terminated someone,” Knecht said. “So there’s not a lot I can tell you because I wasn’t given any reason. I wasn’t given proper notice. I was told I was being terminated on March 23, effective March 27.”

Knecht said his request for a reason for his dismissal has not been responded to by the agency.

Knecht said he is looking both for another position and work as a consultant, and that the development will not affect his race for another six-year term on the Board of Regents overseeing the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Knecht is the second state elected official to leave the PUC in the past several months.

State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, left his job with the agency in November 2011, just as he was named in a lawsuit alleging a violation of the state constitution’s separation of power clause prohibiting government employees from serving in the Legislature.

Denis said he chose to leave his position as a computer technician to take a job in the private sector and that his decision had nothing to do with the lawsuit.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation filed the lawsuit against the PUC alleging Denis’ position violated the separation of powers clause. The case was dismissed as moot after Denis left the agency, but that decision in on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Knecht said his termination came shortly after he filed for another term on the Board of Regents on March 12. He had submitted paperwork to agency officials informing them of his intention to run for the nonpartisan post, which was accepted.

Higher Education Budget Could Be Cut Further Under Legislative Proposal

By Andrew Doughman | 3:40 pm May 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The budget situation for Nevada’s universities and colleges may have worsened today as legislators voted to both cut and restore funding for higher education.

Democratic legislators first voted to restore $100 million to the higher education budget, but Democrats also continued to oppose a shift of Washoe and Clark County property tax money from county governments to the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

That property tax shift represents $120 million that the universities were counting on in the governor’s recommended general fund budget.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said legislators fully intend to replace that money with general fund dollars.

But Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, was not so sure.

“That decision has not been finalized,” he said.

Horsford said backfilling that $120 million hole is “one of the options” the Legislature may consider.

If the Legislature does nothing, Nevada’s higher education world may be worse off than it was under Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommended general fund budget.

“If they don’t replace the property tax money they took out, we’re in very bad shape,” said Jim Richardson, a lobbyist for the Nevada Faculty Alliance.

Richardson said he had thought the Legislature would either apply the property tax shift to all 17 counties or use general fund dollars instead.

Legislature Votes To Reduce Tuition Increase By 13 Percent

Students, however, might feel a little better after legislators on two money committees voted today to support a 13 percent tuition increase spread over the next two years rather than a 26 percent increase, as was proposed earlier.

That would mean the universities would have to find more money because many colleges and universities assumed a 26 percent increase.

“That money has to be cut from somewhere and it would appear that means program cuts and layoffs,” said professor Gregory Brown of the UNLV Faculty Alliance.

The 13 percent tuition increase would bring Nevada’s colleges and universities about $42.4 million during the next two years.

The problem is, higher education administrators were counting on the $120 million worth of property tax diversions in addition to revenues collected through tuition.

The votes, however, all hinge on the Legislature passing new taxes or extending current ones, which are scheduled to sunset June 30. If that does not happen, legislators would have to re-examine these actions.

“We closed the budget, but the funding has not been identified so you can’t get too excited yet,” Smith said. “All you can count on is what we did today, and that’s contingent on us finding the revenue …It’s a budget in motion.”

Sandoval has recommended a two-year, higher-education budget that was $254 million less than the amount of money the Legislature approved during the 2010 special session.

That would be reduced to a $112 million cut if the Board of Regents approves the tuition increases and the Legislature finds $100 million to give to colleges and universities. The Legislature would also have to find $120 million to replace the funding that would have gone to higher education through the local property tax diversion.

Before today, legislators had anticipated following Klaich’s four-point plan, which would have called for $80 million in new revenue and a 26 percent tuition increase.

Students had testified before a legislative committee about keeping tuition low before legislators voted to recommend a 13 percent increase to the Board of Regents, which makes the final call on student fees.

Republicans largely objected to the $100 million in new revenue.

“I don’t know where we’re going to get the money to pay for this,” said Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno. “I just think we don’t have the money. At this point in the game, this is kind of where I have to stand.”

At this point in the legislative game, legislators are debating taxes.  Sandoval included spending $6.1 billion in his 2011-2013 general fund budget. Democrats want to spend about $7 billion, with $626 million coming from extending taxes set to expire June 30 and the rest from new taxes on business and services like haircuts, attorneys and brothels.

“Bottom line is: there are taxes being paid that if continued would cover this [$100 million],” said Horsford.

Legislative committees also earlier supported a 4.8 percent salary cut to university employees, adding between $7.5 and $10 million in extra spending because the governor recommended a 5 percent cut.

“The reality is, the work is not done because we still need to get folks to pay for it,” Horsford said.

Senate Hears Bill That Would Allow Guns On College Campuses

By Andrew Doughman | 12:13 pm March 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – When the Amanda Collins testified before a Senate committee, she recounted an emotional story of her brutal assault at University of Nevada, Reno campus.

Collins said she was defenseless when serial rapist and convicted murderer James Biela attacked her in a UNR parking garage.

She was testifying in support of a bill from Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, that would allow people with concealed carry permits to bring their firearms onto Nevada’s college and university campuses.

Collins had a permit to carry a concealed firearm, but had left it at home knowing that it was illegal to carry her weapon onto campus.

“The unanswered question of my life is and will remain to be, ‘what would have changed if I was carrying my weapon that night?’” she said.

Earlier this summer it took a Nevada jury just six hours to convict Biela of the rape and murder of Brianna Denison. Biela was also found guilty of three other felony charges, including the rape of a Collins in October 2007 and the rape and kidnapping of another woman a few months later.

In her testimony this morning, Collins raised a question that guided the several hours of testimony that followed: “what if?”

Gun advocates, firearms safety businesses and students said people must pass rigorous requirements to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon; they know the law and would not misuse their firearms. If firearms are allowed on campus, people on campus would be more safe, they said.

“It’s important to know that law-abiding citizens are just that: law abiding,” Lee said.

Furthermore, the senator said, the current ban creates an “arbitrary line” between on-campus and off-campus that oftentimes is no more different than one side of the street from the other.

Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, teaches night classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He said that his students sometimes do not feel safe leaving his class.

“They are very cognizant of the fact that there are places around the campus that are not the safest,” he said.

Hammond said would feel safer if trained permit carriers were in his classes.

Hours of testimony from individuals provided the committee with a series of situations. If “bad guys” were to attempt violent acts on campuses, the ability to carry a firearm on campuses would allow people to protect themselves.

“To single out college students and staff and leave them more vulnerable than the rest of the population just seems unfair,” said Scott Durward, a firearms trainer for Blackbird Tactical Training in Reno.

Adam Garcia, police chief at UNR, said that campuses are safer than the surrounding community. But in regards to Collins, who was still in the room when Garcia testified, he said “we failed miserably.”

Garcia and other representatives from police departments throughout Nevada opposed the bill, saying it would make campuses less safe if guns were to be allowed. He said raucous sporting events involving alcohol and firearms could pose a security threat.

“These events could become killing fields,” Garcia said.

Frank Adams, representing the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association, said that the bill poses “grave concerns.” If guns were to be allowed on campuses, he asked the committee what procedures police would follow in terms of storing guns in dormitories and managing guns at sports events.

He also said that Nevada’s Board of Regents generally govern their own affairs. This bill would be unusual because it instructed the board to act a certain way.

“Many private businesses elect to restrict any weapons, concealed or not,” Adams said.

Jim Richardson of the Nevada Faculty Alliance said that the bill would mandate that universities allow people with permits to carry their guns on campus while not changing laws governing allowing firearms in the Legislature, airports and the other government buildings.

After three hours of testimony, Lee held the bill for further discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lieutenant Governor Criticized At Board of Regents Meeting

By Andrew Doughman | 5:26 pm March 10th, 2011

CARSON CITY – It was not a friendly crowd for Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki as he spoke of economic development at Western Nevada College.

The bleachers in Sarah Winnemucca Hall were packed with students and staff concerned about Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed $162 million reduction in state support for Nevada’s colleges and universities.

James Dean Leavitt, chairman of the Board of Regents, criticized the governor’s proposal. He said that Nevada’s higher education system has never been properly funded and that economic diversification should be coupled with diversifying revenue.

Leavitt had earlier called for tax increases to mitigate cuts to higher education.

“I’m not preaching to my audience right now, but the Legislature and the governor are making an unbelievably difficult decision,” Krolicki said in response to Leavitt. “…The best way to get out of these budget woes is to crank this economy and let it go. That’s what we need to do.”

Leavitt and the other dozen regents were gathered at Western Nevada College for a board meeting. The board is responsible for approving cuts like those drafted by UNLV and UNR earlier this week, as well as tuition increases.

Krolicki addressed ways universities can help create jobs during his speech to the board.

Apart from his job as lieutenant governor, Krolicki is the chairman of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development. That means he works with higher education institutions to do things like commercialize research.

Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, played the conciliator after Leavitt and Krolicki had their back-and-forth.

“Brian [Krolick] has included NSHE in every conversation that has been had,” he said “…I think that the board has said exactly what it needs to say, but I would like to recognize a true partner who has been with us through every step of the way.”

Officially, Krolicki was supposed to talk only about economic development, but his ties to the governor and the proposed state budget could not be ignored.

The state budget weaved its way through everything the Regents talked about. Students exclusively addressed it during public comment. The hallways were alive with chatter about the proposed cuts; one young woman cried watching the testimony of Western Nevada College students whose program for the deaf could disappear with its funding.

The Board of Regents reconvenes at Western Nevada College tomorrow, when they plan to officially address the governor’s proposed budget.

 

The Case For Cuts: After Criticism, Many Defend Governor’s Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 4:00 am February 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – They speak of limbs hacked off, death and guts.

In a war of words, critics of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $5.8 billion budget have lambasted his proposed cuts to K-12, higher education and health and human services.

Conservatives have largely stayed silent while the critics lashed out. Now, two weeks after the governor released his budget and on the first day of the 120-day legislative session, they’re ready to defend it.

The “live within our means” crowd has said the governor’s budget, along with any legislative tinkering to iron out compromises, puts Nevada where it needs to be. Advocates for health and education have equated it to a starvation diet. The governor and others say each state dollar can do more.

When you’re at home, and you know you can’t afford something, you just don’t get it,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, one of the few Republican lawmakers to raise her voice during the past two weeks of legislative budget-overview hearings.

The governor has proposed 9 percent and 18 percent budget cuts to K-12 and higher education. But even those who have bemoaned the cost of the governor’s cuts have some concessions to make.

I think we have been guilty of hyperbole in the past where, you know, we get the first dollar of a cut and we would like you to believe that the sky is falling,” said Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which comprises Nevada’s universities and community college. “Here we are a few years later and lo and behold the sky is right where it started out. It has not fallen in.”

Klaich made his comments at a meeting this past week between presidents of universities and community colleges and the Board of Regents, which govern the state’s higher education system. He warned the presidents not to overstate the cost of the cuts.

Later in the session, the extent to which advocates for school, university and human services programs justify their worth could influence how legislators choose what to cut and what to save.

Presenting worst case scenarios doesn’t do any good,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser. “Everyone knows they’re not going to try to fill that [budget] gap entirely with tuition [increases], including them. And so to say that they would is disingenuous.”

No new taxes

The governor has repeatedly said he will veto any bill with a tax increase. Democrats would have to rally their legislators as well as persuade some Republican lawmakers to cross party lines in order to have the two-thirds majority required to override Sandoval’s veto.

The governor’s staff remain confident that this is impossible.

They do not have two-thirds to raise a tax,” Erquiaga said.

Not all Democrats have pledged their support for tax increases either. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, stressed the harmful effects of the cuts during legislative budget overviews during the past two weeks.

His counterpart in the Assembly, Speaker-elect John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, offered more compromising rhetoric.

As the Las Vegas Sun reported this past weekend, the two Democrats are approaching the session with different leadership styles, which could be a contributing factor to how the 120-day session is likely to play out.

Accountability

The admonishments from Horsford and others have not persuaded some legislators. Rather than watch agencies and programs starve, this is the camp that says that the state can get leaner, more efficient and do more with less at the level of spending the governor has proposed.

Freshman Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, said this weekend that people don’t mind some taxes.

They just want to know how is it being spent, are we spending correctly,” he said. “That’s the systemic problem we’re having, the transparency of each of these agencies that we have.”

Although not the single agenda of any one legislator, the no-new-taxes scenario could look like this: Legislators vote to consolidate state agencies, reduce salaries of state employees and revise the state’s pension and benefits plans. They also make it easier to fire bad teachers and reward good ones. That same accountability system and culture, somehow, migrates to state agencies so the state can better track the effectiveness of its spending. Finally, the Legislature decides to shift services downward to county governments, a move that isn’t a burden because the Legislature concurrently gives counties more leeway in how they pay their employees. Counties also add accountability measures at the local level.

If you’ve been watching the firefighters down in Clark County, yeah, somebody should be watching something,” Cegavske said.

County leaders have criticized Clark County firefighters for making liberal use of their sick days, oftentimes when they’re not sick.

Republican leaders Sen. Mike McGinness and Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea have also written a letter in support of the governor’s budget. They argue that taxes are unnecessary because the state can reform “how government should operate.”

Jobs and Business

That philosophy of government harkens back to the Reagan years, when the governor and his senior advisers first entered politics.

Sandoval said that keeping people employed is his “most important” priority in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun. In the same interview, he said a business-friendly, low-tax environment will be the key to economic growth.

It’s a message echoed by conservatives statewide.

The best way to get out of it for those people and everyone is allow people to work,” said Victor Joecks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank.

The governor has, however, used about $1 billion worth of one-time budget shifts to balance his budget. He hasn’t completely relied on cuts. Instead he has proposed to move around local funds and open up accounts that are now locked-in for bond repayment.

But critics have called the governor out more for his cuts than his accounting. Some have suggested a sales tax on services or a business franchise tax as ways to avoid eviscerating the state’s social safety-net and broaden the state’s tax base.

The governor still has strong support going into the session. But, as the Las Vegas Review Journal reports, the record number of freshman legislators and the presence of some key players don’t entirely rule out a tax increase if Horsford and other can advocates are especially persuasive.

The games begin today as the Legislature convenes later this morning.

Higher Education Presidents and Regents Criticize Budget Cuts

By Andrew Doughman | 6:53 pm February 3rd, 2011

LAS VEGAS – The presidents of Nevada’s colleges and universities said the governor’s budget cuts would put their institutions on a starvation diet.

They argued that past budget cuts severely slimmed their institutions, meaning additional funding reductions would threaten their core academic mission.

The Board of Regents, which governs the Nevada System of Higher Education, met in Las Vegas with the presidents today to discuss Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget. That budget cuts higher education by 17.7 percent or $162 million.

The presidents said again and again that they will have to charge students more in tuition and fees, eliminate degree programs, curtail course offerings, restrict access and fire professors and staff.

Neal Smatresk, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that he sees two paths forward given the magnitude of the cuts:

“Ask yourself: Does UNLV or UNR [University of Nevada, Reno] become a degree mill and dramatically reduce quality or do we become very small, very expensive and very restrictive?”

The question of access, however, is more severe at community colleges. Access is supposed to be one of the primary reasons community colleges exist.

Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada, repeated to the regents a story he also told to the Legislature: this past fall, CSN had to turn away more than 5,000 students because they didn’t have room for them.

He said that the college would continue restricting access.

“You would see a major change in the complexion of CSN with these staggering cuts,” he said.

Presidents also said that they’re losing key faculty, especially at research institutions like UNR, UNLV and the Desert Research Institute. Those faculty members are lured away by more competitive offers.

“The faculty are leaving because they’re worried about the future,” said Stephen Wells, president of the Desert Research Institute.

He said that when the state is “chopping off the limbs” of the budget, his top professors become increasingly antsy about their job security.

Those are the people, he said, who the state pays $75,000 in salary and, in return, bring in tens of millions of dollars to the state in research grants.

The presidents repeatedly said that the governor’s 5 percent salary cut and assumed tuition increases of about 10 to 12 percent annually would still leave their institutions with gaping budget holes.

Putting forth solutions, Regents hopped between calling for more revenue to mitigate the cuts and admonishing the presidents to find further efficiencies.

It’s a dance they’ll have to master as they try to sell higher education to the Legislature during the upcoming session. Politically, legislators may be unwilling to levy a new tax to support higher education if the institutions cannot take demonstrable steps to stretch every dollar they have.

Although the presidents and regents collectively had little praise for the governor, they said they appreciate Sandoval’s plan to let the universities retain more of their tuition dollars as well as allow them to shift funds around their institutions.

Along with the governor’s proposed 5 percent salary reductions, Sandoval has supported differentiated tuition. In short, that means some students would pay more for certain degree programs. It means paying more for an engineering degree than an English degree since an engineer is likely to make more money in the future.

The regents also asked Chancellor Dan Klaich, who oversees the state’s college and universities, to coordinate tactical program closures. That way UNR and UNLV would not offer duplicate degree programs.

One source of revenue that won’t be available is the federal stimulus dollars that had helped buoy the higher education budget. The money is almost gone, and there’s no round two.

Tax increases are also off the table, for now. Sandoval has vowed to veto any bill with a tax increase, and legislators have thus far offered no tax plans.

The Legislature convenes Feb. 7 for their 120-day session.

Board of Regents Chairman Calls For Tax Increases

By Andrew Doughman | 2:41 pm January 28th, 2011

A prominent education official has called for tax increases to offset the proposed higher education budget cuts in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget.

James Dean Leavitt, chair of the board that governs Nevada’s higher education system, said today that he would like the Legislature to use a “revenue enhancement” to offset every dollar the governor proposes to cut from the system.

He said that the Legislature should maintain the level of funds that it appropriated to Nevada’s higher education system during the 2010 special session.

Sandoval’s budget recommends a $162 million reduction in state spending for the next biennium. Chancellor Dan Klaich, who oversees the Nevada System of Higher Education, said yesterday at a legislative budget subcommittee hearing that a 73 percent tuition increase would be necessary to offset that decrease.

Leavitt said the universities and colleges of this state have already taken three successive years of cuts and any further cuts would have a “cataclysmic impact” for the state. While acknowledging the need for spending accountability, he said the system should be properly funded.

“That means coming up with new revenue from any and all sources,” he said. “What’s unfortunate is that we look at any revenue enhancement as a burden and … not a public good.”

Leavitt is the chair of the Board of Regents, the governing body that determines how to spend the money the Legislature appropriates to it. The Board of Regents oversees all of the state’s universities and community colleges.

He condemned the proposed budget cuts at a town hall meeting at UNLV earlier today.

Sandoval, however, has said repeatedly that he would not support a tax increase and would veto any bill containing one.

The governor has also repeated a mantra that government agencies should make each dollar go further.

“You have to have money in order to invest money,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser, at a press conference yesterday. “All investors know, when you only have a finite amount of money, you have to make your money work harder, and we believe the budget does that.”

The governor responded to criticisms of his proposed budget in a statement released this afternoon. “It is important for Nevadans to know that we are not the only state facing challenges in funding higher education,” he said. “The economic situation across the nation is forcing governors and Legislatures to make reductions in higher education spending. Some are facing even deeper cuts than Nevada.”

Leavitt, however, said that there’s “tremendous support” for properly funding higher education, partially because there’s a direct public benefit from the system.

Yesterday, Klaich came close to voicing support for a tax increase.

“I’m not sure that the people of Nevada don’t want taxes to support education,” he said. “I don’t just accept the fact that our friends and neighbors don’t want to support education by means of enhanced revenues.”

Other higher education officials have been less supportive of any spending increases. Mark Alden, a member of the Board of Regents, said that new taxes should be the last resort.

He said he needs more time to study the budget and look at every way to cut expenses first. If further evaluation proves the higher education system needs more funding, he said he would support a “modest business tax.”

Today, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, responded to the proposed higher-education budget cuts with a letter slamming the governor’s plan.

Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, has also criticized the governor’s proposed cuts to both the K-12 and higher education budgets.

“We all understand that we will not be able to turn around this economy without a well-educated workforce to attract new businesses, yet the governor is proposing draconian cuts to education funding,” he said in a statement released earlier today.

Democrats in the Senate and Assembly have, however, thus far proposed no plan of their own to counter the governor’s.

Erquiaga yesterday challenged Democrats to present their own plan.

“The governor has put his cards on the table,” Erquiaga said. “The other side is talking about the hand they hold.”

The people of Nevada will get to weigh in with their thoughts regarding revenue and budget cuts at tomorrow’s budget, town hall meetings in Reno and Las Vegas.