Posts Tagged ‘Buckley’

Oceguera Elected Assembly Speaker For 2011 Legislative Session

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:11 am November 4th, 2010

Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, has been unanimously elected as Speaker for the upcoming legislative session.

Oceguera has served as majority leader under former Speaker Barbara Buckley, who could not run again because of term limits.

The vote of the 26-member Democratic caucus on Wednesday will be formalized on the first day of the legislative session on Feb. 7.

Oceguera was first elected to the Assembly in 2000, and he will be termed out of office in 2012. The 2011 session will be his last.

He takes over a caucus that is slightly weaker in terms of numbers, but more significantly affected by the loss of a two-thirds veto-proof majority held by Democrats in 2009. Democrats lost two seats in the Tuesday general election, bringing their number down to 26 to 16 for Republicans.

The 2011 session will be critical for Democrats and Republicans as the once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries must be accomplished. A key issue will be whether to expand the size of the Legislature. Lawmakers will also have to create one new congressional seat.

“We fought hard to win each election to give us a majority,” Oceguera. “Now it is time to turn from the conflict of those elections to the cooperation we need to rebuild Nevada.”

Oceguera emphasized that Democrats in the Assembly are ready to, “work with every Nevadan, from every part of the state, from every political party, from every perspective,” to meet the challenges of the economy, jobs, education reform and more efficient, more transparent government.

“We celebrated an election victory Tuesday night,” Oceguera said. “But Nevadans won’t have a true victory until we build a more diverse economy, reform and support our schools, and create a government they can trust. We can no longer tolerate being in last place.”

Oceguera called on Republicans, including GOP Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval, business and labor leaders and Nevada citizens to come together to find common solutions.

“There’s a time for partisan differences, but now is the time to rebuild Nevada” he said. “We can’t wait for another election to come and go before taking action. Right now every one of us has the responsibility to become part of the solution, not part of the problem. There will be honest disagreements, but let those disagreements come with a real plan and specifics instead of simply slogans.”

The 16-member GOP Assembly caucus is deciding its leadership later today.

Marnell Threatens to Sue State?

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:02 am March 2nd, 2010

Very interesting indeed.

Ralston just posted and Tweeted a threat-to-sue letter from M Resort attorney Chris Kaempfer to the Clean Water Coalition (and cc’ing Buckley and Horsford among others).

Background:  A bunch of gaming companies including the M Resort contributed to a $62M fund of water connection fees (“Clean Water Coalition”) to be used for a project that is now on hold.  The M is apparently not too happy that the $700K+ it contributed is now going toward hole-patching in the state budget via measures passed during the legislative special session last week.

Other gamers who contributed major sums (also via @RalstonFlash):

Fontainebleu — $1.8 million

Venetian — $1.2 million

Hard Rock — $892K

Caesars — $860k

Planet Hollywood — $806K

Southpoint — $395kK

Encore — $647K

City Center — $362K

Palazzo — $31K

The letter says that the M Resort does not “consent, and will not accept, that those funds can be used for any other purpose than for the specific purpose for which they were intended” and that the purpose of the letter “is to put all on notice that if these monies are in fact used for any other purpose…our client will be constrained to file appropriate action to have those fees returned…”

Ralston has the letter posted.

Bipartisan Budget Deal in Place

By Sean Whaley | 8:10 pm February 28th, 2010

(Updated at 1:47 a.m. on March 1, 2010)

CARSON CITY – As a deal to close an $805 million budget gap was announced today, bringing a close to a sometimes rancorous six-day special session, Republican lawmakers say they helped shape the debate that led to a minimal use of taxes and fees to balance the spending plan.

And in another more modest victory, Republicans in the Legislature won bipartisan support for a resolution asking the 2011 Legislature to consider opening up to public view the collective bargaining process used by local governments and employee unions to negotiate salaries and benefits.

Gov. Jim Gibbons asked for consideration of the collective bargaining proposal in his proclamation adding issues to the special session, and Assembly Republicans had made it a key point in their acceptance of any budget-balancing plan.

The proposal, along with a collection of education reform measures sought by Gibbons, including a voucher school proposal, did not get hearings, however.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, called it a win for her 14-member caucus, which is in a difficult bargaining position because of its minority status. Democrats in the Assembly outnumber Republicans 28 to 14, enough votes to approve new fees without support from the GOP members.

“Our caucus is very concerned about transparency,” she said. “We recognize that billions of taxpayer dollars are spent through collective bargaining process and we believe the taxpayers deserve to know where that money is spent.”

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, also welcomed the decision to seek transparency in the labor negotiation process.

Legislative leaders of both parties also praised Gibbons, who is facing a tough primary election battle against former federal judge Brian Sandoval, for working with them to craft an acceptable plan.

Gibbons spent long hours with lawmakers in closed-door meetings with legislative leadership over the past few days to come to an agreement.

The praise from Raggio was particularly noteworthy, given that he and Gibbons had exchanged some pointed criticisms in the days leading up to the session and during the session itself. Raggio has said in public comments he believes Sandoval is the only Republican candidate with a chance of defeating Democrat Rory Reid in the governor’s race.

Gansert has endorsed Sandoval in the primary race.

In announcing the agreement, Gibbons said everyone had to give something up to get bipartisan support and he credited Democrats and Republicans for working together.

“It took a lot of give and a lot of take and a lot of debate, some of it heated at times,” he said.

Raggio said the cuts to be implemented by the Legislature will be severe.

“There is going to be some pain out there,” he said. “Hopefully some of this will be an impetus for us to take a long hard look at how we fund state government, not to mention what goes on in local governments,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she was pleased to be able to reduce the cuts to public and higher education. The agreement reduces public education cuts to $117 million instead of $211 million. Higher education is cut b y $46 million instead of $76 million.

Some of the “worst of the worst” cuts to Health and Human Resources programs were also restored, she said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also highlighted the ability to reduce the cuts first proposed by Gibbons.

“There are certain parts of the plan that each one of us don’t like,” he said.

But reducing the education cuts from 10 percent to 6.9 percent was a big victory, Horsford said.

Gansert said the language encouraging the 2011 Legislature to subject the collective bargaining process to the state open meeting law was added to Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, which passed the Senate earlier this week urging local governments and employee groups to mutually address the budget shortfall. Gansert said the language is as strong as allowed, since current lawmakers cannot bind future Legislatures to a particular course of action.

The vote on the budget bill in the Assembly was 34-8, with all eight “no” votes coming from the GOP caucus. The vote in the Senate was 20-1. Only Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, voted no.

While voting against the budget plan because of the mining and banking fee increases it contains, Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said Republicans clearly influenced the dialogue over how to balance the budget.

When Assembly Republicans proposed their own plan that balanced the budget without new taxes or fees not contributed directly by users, it pushed Democrats to move away from those revenue sources, he said.

“Us showing a united front, with a solution, absolutely drove the Democrats to a resolution that is less reliant on more spending, more taxes and more fees, and back to being more fiscally responsible,” he said.

Gansert, who voted for the bill, said the Republican influence can be seen in that only about $52 million of the total shortfall is being addressed with new fees. Most is coming from $26 million in a mining claim fee increase that was modified to exempt small operators and $13.8 million from an increased fee on banks when filing notices of default.

That is just a fraction of the overall shortfall, she said.

The caucus did also agree to restore some cuts Gibbons had proposed in public and higher education, Gansert said.

“We absolutely don’t like all of it,” she said. “It was a struggle to add anything back to tell you the truth.”

Gansert predicted that some, but not all, of her caucus would vote for the plan and her prediction held true.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, opposed the budget bill because of the banking and mining fees.

“There are some difficult pills in there to swallow,” he said.

Settelmeyer said he would have liked to see progress in the special session on the collective bargaining proposal as well.

“Our caucus stood up as a group and said it was important to us,” he said.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, voted for the agreement once he received assurances that the mining claim fee will not affect the small operators.

He praised Gibbons and the leadership for working out an agreement.

As to the failure of the Legislature to consider Gibbons’ other issues, Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the proper focus of the special session was balancing the budget.

“These other policy concerns are best brought up in a regular session when the public can have full access and deliberations can be held. I don’t think it is appropriate to take up major policy reforms in a special session,” she said.

Special Session Update: 3:30 p.m.

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:34 pm February 28th, 2010

Assembly adjourned at 2-ish until 4-ish.  Budget deal not worked out quite yet.  Buckley looked relaxed, though, when I saw her 5 minutes ago.

Governor coming back over at some point.  No bills (except the two mentioned yesterday) have been sent over to him yet.

New language in water bill being worked out.  Will Assembly like?  Who knows.

That is it, Dear Readers.  Sit. Around. And. Wait.

Thank goodness we had the USA-Canada gold medal game to distract us for an hour or so.  Jubilation when USA scored with about 30 seconds to go in the 3rd period.  Dejection and shaking of heads when Canada scored about 10 minutes into OT.

Afternoon Updates, Gibbons in Leg Building, Possible Deal Tonight?

By Elizabeth Crum | 5:32 pm February 27th, 2010

The governor is in Buckley’s office with both she and Horsford.  We’re hearing there is a strong possibility of a deal tonight.  We can only hope…


– Re: gaming, Horsford said earlier there’s a “placeholder” for them. Meaning, prob’ly, we’ll ding ‘em with whatever is needed at the end.

– Looks like we’ll hear Water, but many in Assembly saying there is not enough time to fully examine and understand it now.  Want to wait until 2011 session.  A consultant submitted a letter on the issue today; Ralston has it.  Not long after it was posted, Bob Fulkerson of PLAN sent out an email missive pointing to the link to the letter on Ralston’s blog and saying the following:

The memo linked above is from a California financial manager with extensive financial ties to Clark County. (Yes, it is in his self interests to do what Pat Mulroy tells him to.) It has just been delivered to members of the NV Legislature.

It’s a thinly veiled threat that, without coming right out and saying it, admonishes the Legislature to overturn the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding due process for water protestants. Failure to act now could threaten credit for Las Vegas, the memo alleges. It completely ignores the fact that further additional processes will not even truly delay SNWA’s Pipeline Project, which will not be built for many years anyway – if ever.

The memo is a gross over-reaction to a very narrow ruling in a case involving major Constitutional due process problems. These issues cannot be legislated away. Trying to do so will only create a more complicated mess for every branch of Nevada’s government.

If you have not contacted your legislators yet telling them what an abominations this bill is, please do so right now!

– Earlier, Ralston Flashed that “lawmakers have only transmitted two of the session’s bills to the governor’s office” — electronic child support measure and the bill to pay for the special session — “leading the Gibbonsites to believe they hope to send most over at once so the veto clock is synchronized on them. No one wants the veto/override scenario but it’s possible lawmakers are not taking any chances so are holding all bills until a deal is reached.”

– Education progress:  Passage of three bills: AB4, AB5 and ACR 2.  AB4 provides school districts the flexibility in previously mandated class-size reductions for first-to-third grades (i.e. allows districts to increase student-teacher ratios by 2 students per class – 18-to-1 in 1st and 2nd grades, and 21-to-1 for 3rd).  Will result in some teacher layoffs and/or transfers in some counties.  AB2 allows school districts the flexibility to use money that has been specifically earmarked for new textbook purchases to be used for other stuff.  Both AB4 and AB2 are temporary; they sunset on 6/30/11.  ACR2 asks school districts to make every effort to do what they can to avoid massive layoffs and make sure that the quality of education does not diminish during the crisis.

– LG Brian Krolicki earlier testified before the Assembly on the GOP’s idea to securitize unclaimed property funds. Dems grilled him as to why trading future revenue for a one-time payoff is a good idea. Some of my Tweets from that interaction:

– Krolicki on Assembly floor: “This idea to monetize unclaimed property is only a tool to bridging gap…could generate up to $120M.”

– Krolicki (cont): “…agreeing 2 enter into selling of securities…need 2 pledge at 2x coverage ($14M/year) at conservative rate (5%)”

– Speaker Buckley interrupts Krolicki: “I am going to put a limit on length of Qs & As. We’d like to sine die sometime soon.” #nvss #amen

Note:  #nvss = nevada special session (search and follow the tag for all the coverage)

– Conklin to Krolicki: “…aren’t we just adding to next biennium’s shortfall by taking this money?” Krolicki: “Better of bad options”

– Gansert 2 Krolicki: “Could this be held as a last resort, maybe even pull trigger in 2011; how fast could we move?” K: “60 to 90 days”

– State Treasurer Kate Marshall on reality of $ from unclaimed property: “$50M in ’09 was record year. $77M in, $27M paid back.”

– Buckley asking about side-by-side analysis of this in other states. Marshall says CA & AZ did similar, bond/credit rating downgraded.

And a good Tweet from Ralston:

– I am puzzled: Why is this monetization scheme any more ridiculous than any of the other gimmicks they are using to balance the budget? #nvss

– Ed Goedhart, the sole “no” vote on two Assembly measures so far, reconfirms he will vote “no” on all “revenue enhancing measures,” even the ones suggested by his fellow Republicans, with the exception of borrowing money from the Clark County School District Capital Projects Fund and the possible exception of borrowing from the Clark County Reclamation Fund.  When asked if he will be the “sole” No vote on the other measures, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised.”  His explanation is the same as always when asked.  “These are temporary band-aids. We’re looking at a $3 billion shortfall in the next biennium.  We need reform, not these desperate measures that kick the can down the road.”

– Other Assembly Republicans are not saying much (at least, not to me).  Snapped and Tweeted a pic of Oceguera discussing the budget with Settlemeyer, Hambrick, Goicoechea and Hardy during a brief Assembly recess earlier this afternoon.  For whatever that is worth.

Taxes, Fees, Revenue Enhancement: Friday Special Session Review, Friday Night Re-Cap with Horsford, Saturday Preview

By Elizabeth Crum | 9:13 am February 27th, 2010

All right, here’s a round-up of all the main tax, fee and revenue stuff from the special session, bullet-style:

– Assembly Republicans put forth a re-worked Dem budget plan on Thursday evening.  Revenue and fee proposals include an increase in unclamed property transfers ($4M), tax amnesty ($5M), borrowing from Clark County School District capital projects funds ($25M) and Clark County Reclamation fund ($56M), a spend down of the ending general fund balance ($5M), an unclaimed property program ($91M), state park fee increases, Gaming Control Board investigation fees ($4.2M), and the mining deal ($62M).  Total revenue:  $253 million.

– Nevada Mining Association head Tim Crowley says the NMA agrees to prepay some taxes and raise a mining fee from the existing $5 to $25 in order to chip in $100 million. But both Gibbons and Horsford say they do not support pre-payment of taxes because they leave a budget gap.

– Assembly Democrats this week proposed that gaming pay for Gaming Control Board’s enforcement division to the tune of a $32 million tax hike.  But Gibbons said he would veto the measure unless gaming voluntarily agreed to it, and the Nevada Resort Association claimed (surprise, surprise) that it couldn’t get members on the same page.

– In a Senate floor discussion yesterday with gaming lobbyist (and head of R&R Partners) Billy Vassiliadis, Horsford said he wanted gaming to come to the table and do its part.  Vassiliadis retorted that (1) gaming has born up under three tax hikes since 2003, (2) gaming revenue dropped by a $6.7 billion during the last fiscal year and (3) gaming has laid off nearly 34,000 workers so far and that the new tax could lead to as many as 1,000 more layoffs..  He promised help in 2011  but said, “I am sorry to say that for the first time, this year, we just can’t help out.

– Horsford on gaming:  “In fairness to the gaming industry, they contributed nearly 50 percent to the general fund and yes, they have been asked to step up time and time again. But I think they have to do it again.”  And asked of gaming:  ”The question is why should the state subsidize your cost of doing business?”

– Buckley had said earlier this week that the $32 million they want from gaming (which now comes from the general fund) could be better spent on education.  Horsford said that the total spend on the Gaming Control Board ($62 million) could save 800 teachers jobs.

– When it was their turn to be in the Senate Floor hot seat, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Veronica Meter and Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Tray Abney said a lot of words amounting to one thing:  Business can’t help out.  Abney quipped, “If my members cease to exist, government ceases to exist.”  He asked the Legislature to ease the hiring process for businesses by streamlining registration and taxes.

– Senator Randolph Townsend jumped to his feet and grilled Abney. “’No’ is not a plan. Taxing the world is not a plan,” he said, adding, “You are wasting our time. You need to be at the table now.”  Townsend asked Meter and Abney to come up with ideas; the two essentially repeated their talking points. Townsend reiterated his position (for whatever good that did:  there is a two-thirds vote needed to raise taxes and the governor is strongly opposed to a business tax increase, so the business community has no motivation to volunteer anything).

– Other business reps – trucking, the retail association, manufacturers and banks – also testified on the Senate floor.  Interestingly, Nevada Brothel Association lobbyist George Flint joined mining and offered up some help by re-suggesting last year’s idea of a $5 tax on prostitution, saying it would raise $2 to $2.5 million.

– Late last night, Horsford met with the press corps to discuss the remaining agenda and state of negotiations.  Some blurbs and bullets from the Q&A:

– Re: gaming’s position:  “I’m a little disappointed” and “I think they should come to the table.” When asked if he believes gaming cannot afford $32 million, Horsford said bluntly, “No” and added, “Thirty million is three 10 million dollar high-rollers.  I mean, come on.”  He went on to say, “Steve Wynn just announced 400 hires, a new night club and the opening of a new pool.  That is in conflict with the statement, ‘We just can’t.’”

– Horsford: “Revenue reform is at the top of the agenda for 2011. It is THE agenda.”

– Horsford said he was “really pleased” that Gibbons had spent so much time meeting with the Legislature Thursday and Friday.  He said the governor had been “listening to proposals and views” and “interjected his own ideas” and that he seemed “genuinely interested in reaching an agreement.

– When asked if he would agree to 5% education cuts (the current agreed-upon number is 7.5%), Horsford said, “Yes, but having said that, we want the cuts to be as low as possible.”

– Re: the proposal by Assembly Republican to open up collective bargaining to public meeting rules, Horsford said he does not support it, and city and county managers are pushing back because they are in the middle of contract negotations now.

– When asked whether water will stay on the special session agenda, Horsford said he did not think there would be enough time for it.

– Re: Race to the Top, Horsford indicated that based on his conversations with Assistant Secretary of Education at the DOE, he expected the state to qualify for the federal grant funds.

– Re: Senator Townsend and his heated remarks on the Senate floor, Horsford quipped, “I wish we could do term limit reform.”

Today’s expected events:

–More closed door meetings between the governor and the Legislature.

– More discussion of how deep education cuts will be: 7. 5% or 5%.

– More arguing over taxes and fees for gaming and business.  More working out of how mining revenue will work.

– Race to the Top bill sits, or if it goes to Gibbons, does not get vetoed after all.

– A deal, and we all go home tomorrow.  Maybe.

Assembly Speaker Says Governor’s Education Reform Plan Not Likely to Get Hearing in Special Session

By Sean Whaley | 12:37 pm February 26th, 2010

(Updated at 2:37 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2010)

CARSON CITY – Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley said “probably not” when asked this morning if the Legislature will have the time to consider education reform and the other measures included in Gov. Jim Gibbons proclamation for the special session now entering its fourth day.

Gibbons on Wednesday amended the proclamation to include a number of issues he had previously asked the Legislature to consider at the special session, including amendments to the state’s collective bargaining law, a school voucher, or scholarship, program and elimination of the state mandates for smaller class sizes in the lower elementary grades of the public schools.

Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said the governor would be disappointed if the Legislature did not make an effort to take up at least some of the proposals included in the proclamation.

“The governor would like to see some effort by the Legislature to consider all of the education reform measures,” Burns said. “But he would like to see at least some effort to consider some of the proposals he has made, to have the Legislature show they have some level of interest in modernizing the system of public education in this state.”

Burns acknowledged that Gibbons has called on the Legislature to finish its work by the end of the day Sunday. But the pace of the Legislature up to now, described by some as “glacial,” already has afforded some time to consider education reform, he said.

“We’re in the fourth day,” Burns said. “How many bills have come to the governor’s office?”

Gibbons still has not received the bill to change Nevada law to allow the state to compete for federal Race to the Top funds, passed by the Legislature on Wednesday, he said.

While pleased that lawmakers are now picking up the pace, and that lawmakers are actively working on solutions to the $900 million budget shortfall, Gibbons will be surprised and disappointed if the Legislature can’t take the time to consider one single idea to improve education, Burns said.

“All we’re asking for is a fair shake,” he said. “The governor has said he will bring the issue up again.”

While hearings on education reform do not appear likely, the Assembly today did introduce a bill to allow for the temporary increase in class sizes in the next school year to deal with the impending public school budget cuts.

Assembly Bill 4 would allow school districts to add two students to class sizes in grades 1, 2 and 3. Those classes are now limited to 16 students per teacher in grades 1 and 2 and 19 students in grade 3.

Joyce Haldeman, representing the Clark County School District, supported the bill, saying the addition of two pupils to the classes in these three grades would save the district $30 million next school year.

Gibbons wanted the class-size mandate permanently repealed.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said he believes the measures should be given some attention, even though lawmakers are under pressure to balance the budget and adjourn as soon as possible.

“We owe any governor the courtesy to at least look at these,” he said.

The two houses could divide the proposals to speed the process up, Hambrick said.

“Give him a chance in the batter’s box,” he said.

Raggio, Gansert Getting Pushback from Conservative Caucus

By Elizabeth Crum | 11:03 am February 24th, 2010

As expected, Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert is getting pushback from many of her conservative, staunchly anti-tax members (hello, John Hambrick and Ed Goedhart – for two).

On the Senate side, Raggio is also dealing with pesky legislators who will not agree to vote for anything that might tarnish their conservative creds.

(The LV Sun has a write-up here.)

And/but as Ralston asked this morning:  “How many times can Raggio and his lieutenant, Randolph Townsend, be the votes Majority Leader Steven Horsford needs to count to 14?”

We’re talking to peeps all day and will have pithy quotes and updates and maybe even a story for you.

In any case, Horsford and Buckley are moving forward:  bills to be intro’d shortly.  (Some say that will happen this afternoon.  Waiting for confirmation.)

Lawmakers, Governor at Odds Over Budget Plan

By Sean Whaley | 7:07 pm February 22nd, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons is sticking with much of his plan on how to find $890 million to balance the state budget even as lawmakers continue to question the viability of some elements, including $50 million in additional mining revenues and $30 million from an automobile insurance verification program using highway cameras.

The plan was altered today after several new revenue sources were identified that allowed Gibbons to eliminate a proposed $35.7 million reduction in public teacher salaries.

But Robin Reedy, chief of staff to Gibbons, said the vast majority of the governor’s plan remains intact as the way to balance the budget.

“We’ve worked up through Saturday with various members of the Legislature,” she said after making comments to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee. “We have yet to see a list from them of what is good so we’ve not taken anything off ours.”

One other change to Gibbons’ plan provoked some strong exchanges between Reedy and lawmakers. Taken off the table are three fee increases initially proposed by Gibbons: $1.1 million in state park hikes, $550,000 for the cost of restaurant inspections and $337,000 to obtain state vital records.

Some lawmakers questioned the removal of the fee increases, including Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, who said the proposals were appropriate to free up general fund money to offset 10 percent cuts to education and state agencies.

Buckley said the Gibbons administration appears to be inconsistent on the issue of fees, with support for some increases but opposition to others, and suggested politics are at play.

“The governor gets beat up on the campaign trail or from the right wing about the mining deductions and all of a sudden we see vital records and consumer health fees being yanked,” Buckley said.

Reedy said the governor’s tax and fee policies are not based on politics.

“If the people who are being assessed agree to the fee or the tax, he will do it,” she said.”I think that is consistent.”

The questioning about the change of course on the fees also prompted Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, to forcefully tell Reedy that he would direct any questions to administration officials he believed were appropriate.

The comment came after Reedy suggested that the repeated questioning on the governor’s tax and fee policy was not productive.

The exchanges came as the 26th special session of the Nevada Legislature is set to being tomorrow to find ways to close the nearly $990 million gap in the current two-year budget.

The proposal to use traffic cameras to identify uninsured drivers to generate $30 million in the second year of the budget was called “wacky” by Buckley.

Raggio continued to question the constitutionality of the proposal to reduce the allowable deductions on the net proceeds of minerals tax to generate $50 million to the state. If the proposals cannot be accomplished or are rejected by the Legislative majority there is at least an $80 million hole in Gibbons’ budget balancing plan.

Beginning the special session without firm agreement could mean for several days of discussions before the budget is finally balanced.

Some lawmakers also questioned the claim made by Gibbons today that when all funding for public education is counted, including local support, the actual cut for the state’s schools is only 2.4 percent. The comment came in a press release from Gibbons announcing the identification of enough new revenues to eliminate his proposed 1.75 percent teacher pay cut.

The 10 percent cut being proposed by Gibbons for public education is only on the state share of the tax support.

Some lawmakers suggested the change to include local funding would only confuse and mislead the public.

But Reedy said calling the reduction to public education a 10 percent cut was disingenuous and a “scare tactic.”

Lawmakers and Governor Continue to Look for Solutions to Massive Budget Shortfall

By Sean Whaley | 7:16 pm February 18th, 2010

CARSON CITY – As Gov. Jim Gibbons and lawmakers continued to work today toward a plan to balance the state budget, a number of potential solutions were called into question during a hearing today.

Ideas to reduce the deductions available on the net proceeds of minerals tax to raise $50 million, collect as much as $100 million in unpaid taxes owed to the state and expand sales tax collections on internet sales all were questioned by some lawmakers, administration officials and industry representatives.

But new potential solutions were also brought forward at a meeting of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, including a suggestion to make more state agency operations self-sufficient by increasing industry fees, which would free up general fund revenue to reduce the level of cuts now being contemplated for education and state programs.

Another proposal is to establish a new tax amnesty program to bring in additional revenue to offset budget cuts.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, proposed an auction of state buildings in exchange for a long-term upfront lease agreement fee, saying it could bring in $250 million quickly to help with the shortfall. He said between $200 million and $300 million in cuts proposed by Gibbons to balance the budget are not doable.

Buildings would be appraised and perhaps auctioned off in a single day with the lease agreement fee, calculated over a 20-year period, being paid in full at that time by the successful bidder, he said. The state would then make payments back to the successful bidder during the time of the lease agreement, Raggio said.

“We’re not selling these buildings,” he said. “We would be leasing them out at a fixed amount of payments over a period of time. At the end of the 20-year term, the state would again take back the building.

“It’s not a perfect solution but it is certainly a concept that I think is worthy of at least consideration,” Raggio said.

He noted Arizona recently completed such a process and brought in more than $700 million.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, also supported taking a look at the concept, saying the current budget balancing plan has a lot of holes.

Gibbons and lawmakers are working to come up with a bipartisan solution to an $888 million budget shortfall. Lawmakers are scheduled to begin a special session Tuesday to address the fiscal crisis.

Raggio questioned the suggestions that more tax revenue could be generated by collecting unpaid taxes or by increasing internet sales tax collections. He called some of the budget proposals put forward by different interests as “smoke and mirrors.”

“I’m not going to be part of a process that plugs in something that is unrealistic,” he said.

Dino DiCianno, executive director of the Department of Taxation, said much of the $100 million in taxes owed to the agency cannot be collected because of bankruptcies and other factors. The suggestion was not one of Gibbons’ proposals to balance the budget.

“We will never be able to capture that money,” he said. “Especially with respect to debt that has been discharged by a court. It is truly written off. It is gone.”

Budget Director Andrew Clinger said he has not put a figure on what potentially could be generated from improved internet sales tax collections because there is too high a level of uncertainty surrounding the issue.

And mining industry representatives also testified before the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, saying they are willing to help in the current fiscal crisis but that Gibbons’ plan to change the rate of deductions allowed for the minerals tax is a non-starter.

Political consultant Pete Ernaut, representing the Nevada Mining Association, said the industry is willing to help, but Gibbons’ plan to change the deductions on the net proceeds is unacceptable to the industry.

“We understand the number that you all are shooting for, and we’re doing our darn best to get there,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, advocated both for a new tax amnesty program and a shift to make more state agencies self sufficient through the use of fees rather than general fund support.

She asked Dennis Neilander, chairman of the Gaming Control Board, if a fee increase of some level could be put in place by July 1 if authorized by the Legislature. The gaming agency received $31.7 million in general fund support in fiscal year 2009.

Neilander said such a timeline could be accommodated. He could not comment on what size of a fee increase would be feasible, noting that the gaming industry is suffering in the current economic slowdown like all other sectors of the economy.

Buckley said such fees should be considered by all regulatory agencies and programs, from the Labor Commissioner to the Equal Rights Commission, to free up general fund money for education and other critical programs.

Tweets from State Budget Talks Today

By Elizabeth Crum | 5:40 pm February 18th, 2010

If you want to see all the Nevada News Bureau Tweets on today’s talks – or follow us in general – go here.  If you were following us, here is some of what you would have seen:

Assembly Speaker Buckley says primary concern about budget cuts are impacts on education. Dicussioms with gov continue. Sill a ways to go.

Sen. Bill Raggio says some proposed budget solutions are “smoke and mirrors.”

State Tax Chief Dino DiCianno says suggestion his agency can obtain $100 million in uncollected taxes greatly exaggerated.

Assembly Speaker Buckley says Nevada should consider another tax amnesty program. Last amnesty generated $41 million. Would help avert cuts.

Pete Ernaut, representing mining industry, pledges support to get through state fiscal crisis to lawmakers. No support for Gibbons plan.

Pete Ernaut says mining tax would have to be increased by $100 million to get $50 million to general fund because half goes to counties.

Raggio says if lawmakers had not raised taxes temporarily in 2009, budget hole would be twice as big.

Speaker Buckley wants regulatory agencies, including gaming, to increase fees to cover costs as a solution to reducing budget cuts.

See?  Just like being there in person.  Except in 140 characters rather than really long sentences.  And without having to listen to all the boring in-between stuff.

If you’re not signed up for Twitter, you should be.  It’s a quasi news aggregator you design yourself because you can choose who you follow.  Do it!

Nevada Lawmakers Search for Funds to Reduce Depth of Impending State Budget Cuts

By Sean Whaley | 3:35 pm February 3rd, 2010

CARSON CITY – In the face of potential college campus closures, hundreds of state employee layoffs and a state budget crisis of unprecedented proportions, there was a tiny bit of good news delivered to state lawmakers today.

The state shortfall that must be made up in the current two-year budget is no longer $1 billion, but $881 million, said state Budget Director Andrew Clinger.

The change is due primarily to a lower figure for the cost of the increased Medicaid caseload the state will have to pay for through the end of the budget cycle on June 30, 2011 that had previously been cited by the Gibbons Administration.

The revised figures mean the total budget cuts needed to balance the budget, if they could commence March 1, now total 20.2 percent, slightly lower than a previous 22 percent estimate.

But Clinger said because of legal notice and public hearing requirements, implementing many potential budget cuts by March 1 is now unlikely. The later the cuts are implemented, the higher the percentage reduction will be required, he said.

With word from Gov. Jim Gibbons that he is considering layoffs of as many as 300 state workers, legislators continued to look for funds to head off the draconian cuts for state agencies and the university system.

As part of a search for funds that could potentially reduce the severity of budget cuts, the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee today heard a plea from the Southern Nevada construction industry to avoid tapping into a $4.2 billion, local government capital construction fund.

Jeremy Aguero, a principle analyst with the Las Vegas-based firm Applied Analysis, provided an overview of the capital reserve fund for lawmakers on behalf of the Associated General Contractors of Southern Nevada.

Not only is the money already designated for projects, many of which are “shovel ready,” but spending money on construction is a great way of creating well-paying private sector construction jobs, lawmakers were told.

“There is not one dollar of the $4.2 billion that isn’t committed to a project in a capital improvement plan at a local government level,” Aguero said.

He said maintaining capital programs is “arguably more economically important to this state than almost anywhere else in the country.”

Gibbons on Tuesday made a commitment to local government officials that he would not seek to tap into the fund to bail out the state budget.

But the Legislature has not yet made such a commitment.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he needs more information before deciding whether to seek a share of the fund to help balance the state budget.

“The public deserves to know how $4 billion worth of reserve funds are being used,” he said. “If there is justification based on bond covenants or committed projects that can be identified project-by-project; and the number of jobs and the time frame, there shouldn’t be a need to look at that.”

But until that case is made, everything is on the table, Horsford said.

Lawmakers are also looking at taking every available dollar from any state agency reserve funds to reduce the level of reuired cuts. No dollar number from this proposed “sweep” has yet been determined, he said.

The Legislature is still in the information gathering stage in preparation for dealing with the budget shortfall in special session, Horsford said. But he said he is not in favor of across the board cuts.

“We don’t think that approach makes much sense,” he said. “We need to be more focused and strategic. We need to look at certain parts of state government that may not be as essential based on today’s circumstances.”

Both Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and Senate Taxation Chairman Bob Coffin, both D-Las Vegas, asked Clinger for more detail on Gibbons’ proposed cuts and his timeline for implementation.

“I think we’ve got to share those things,” Coffin said. “I really want to see those as soon as possible because we’ve got to make our plans.”

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said the task for lawmakers is daunting.

“It is much more than we anticipated,” he said of the shortfall. “It is going to be a tough, tough project.”

Legislative leaders met later in the day with Gibbons’ staff to go over their list of proposed cuts.

Gibbons is scheduled to make his proposals known in a special state of the state address to Nevadans on Monday. He is also expected to soon call the Legislature into special session to address the budget deficit.

Every Option Under Discussion as Governor, Lawmakers Seek Solutions to Massive Budget Shortfall

By Sean Whaley | 2:28 pm January 27th, 2010

(Updated at 2:50 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2010)

CARSON CITY – When budget cuts come to higher education and the public school system to help balance a state spending plan that is $1 billion out of balance, those decisions should be made by the Board of Regents and local school officials, two members of Gov. Jim Gibbons cabinet said today.

Deputy Chief of Staff Stacy Woodbury said proposals to close the Nevada State College at Henderson or implement other program changes at the Nevada System of Higher Education will have to be made by the Board of Regents.

What Gibbons and the Legislature must do is set the reduced level of funding available to higher education and let regents decide how to meet the new financial target, she said.

Deputy Chief of Staff Lynn Hettrick said the state is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, and that major cuts in programs will be needed. Suggestions from lawmakers that the dollar amount will equate to a 22 percent cut in programs may be “a bit” high, he said.

“I hope it doesn’t go to 22 percent,” Hettrick said.

Both Woodbury and Hettrick made their comments in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

In a telephone interview, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said legislative fiscal staff are saying the cuts required are in the $900 million range, and that if cuts were implemented with a March 1 start date, the effect would be a 22 percent cut. That is not to say cuts of 22 percent will be implemented, but it shows the severity of the problem, she said.

In what she called a collegial meeting between lawmakers and Gibbons on Tuesday, there were preliminary efforts to reach consensus on what cuts could be made, Buckley said. There are few alternatives to cuts available, but “sweeping” every bank account in state government could potentially bring some relief. If $100 million could be identified in this process, it would help reduce the level of cuts required, she said.

Buckley called the state’s predicament, “unbelievably dire.”

Both Woodbury and Hettrick said during the interview that Gibbons also wants to give local school boards and parents the ability to decide how to implement any cuts that will have to be made to the public school system.

Gibbons has proposed eliminating a state mandate for all-day kindergarten and class-size reduction in the lower elementary grades so that school districts can decide which programs to fund, Woodbury said.

Hettrick said eliminating the mandates would empower the local school districts.

Woodbury also said Gibbons is not at this point proposing to shift the cost of any state programs to local governments, or seek additional funding for the state budget shortfall from counties and cities.

“They can’t bear it any more than we can,” Woodbury said.

Gibbons has proposed eliminating the requirement for collective bargaining between local governments and school districts and their employees to give them more flexibility in dealing with salaries and their own budget issues, she said.

Woodbury said the state must also consider opting out of federally mandated programs, including Medicaid. The program as it now exists is unsustainable whether new recipients are added to the rolls under a national health care insurance bill or not, she said.

Despite concerns about the sustainability of the Medicaid program, Gibbons later today issued a news release saying he does not believe now is an appropriate time to opt out of Medicaid.

Even so, Gibbons encouraged legislators and the state’s Congressional delegation to consider the fact that Nevada cannot afford to continue increasing its Medicaid spending at the current rate of growth.

“The average growth in general fund Medicaid spending over the past decade is close to 10 percent,” Gibbons said. “Our ever-growing Medicaid burden undercuts our ability to fund other state responsibilities and is crowding out education, public safety and infrastructure as components of our budget.”

The prime driver of Nevada’s Medicaid spending growth is caseload. While an average of 96,000 Nevadans per month received Medicaid in Fiscal Year 2000, that number jumped almost 250 percent to 238,891 Nevadans receiving Medicaid in December 2009. 

Hettrick said Gibbons also wants to minimize layoffs, since those employees would tap into the already severely strained unemployment compensation program.

Buckley said talk of layoffs at this point is premature.

Economic Forum Presents Grim Picture, State Budget Director Says Some Agencies and Programs Will Be Hit Harder Than Others

By Sean Whaley | 10:59 am January 23rd, 2010

CARSON CITY – When the dust settled from the Economic Forum meeting late yesterday, the message was clear: Governor Jim Gibbons and the Nevada Legislature have an enormous challenge to rebalance the state budget – a $580 million challenge that could still get worse.

The five-member forum of private sector financial experts, called together by Gibbons to get its take on the depth of the state’s budget woes, radically lowered its tax revenue estimates for this fiscal year and next.

The result is two years of tax revenues that are 9.2 percent lower than originally projected by the forum last year after $776.3 million in tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature are factored in. The budget created less than eight months ago using a $6.3 billion revenue estimate will have to see major reductions to come back into balance at a level of $5.7 billion.

The forum heard doom and gloom scenarios – from continued high unemployment, lower gaming revenues and a lagging economic recovery – for much of the day before finally making its projections on 10 major revenue sources.

Other smaller revenue sources will be re-projected by legislative staff, which could affect the final number to a small degree. Required public school funding could add to the total as well since the state is required to make up any shortfalls and much of the public education funding comes from sales taxes, which were significantly reduced in the new forum projections.

Now that the forum’s work is done, the tough job of making the needed cuts gets under way.

A special session is expected to be called by Gibbons for some time in February.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said meetings with agency chiefs are scheduled for all of next week to begin the process of deciding what can be cut.

“We will begin making some decisions on what cuts we can accept and those that are not palatable,” he said. “The cuts won’t be across-the-board. Absolutely some agencies will take a greater hit than others.”

When the program cuts are finalized, then Gibbons will look at other alternatives for closing the remainder of the gap, including the possibility of further pay reductions for state employees, Clinger said. No budget cut decisions have yet been finalized, he said.

Gibbons said Thursday he believes a special session of the Legislature is inevitable to deal with the budget cuts. An announcement is expected soon now that the forum estimates are complete.

Gibbons said the session is needed to fix the budget problems created by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, a characterization rejected by Democrat lawmakers.

“I believe the Democrat-controlled Legislature is partly responsible for many of the economic problems our state is facing, but unfortunately, the only way to correct some of their mistakes is to call them together in a special session,” Gibbons said. “All of our economic indicators are pointing toward the need for a special session of the Nevada Legislature.”

Gibbons, who is running for re-election but facing stiff opposition in the GOP primary, blamed legislative Democrats for the current fiscal crisis facing Nevada.

“The Democrat-controlled Legislature raised taxes and increased spending, while I stood by my promise to the voters by vetoing their higher taxes and spending,” he said. “But they wouldn’t listen and now we have to endure the consequences of their actions.”

Gibbons said that during the last legislative session state legislators raised government spending by $1 billion.

“They also raised the payroll and sales taxes, leading to additional layoffs and placing a greater financial burden on Nevada families,” he said. “Today the recession continues and Nevada’s unemployment rate ranks second in the nation.”

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said Gibbons’ comments are designed for campaign purposes and don’t serve to resolve the serious budget problems facing the state.

“The governor is throwing another one of his temper tantrums,” Leslie said. “I’m sure voters know the facts. The entire country is in economic turmoil.”

The modest tax increase approved by a bi-partisan vote in the Legislature is not to blame for the state’s woes, she said.

“It is more complex than that, and the governor knows that as well,” Leslie said. “He is striving for political relevancy by pointing the finger at the opposition party.”

In comments made Thursday on the Nevada Newsmakers program, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said recent budget meetings with Gibbons have not been fruitful.

“What we hear from the governor in these meetings is, basically, “I’m going to announce a plan in my press conference in 30 minutes,” Buckley said.  “With one recent legislative leadership meeting, he scheduled it after his announcement.  This is not the collaborative approach we need.”

Questions Raised About Qualifications of Nevada Child and Family Services Chief

By Sean Whaley | 7:03 pm November 18th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Questions are being raised about whether the head of the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services is qualified for her job, but the performance of Diane Comeaux, appointed as administrator in June 2008, is being defended by her boss and lawmakers.

An individual interviewed by the Nevada News Bureau, who asked to be identified only as a “concerned citizen,” said the person in charge of such an important agency should have an advanced degree and years of experience working on child welfare issues.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” the person said. “This is the type of position where a national search is performed. We need the best person available. She is not the best available.”

The individual said several people have brought the concerns to the attention of the governor, lawmakers and Comeaux’s boss with no response.

Comeaux does not have a college degree. She declined to comment on the concerns. She earns $112,000 a year in the position.

She does have the strong support of her boss, Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden, and lawmakers who have been made aware of the concerns over her qualifications.

Gov. Jim Gibbons said he too is aware of the concerns but is deferring to Willden, who said Comeaux has performed well in the job over the past 16 months.

“Simply having a degree in sociology or social work doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be a good manager or a bad manager,” Gibbons said. “I’m aware of the concern but I don’t micromanage decisions made by department heads.”

The concerns appear to receive some backing, however, from Richard Klarberg, president of the Council on Accreditation. COA is an independent, not-for-profit, child- and family-service and behavioral healthcare accrediting organization based in New York. COA currently accredits 38 different service areas and over 60 types of programs.

While not commenting on the specifics of the Nevada situation, Klarberg said to be accredited with COA, an agency would have to be overseen by a person with an advanced degree in a field related to the agency’s mission. A minimum of five years of experience would also be required.

“There needs to be at the head of the agency someone who is qualified, who is a degreed person,” he said. “This doesn’t mean that someone who does not have such a degree might not be a successful and highly competent person.”

But trying to change the lives of vulnerable children and families is a challenging and difficult job that requires such experience, Klarberg said.

COA can accredit an agency in several ways, he said. Sometimes a legislature mandates agency accreditation. Sometimes it is required to settle litigation over the provision of services. Or an agency can seek it out voluntarily. Nevada’s program is not accredited.

“When someone in charge has no experience in this area and lacks credentials, it makes you wonder,” he said. “Potentially it has a demoralizing impact on the line workers. It is an area of concern.”

Willden said Comeaux has served successfully in the No. 2 positions at both Medicaid and Child and Family Services prior to her appointment, although both positions were budget and fiscal in nature and not related to the delivery of services to clients.

“I looked at her skill set and her ability to run large government organizations,” he said. “For years, DCFS was not able to solve the fiscal nut. They ran in the red and didn’t have good controls. It was important to bring in someone with the discipline on the fiscal matters.”

Her counterparts in Clark and Washoe counties also say she is doing a good job, Willden said.

The agency in the past has been run by individuals with the credentials cited by the critic, but for various reasons the past three administrators did not stay, he said.

Comeaux meets the qualifications under state law, which says only: “The administrator must be appointed on the basis of his education, training, experience, demonstrated abilities and his interest in the provision of services to children and families and related programs.”

“I have full confidence in her abilities,” Willden said.

As further evidence of Comeaux‘s lack of experience, the person who has raised the concern points to a $110,000 contract approved in September by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee to hire a consultant to assist the agency, “on issues related to child welfare including federal and state legislation, professional skills development, organizational improvement and policy development.”

If Comeaux can do the job, why the need for the consultant, the person asked.

Willden said such contracts are routine for his agency, and are implemented when a lot of work needs to get done in a limited amount of time. The contract in question is bringing in a highly qualified person with 25 years of experience to help implement an improvement plan required by federal officials, he said.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she believes Comeaux is doing a good job in the position.

“I’m more interested in performance than a degree,” she said.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the selection of Comeaux has brought some stability to an agency that has seen a number of different administrators in recent years. Buckley said she is aware of the concerns, and that the licensed social worker staff in the agency would prefer to have such a professional in the top position.

“But we need someone good and we need stability at the top,” she said. “And that is what we have.”

But the concerned citizen who raised the issue said none of the arguments presented by Willden or lawmakers make Comeaux qualified to run the agency.

“Gibbons does not understand how serious this is,” the source said. “Comeaux was over fiscal. She has no experience at all. And as a taxpayer it is infuriating to be asked to shell out ($112,000) plus benefits for someone who is not qualified for the job.”