Posts Tagged ‘Coffin’

Millennium Scholarship Recipients Could Get Shortchanged In Upcoming School Year

By Sean Whaley | 1:57 pm June 24th, 2010

(Updated at 6:57 p.m. on Thursday, June 24.)

CARSON CITY – Nevada high school graduates intending to rely on the Millennium Scholarship to attend college in state this fall could find themselves with more out-of-pocket expenses because of a $4.2 million projected shortfall in the program.

The shortfall is the result of money from a tobacco legal settlement that funds the scholarship coming in at a lower level than previously projected. The annual payments from tobacco companies are made each April. The 2010 payment was 10 percent less than projected due primarily to lower smoking rates.

Lawmakers were told today that if the scholarship revenues are inadequate to pay the full amount due each student, the payment would be reduced by a percentage based on the amount of money available.

If a shortfall in funding materializes as expected, students will likely see only a percentage of their scholarship paid in the fall semester because of cash flow issues, said Chief Deputy State Treasurer Mark Winebarger. Because the annual tobacco payment will be made in April 2011, students should get their full scholarship payments in the spring semester, he said.

After the meeting, Winebarger estimated that without any changes to the program, eligible students will receive only 65 percent of their scholarship amounts in the fall 2010 semester.

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee today delayed a vote on a transfer of $200,000 from a separate college savings program to prop up the scholarship. The infusion would be far short of what is needed to erase the shortfall.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the Millennium shortfall will be taken up at a future meeting of the committee. More evaluation of the issue is needed, he said.

In addition to the tobacco settlement funds, the scholarship has been funded with revenues from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund managed by the treasurer’s office. That revenue source was diverted by lawmakers to help fill a hole in the general fund budget after getting reassurances that the scholarship would remain solvent until 2014.

More recent projections on the anticipated size of the annual tobacco settlement payments show instead there will be a shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year, however.

Several other funding options to fill the shortfall were discussed by state officials but determined not to be legally viable. A proposal to use $2.6 million available in a separate college savings trust fund was also discussed but not uniformly supported by lawmakers.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, argued against taking any money from the college savings trust fund to subsidize the scholarship. He said the shortfall is the result of actions by the Legislature to balance the general fund budget.

“If there is a shortfall we did it,” Coffin said.

The program, named for former Gov. Kenny Guinn, costs about $25 million per fiscal year, with that amount projected to rise to $26 million in fiscal year 2012. About 21,000 students are using the scholarship, with 60,000 students participating since its inception in 2000.

The scholarship ranges from $40 to $80 per college credit hour depending on the college attended. The scholarship limit is $10,000. Students must qualify by earning a high enough grade point average in high school. Students must also maintain a minimum GPA while in college to continue receiving the scholarship.

audio clips:

Sen. Bob Coffin on legislative decision to take money from scholarship fund:

062310Coffin1 :15 taken that money.”

Coffin says it was bad policy to take money from the scholarship fund

062310Coffin2 :20 rather than later.”

Aspirations of Assemblyman John Hambrick (R-Las Vegas)

By Elizabeth Crum | 7:05 pm February 15th, 2010

Hambrick was just on Face to Face along with Senator Bob Coffin.  Talked special session, tax issues, water issues.  And acknowledged, when asked pointedly if the word on the street was true, that he is indeed interested in Heidi Gansert‘s job title:  Assembly Minority Leader.

Two Democrats Break Ranks

By Elizabeth Crum | 6:17 pm February 13th, 2010

The Las Vegas Sun has a story today about two Democrats – Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce and Senator Bob Coffin – who are breaking ranks with party leadership and calling for an increase in revenue.  Their comments/suggestions/ideas:

“I don’t think all of my colleagues don’t want to talk about taxes. I just have a shorter fuse about being calling a coward,” Pierce said of criticism lawmakers have received from their allies.

Coffin said: “I’m working on leadership.”

On how to raise the money, Pierce and Coffin disagree.

Pierce favors a broad-based business tax on profits. This, she said, would capture large businesses — including liberals’ favorite target, Wal-Mart — that don’t pay their fair share.

Coffin says the state needs a tax that will bring in revenue immediately. An increase in the sales tax is “the quickest, most publicly acceptable,” he said.

Democratic leadership, aka Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, this week came under fire from progressives, the teachers union and advocates for various social services groups for saying they do not believe the state should raise taxes during a recession.

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.

Legislative Leadership Rejects Request by Governor Gibbons to Draft Bills for Possible Special Session

By Sean Whaley | 12:12 pm January 8th, 2010

(Updated at 12:58 p.m. on Jan. 8)

CARSON CITY – If Governor Jim Gibbons wants to bring his entire education reform agenda to a special session of the Legislature, from eliminating mandates for class-size reduction to repealing Nevada’s collective bargaining law, he will have to draft the bills himself.

The leadership of the Legislature has rejected a request by Gibbons to draft the several bills implementing his education proposals he released earlier this week in advance of a possible special session.

Instead, his own legal counsel, Adriana Fralick, will draft the bills Gibbons wants the Legislature to consider in a special session, if one is called. But there is no guarantee they will get introduced, let alone get a hearing.

Legislative leadership has indicated that the only bills that will be considered in a special session will come from the Committee of the Whole in each house, not from the governor or individual lawmakers.

Even a request by Gibbons for a bill draft to remove a few words in a state law making Nevada ineligible for federal “Race to the Top” school improvement funds has been rejected by legislative leadership.

Robin Reedy, chief of staff, to Gibbons, said she was shocked to hear of the decision by legislative leadership. The governor’s proposals only seek the repeal of mandates for class-size reduction, all-day kindergarten and collective bargaining, not their elimination, she said.

“I’m tired of their partisanship in not releasing ideas and not giving us ideas,” Reedy said. “They criticize us in the newspapers, but they don’t sit at this table and tell us how they want to tweak it to make it better.”

Reedy said sending over the bill draft requests is an attempt to be transparent and tell lawmakers the issues Gibbons wants to be discussed if a special session is called.

Gibbons, in a letter sent today to Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, has threatened legal action over the failure to draft his proposals.

As first reported by RalstonFlash, Gibbons said in the letter he does not believe it is “legally permissible” for the legislative counsel to decline to draft legislation for the governor.

“A prompt reply to this quandary is appreciated, as the necessity for a definitive answer vis-a-vis the court system is imminently ripe should the Legislative Counsel not perform her Constitutional and statutory duties to draft legislation for the Governor.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said a special session is no time to take up complex policy issues.

“Special sessions are called for special reasons,” she said. “They are costly. We need to stay focused on the issue at hand, which is solving our imminent budget crisis.”

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said the dispute is all about politics as Gibbons and Democratic lawmakers gear up for a session in the midst of an election year.

“I don’t take it too seriously,” he said. “It is gamesmanship, going back and forth preparing for the match.”

Coffin said he would not be opposed to having legislative staff prepare Gibbons’ bill drafts as a courtesy, but it is unlikely his proposals will get a hearing. If a special session is called, the emphasis will be to get any pressing issues resolved and the budget balanced quickly, he said.

There won’t be time for a lengthy debate on the policy issues raised this week by Gibbons, Coffin said.

Gibbons raised the bill drafting issue in a meeting this week with lawmakers. According to one source, Gibbons said at the meeting that if he is limited to a single bill draft for a special session, then he will call a separate special session for each of his proposals.

There is a prohibition on raising money for political campaigns for a limited time around any special session.

There is no bill draft allotment specified for a governor for a special session, unlike regular sessions where a governor gets to submit a specified number of proposals for drafting.

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said the direction on the bill drafting policy came from leadership. Democrats control both the state Senate and Assembly.

In the past it has not been an issue, because the governor and lawmakers have agreed before hand on the agenda and the bills necessary to be considered at a special session, he said.

There is a concern about whether legislative staff time should be spent drafting a bill repealing the state’s collective bargaining law if there is no appetite to take up such an issue, Malkiewich said.

Only Gibbons can call the Legislature to special session, and only he can dictate the agenda for the Legislature to consider. But what bills are drafted and introduced are in the purview of the Legislature.

Gibbons on Wednesday unveiled his plan to reform education and help balance the budget.

Included is the repeal of class size mandates in lower elementary grades and repeal of a requirement for all-day kindergarten, along with the collective bargaining repeal.

Reedy said: “We’re not drawing lines in the sand and saying we’re getting rid of collective bargaining. We’re saying this is an option that we can look at – and lets work on these ideas from now until a special session, if one is called.”

Reedy said Gibbons wants to have a discussion on important public policy issues, not just measures to bring the state budget into balance. It is currently $67 million short of anticipated tax revenues.

The idea is not to repeal class size reduction and take all that funding for use in balancing the budget, she said. The plan is to eliminate the mandate and let schools, parents and teachers decide how best to spend the money.

“I’m tired of the partisan scare tactics that they throw up in order to have a smoke screen to not analyze the real problems,” Reedy said. “The real problem is for 20 years we’ve been doing the same thing the same way and getting the same result.”

Gibbons, Lawmakers Meet to Discuss Budget in First “Open Door” Session

By Sean Whaley | 2:40 pm December 21st, 2009

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons and nine state lawmakers from both political parties spent about an hour today informally discussing potential solutions to the state’s budget shortfall, including a discussion of state employee furloughs versus pay reductions.

The first “open door” meeting proposed by Gibbons to discuss solutions to a current $67 million shortfall in the state general fund budget was productive, according to two of the lawmakers who attended.

The meeting was not open to the general public, and it disbanded before an invitation to the media to attend the last 15 minutes of the get-together could be accommodated.

Gibbons left to attend another engagement after about an hour of discussion.

Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said the governor appreciated the open dialogue with the five Democrats and four Republicans and said there was agreement to continue the meetings on a regular basis.

“The important thing was to have a starting point for a dialogue, which seemed to go very well today,” he said. “The second thing is, make sure your dialogue includes the exchange of ideas. Everyone got a chance to speak.”

Burns said the furlough and pay reduction discussion came up because not all state employees are now being required to take a furlough day as required by the 2009 Legislature to help balance the budget. Key correctional positions are exempted, for example, creating an inequity with other state employees, he said.

Gibbons had proposed a straight pay cut for all employees instead.

“It is not fair to have a certain segment that doesn’t have to take a furlough or some sort of pay reduction, and a certain segment that does,” Burns said.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, who attended the meeting via videoconference from Las Vegas, said he welcomed the chance to talk directly with Gibbons.

“I needed the opportunity to lobby him to have a special session in order to clear the decks so we can get the Race to the Top money,” he said.

Some lawmakers have called on Gibbons to quickly call a special session so a Nevada law prohibiting the state from receiving the federal stimulus funds to improve student achievement can be repealed and an application can be submitted next month.

Gibbons has so far rejected the call for an early special session, saying Nevada is better off applying for the second round of funding in June.

Coffin said he also pushed for a legislative change at a special session to allow the state to use $160 million in borrowed funds to help get through this fiscal year rather than next year. Only $30 million in the loan from a local government investment pool can be used this year without the change.

Some lawmakers have proposed accessing the borrowed funds now rather than making immediate budget cuts to balance the budget.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said the meeting provided good interaction.

“It opened a line of communication which is good to see,” he said. “There have been times when the Legislature and the executive branch have not talked that much.”

Settelmeyer said he agrees that it is better to wait to call a special session so that the Race to the Top issue and the budget problems can all be addressed at the same time.

Settelmeyer said he is concerned about the inequities in the application of the one-day-a-month furlough requirement. The fact that the furloughs do not apply to all employees equally was an unintended consequence the legislation failed to recognize, he said.

Settelmeyer said he would rather see staff prepare a list of all the new programs approved by the Legislature over the past 10 years so they can be evaluated as to whether they are necessary.

“Are they all necessary or are there some programs we could do without?” he asked. “I don’t want to see any more cuts to state employee salaries across-the-board.”

Other lawmakers attending the meeting included Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas; Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington; Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka; Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas; Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson; Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson.

Legislators Comment on New Report Giving Governor, State Senate Low Grades on Racial Equity Legislation

By Sean Whaley | 8:00 pm December 17th, 2009
CARSON CITY – A first-ever report that says it tracked bills in the 2009 session of the Nevada Legislature having to do with racial equity issues gives the state Assembly high marks and Gov. Jim Gibbons an “F”.

The state Senate didn’t fare much better than Gibbons, getting a D+ for its racial equity votes, according to the report released earlier this week by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, or PLAN.

The Assembly, because it passed 10 of 10 racial equity bills, received an A+ in the analysis, which also gives a grade to every individual lawmaker and shows their votes on the Legislation.

The Senate passed six of nine such measures, earning it the low grade.

Gibbons received his F grade for signing only three of the seven racial equity measures that passed both houses of the Legislature. Three of the vetoes were overridden by the Legislature, so six measures actually became law from the 2009 session.

In all, 18 measures were tracked for the report.

Following the release of the report, PLAN members delivered the document to Gibbons’ office.  Gibbons had not been given a copy of the report in advance, although all lawmakers were both mailed and emailed a copy in advance of its release to the public.

Dan Burns, a spokesman for Gibbons, said only: “The governor believes PLAN should take five seconds to tell him everything they know about good, responsive government.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, the first black Senate majority leader in Nevada history, received a C- for his voting record on the measures. He could not be reached for comment.

The best grade in the Senate was given to David Parks, D-Las Vegas, who received a B.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, received an A-.

“Race matters in Nevada,” said Bob Fulkerson, executive director of PLAN. “But as demographics shift, the unprecedented growth in communities of color is not being echoed in the policy decisions of the Governor and state Legislature.

“Disparities in opportunity, access and outcomes between white Nevadans and Nevadans of color are stark – in some cases, among the worst in the nation,” he said.

Lawmakers leveled some criticisms at the report.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, who received a D- in the report card, said the PLAN analysis uses a flawed methodology because lawmakers do not know in advance which specific measures will be evaluated after the session is over.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said he had different reasons for voting against some of the bills cited in the report card rather than any disagreement over the need for racial and social equality.

Goedhart received an F- in the report despite having voted for the domestic partners legislation. He questioned why the domestic partners bill, which doesn’t deal specifically with racial equity, was included in the report in the first place.

“I appreciate PLAN’s dedication to the mission of racial equality,” he said. “I voted against some of the measures not because I disagree, but because I came at the bills with a different perspective.”

Goedhart said he opposed the bill to reopen F Street in Las Vegas because of the cost, not the access issue cited by PLAN. He said he voted against a bill requiring the licensing of off road vehicles because he viewed it as a new tax and government mandate.

“We had to face the reality of our budget limitations,” he said. “We have to be good stewards of public monies.”

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who received an A-, said she believes the PLAN report has value because it focuses on a single area of concern that is important to the organization, lawmakers and the public at large. Many different groups issue similar report cards on different sets of specific issues, she said.

“On the Assembly side I’m very pleased with the overall grade,” Leslie said. “We take issues of racial equity very seriously.”

The report is just one more tool for lawmakers and the public to use and serves to bring attention to an important issue, she said.

“It is fair to hold us accountable,” Leslie said. “Although I would say they were very tough graders.”

The Nevada Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity evaluated and graded lawmakers and Gibbons on legislation that they claim, if passed, would have a positive impact on communities of color. Only bills that received votes in the full Assembly and Senate were used to compile the grades. Bills that died in committee and did not get a full vote in that house of the Legislature were not counted.

Among the measures becoming law this year were Assembly Bill 243, which requires employers to grant leave to parents to participate in certain school activities, and Assembly Bill 149, which revises provisions on home foreclosures.

Those that failed included Assembly Bill 443, which would have given minority voters more power to elect candidates in their wards in Reno and Sparks. The measure passed the Assembly but did not come out of the Senate Government Affairs Committee. Another was Assembly Bill 190, which would have required a study of issues concerning the death penalty. It passed the Assembly but did not come out of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.

Among those that became law despite a veto by Gibbons was Senate Bill 283, which revised provisions regarding the rights of domestic partners, and Assembly Bill 304, relating to the preservation of existing neighborhoods. This measure is related to the closure of F Street in Las Vegas, cutting off a historically black neighborhood from downtown businesses.

To back up their conclusions of growing racial inequality in Nevada, PLAN cited statistics that show 50 percent of minority groups received high interest loans compared to only 30 percent of white borrowers, and that nearly 60 percent of white residents receive employer-sponsored health care, compared to 22 percent for Latinos and 7 percent for black residents.

“They are sincere,” Sen. Coffin said of PLAN. “But we don’t always look at bills in terms of race. Their goal is to make you see things in racial terms, and frankly, I don’t vote that way.”

Coffin, who is half Mexican, did say the report can be of some use because lawmakers can now look back at the bills in the PLAN report and evaluate them on racial equity grounds.

The full report is available at the PLAN website.

Gibbons Seeks Bigger Budget Cutting Scenarios from State Agencies, Senator Coffin Says Premature

By Sean Whaley | 2:11 pm December 15th, 2009
CARSON CITY – In a sign that the Gibbons administration is concerned Nevada’s fiscal crisis may worsen further before it gets better, a memo to state agency officials sent out today seeks even tougher budget cutting scenarios than those outlined earlier this month.

The memo from state Budget Director Andrew Clinger asks state agencies to, “determine proposed budget reserves in the amount of 6 percent, 8 percent and 10 percent for FY 2010 and FY 2011 and submit them to the Budget Office by the close of business on Tuesday, January 5, 2010.”

Gov. Jim Gibbons has already asked for budget cutting scenarios of 1.4 percent and 3 percent from his agency chiefs. Those plans are due today and are being sought because general fund tax revenues so far this year are $53 million below estimates.

In addition, the state Medicaid budget is expected to see a deficit of $55 million by the end of the two-year budget on June 30, 2011, due to unexpected caseload growth.

Ben Kieckhefer, a spokesman for Department of Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden, said the agency will provide Gibbons with the requested budget reduction plans, but that, “we’re not talking about any easy scenarios.”

As an example, a 10 percent cut in fiscal year 2011 for the agency would equate to just over $102 million, or nearly the equivalent of the entire general fund budget of both the Health Division and the Welfare Division, he said.

The agency will follow protocol and submit the requests by the deadline. The information will remain confidential until the governor decides what to do with it, he said.

“We’re talking entirely new levels of cutting,” Kieckhefer said.

Gibbons is analyzing both tax revenues and expenditures to determine what cuts may required to balance the state budget. He is also evaluating whether a special session of the Legislature will be required to implement any cuts. He also wants input from the Economic Forum, a panel of private fiscal experts, to weigh in on the future of the state’s budget revenues.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, called the request for such levels of budget cuts premature.

“We don’t have any projections,” he said. “Has the Economic Forum met yet? I would want the results before I ask for a remedy because I don’t know how sick I am.”

The new budget cutting scenarios being sought by Clinger assume an effective date of March 1 for the current fiscal year.

“At this time no decision has been made as to whether these budget reserve recommendations will be implemented, however this information will be considered in the decision making process for closing the current projected deficit,” Clinger said.