Posts Tagged ‘Dale Erquiaga’

Gov. Sandoval Announces Departure Of Senior Adviser, Other Staff Changes

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:35 pm May 29th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today announced changes to his staff in his Carson City office, including the departure of Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga, who will move to Arizona in July to be near his children.

“Dale has been a trusted confidant and invaluable member of my team from the very beginning,” Sandoval said. “As a father myself, I understand the difficulties of being away from your children. I will miss Dale’s insight, experience and wisdom and I thank him for his service to my office and to the people of the state of Nevada. I wish him the very best as he begins the next chapter of his life.”

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

In other changes, Tyler Klimas, who has served as an agency liaison and in constituent services with Sandoval’s office, has been named manager of Intergovernmental Affairs. He will coordinate legislative issues, manage cabinet communications and meetings and assist with board and commission appointments. Before joining the Governor’s Office, Klimas worked on the governor’s campaign. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from UNLV.

“Tyler will be a central clearinghouse for intergovernmental operations within my office,” Sandoval said. “He has been with us from the start and knows how this office must coordinate with state agencies and the other branches of government.”

Lucas Foletta, who has served as the governor’s general counsel, has been named policy director and general counsel. In his new position, Foletta will oversee the work of agency liaisons and coordinate the governor’s policy agenda. Foletta will retain his general counsel duties.

As a former assistant United States attorney for the district of Nevada, Foletta has prosecuted mortgage fraud and identity theft matters on behalf of the U.S. government. A graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law, Foletta was also a former law clerk to Sandoval when he was a U.S. District Court judge.

“Lucas has been a distinguished member of my staff since day one and has an intimate understanding of how policy affects the everyday lives of Nevadans,” Sandoval said. “I look forward to his continued counsel on a wide range of issues.”

Sandoval Public Education Reform Agenda For 2013 Outlined By Top Administration Official

By Sean Whaley | 3:39 pm May 4th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Establishing school choice for parents and ending social promotion for students are two top priorities in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s education reform agenda for the 2013 legislative session, an administration official said today.

Linking pay to performance and providing professional development to ensure students have the best possible classroom teachers is a third major priority, said Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval.

Erquiaga briefed the Nevada State Public School Charter Authority on the governor’s education reform agenda being readied for the next session.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

Erquiaga said Sandoval is a strong believer in parental choice for schools and that he will again pursue that objective. Whether it will be through a voucher system or by providing opportunity scholarships directly to parents to pick a private or public school has yet to be determined, he said.

Implementing a voucher program would likely require a change to the state constitution, a time consuming process. A scholarship option might circumvent the need for a constitutional change. Florida implemented school choice by giving tax breaks to corporations that provide scholarships to parents for private school, including those operated by religious organizations.

“Fortunately though, we now, really for the first time, have a superintendent of public instruction who supports those concepts and will be working hand-in-hand with the governor’s office to present the best bill,” he said in an interview after his briefing. “The superintendent the governor has hired is a national expert with a national network, and we’re going to bring all of that intellect to bear on providing the very best bill that we can.”

James Guthrie, formerly the senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas, was named by Sandoval as the new state superintendent of public instruction in March. He started his new job April 2.

Erquiaga said Sandoval was disappointed that the 2011 Legislature failed to act on his proposal to end social promotion. His bill would have required children to be reading proficient by the end of third grade or they would not advance to the fourth grade.

The bill had a hearing but never made it out of the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

“We already provide class size reduction dollars in grades one, two and three,” Erquiaga said. “We have smaller class sizes and it is the intent of those dollars that those children receive the special attention. And yet we’re still passing on thousands of children who can’t read. We’re dooming them to failure.

“We may need to draw a bright line in the sand there,” he said.

Ensuring that each classroom has a highly effective teacher is Sandoval’s other major priority, Erquiaga said.

“We have a performance pay framework but the new superintendent has great ideas around a career ladder so that teachers can see a progression in their career and so we’re really going to look at that as well,” he said.

“We recognize that if we have an effective or highly effective teacher in the classroom, there is almost no better gift that we could give a child than that,” Erquiaga said.

The intention is to reward highly effective educators, including principals, and find ways to keep them, he said.

One element of Sandoval’s education agenda that was well received by the Charter Authority was the idea that many of the existing separate funds designated for specific needs such as textbooks, be placed instead in performance-based block grants that would give school districts more flexibility in how to use the money. Charter schools would be eligible for these block grants as well, Erquiaga said. A bill to accomplish this was introduced in the 2011 session but did not win approval.

The State Public School Charter Authority, itself created by the 2011 Legislature and viewed as a major education reform success by Sandoval, will have at least one bill draft, he said. The authority, created to focus on the creation and oversight of quality charter schools in Nevada, met today and had a discussion about what proposals to bring to the 2013 Legislature.

One of the key issues for the Charter Authority is the creation of “performance-based” charter contracts, which would link accountability to outcomes.

Erquiaga said Sandoval is a strong supporter of accountability throughout the public education system.


Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the governor will pursue school choice in the 2013 session:

050412Erquiaga1 :28 that we can.”

Erquiaga says social promotion is dooming thousands of children to failure:

050412Erquiaga2 :16 them to failure.”

Erquiaga says ensuring each classroom has a highly effective teacher is critical:

050412Erquiaga3 :11 that as well.”


Gaming Policy Committee Appointments Made, First Meeting Set For Mid-February

By Sean Whaley | 1:42 pm January 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A panel of key gaming figures and state officials will begin meeting next month to consider the impact of Internet gaming and other technological advances on Nevada’s major industry.

Gov. Brian Sandoval announced his five appointments to the Gaming Policy Committee yesterday. The full 11-member committee has not met since 1984. Sandoval will serve as chairman.

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

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the panel is expected to meet for the first time in mid-February to begin considering any regulatory changes that should be recommended to the state gaming agency and governor.

Nevada gaming regulators recently adopted regulations concerning Internet poker. The Legislature in 2011 also legalized other devices related to gaming technology.

“So the governor wants to understand, from a policy perspective, where is technology headed in terms of its impact on the gaming environment,” Erquiaga said. “But also he will ask the committee to look at what impact does technology have in the long run on Nevada and its entire statutory scheme related to gaming.

“It impacts taxation, it impacts the infrastructure investment on the Las Vegas Strip, it impacts our workforce needs,” he said. “The growth of a technological sector related to gaming impacts the manufacturing side of the industry, which is an economic development issue for the state.

“So the governor envisions the Gaming Policy Committee as the statewide body to look at all that impact of technology both on gaming policy but also on how gaming fits in the larger policy framework of the state,” Erquiaga said.

The review will of necessity require a review of the federal actions related to Internet poker, he said.

Sandoval’s two major gaming company appointees are Keith Smith, chief executive officer and president of the Boyd Gaming Group and president of the Nevada Resort Association, and Jim Murren, chief executive officer of MGM Resorts.

Representing the smaller gaming operators will be Sallie Becker, owner of Bomas Grill in Las Vegas. The two public member appointees are attorney Mark Bruce of Reno and Paul Mathews Jr. with incuBET, a Las Vegas on-line computer game firm.

Also serving will be Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard and Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli.

Legislative leaders appointed Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, who is leaving office in November, and Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas. The final appointee comes from Nevada’s Native American Tribes, who have selected Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Sandoval, in a speech in November in Las Vegas, cited the potential growth of Internet gaming as a compelling reason to convene the policy committee.

“I hope to help sketch a road map for the journey ahead,” he said. “We must preserve Nevada’s leadership role in gaming – even in this brave new digital world. If we are, as I believe, entering a new era in gaming history, I intend as governor to ensure it is as successful and secure as the last 80 years have been.”


Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says Sandoval wants to understand from a policy perspective where technology is headed:

011212Erquiaga1 :25 related to gaming.”

Erquiaga says gaming technology affects everything from workforce needs to economic development:

011212Erquiaga2 :19 for the state.”

Erquiaga says the policy committee’s role is to review all of these issues:

011212Erquiaga3 :14 of the state.”

Nevada Moving Forward With Waiver For Flexibility From Requirements Of No Child Left Behind Act

By Sean Whaley | 3:48 pm January 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada is joining with many other states in seeking a waiver from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a state panel was told today.

If granted, the waiver being sought by the Nevada Department of Education will still require a major ongoing effort at measuring and improving student achievement, said Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction. Rheault updated the waiver effort for the P-16 Advisory Council.

The waiver being offered by the U.S. Department of Education gives states flexibility on certain requirements of the law, which just saw its 10-year anniversary. The waiver is only valid for two years, however, unless Congress takes further action, Rheault said.

“The biggest complaint about No Child Left Behind right now is that if one or two students in a particular category, like special education students, fall below the proficiency, that can cause the whole school to be determined as not making adequate yearly progress,” he said.

Fifty-five percent of Nevada’s 680 public schools failed to meet adequate yearly progress for 2011.

State schools chief Keith Rheault talks today about seeking a waiver from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“Nevada will take this opportunity to build the type of school and educator accountability system that reflects our values,” says a Nevada Education Department memo on the waiver process.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, said the governor supports seeking the waiver.

“The governor has been kept abreast of the waiver application by the superintendent and the core team that is working and he absolutely supports the direction that they are headed,” Erquiaga said. “The current system, as he has talked about for a long time, is too narrow.”

No Child Left Behind has been useful in providing a foundation for introducing accountability into Nevada’s public school system, he said.

“But we know that if we look at growth, and climate, and some of the other issues that they will address in the waiver, that we’ll be better off than we are today,” Erquiaga said.

State Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, chairwoman of the P-16 Council, said she was proud that the No Child Left Behind Act became a reality because accountability in public education is so important.

“I think it was a great start,” she said. “With education we need to continuously be moving, and re-looking, re-thinking. Sometimes it takes us longer than we wanted.”

In order to be granted the flexibility provided for by the waiver, the agency must submit an application that explains how it will create a system that includes college and career-ready expectations for all students, state-developed recognition of and accountability for schools, effective instruction and the reduction of duplication and unnecessary burdens.

Nevada plans to submit its wavier application by Feb. 21.

Rheault said the decision to seek the waiver came after discussions with Nevada’s 17 school districts.

It will still require an assessment of how each school is performing, he said. Idaho is opting to use a star system with five stars identifying a top performing school, Rheault said.

Nevada plans to use a measure of individual student growth in achievement as part of the new assessment under the waiver, he said.

Eleven states sought waivers in the first round of applications, and a total of 39 states ultimately are expected to seek the waivers, Rheault said. Another 11 states say they don’t want waivers, he said.

Rheault had praise for what the act helped Nevada accomplish.

“Our accountability system wouldn’t be anywhere near where it’s at if we didn’t’ get forced into moving faster through No Child Left Behind,” he said. “I think it was just the designation of how it was so limited in how you defined what a good school was. That’s really the focus of these waivers and that’s why I thought it was important the state at least put in an application to change that.”


Audio clips:

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault says the biggest complaint about No Child Left Behind is that a whole school can be identified as failing if only a few students don’t perform well:

011112Rheault1 :19 adequate yearly progress.”

Rheault says No Child Left Behind has produced some benefits:

011112Rheault2 :25 to change that.”

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the governor supports the waiver:

011112Erquiaga1 :12 is too narrow.”

Erquiaga says Nevada pubic schools will be better off with the waiver:

011112Erquiaga2 :14 we are today.”


BLM Rejects Sandoval Proposal To Speed Up Mining Permit Process, But State Says Progress Being Made

By Sean Whaley | 5:15 pm November 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has rejected a proposal from Gov. Brian Sandoval to speed up the notice requirements needed for the approval of new and expanded mining operations, but the agency said in a letter that progress has been made in expediting the process.

Sandoval in September sent a letter to President Obama asking that the Washington, DC-level review of Federal Register notices for mining projects be bypassed. Allowing state offices to send the notices directly would save time and help create jobs in Nevada, he said.

Courtesy of the Newmont Mining Corp.

BLM Director Bob Abbey, in a letter to Sandoval received Nov. 18, rejected the proposal, but said the agency is working to improve the process.

“Early this year, I committed to representatives of Nevada’s mining industry to speed up the process with Notices of Intent and Notices of Availability,” he said. “I am happy to report to you that since our meeting this summer, the efficiency of recent notice reviews by the BLM Washington Office has exceeded expectations.”

Abbey cited a notice that arrived in the BLM Washington Office on Sept. 15 that was cleared for publication on Sept. 26.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said today that despite the rejection of Sandoval’s proposal, there is evidence the permitting process has been improving.

“The letter makes it pretty clear that the administration in Washington won’t be changing their procedures from a regulatory standpoint,” he said. “The good news is we have though seen a significant change in how the regulations are applied in terms of process. We’ve had a number of reports to the office lately that the permitting process has speeded up and they are moving much more quickly.”

Erquiaga cited a Newmont Mining Corp. project that recently benefited from the expedited process.

“They may not be changing their written procedures, but they are actually changing the process and we appreciate that very much,” he said. “This is not an issue to split hairs over the legality of federal rules. The goal is to get these permits through the process so that we can get Nevadans working and we’re seeing some great results with that. The end result is what matters.”

Erquiaga said the governor’s staff has been meeting regularly with state BLM officials, meetings that have produced positive results.

Mary Korpi, director of external relations for Newmont’s North American region, said the project benefiting from the speedy Federal Register noticing requirement is the Phoenix Copper Leach expansion south of Battle Mountain.

That process has in the past taken up to a year, but took only 42 days in this instance, she said. Ultimately 50 new long-term jobs are expected from the expansion.

“It was a significant improvement in the time factor,” Korpi said. “It is now published and out for comment. We are very, very pleased.”

Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said he believes Sandoval’s letter has had an effect on speeding up the permitting process, and noted that Abbey also appreciates the need to move as quickly as possible.

“The mining industry does have a lot of new projects on line and ready to go,” he said. “Where possible, without compromising the environmental integrity of the permitting process, we ought to be working as quickly as possible to get these projects going and get people working. And so yes, I do think his letter has had a great impact.”

There are pieces of the regulatory process that do not add value, Crowley said.

Sandoval noted in his Sept. 16 letter that mine permitting is presently a multi-layer process that requires sequential approval by many different offices before a notice can be sent, which he said lengthens the timeline by many months and in some cases years. Prior to 2001, BLM state offices had the authority to send notices directly to the Federal Register without prior review by Washington, DC, he said.

“This is my first request of President Obama since becoming governor,” Sandoval said in a press release. “I need his help to get Nevadans working again, and we have identified a very specific step he can take to spur job creation in our mining industry.”

In his letter, Abbey rejected Sandoval’s proposal.

BLM Director Bob Abbey.

“We have learned from experience that departmental policy review is very important,” he said. “The BLM Regulatory Affairs Division ensures the delivery of notices to the Federal Register in a manner that meets strict style, formatting and legal requirements.”

Abbey also noted that the timely processing of Federal Register notices, “is central to the BLM’s ability to carry out its mission,” and that the agency issues a directive in December 2009 for consistent handling of notices that had historically experienced delays to improve the processing time required for publication.

He also noted that the agency recently instituted comprehensive training for those involved in developing Federal Register notices to ensure they are standardized and of high quality to expedite the process.


Audio clips:

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, said today that despite the rejection of Sandoval’s proposal, there is evidence the permitting process has been improving:

112811Erquiaga1 :26 much more quickly.”

Erquiaga says the goal is to get Nevadans working:

112811Erquiaga2 :12 results with that.”

Nevada Mining Association President Tim Crowley says he believes Sandoval’s letter has helped:

112811Crowley :23 a great impact.”

Gov. Sandoval Orders Assessment Of Transmission Line Construction For Renewable Energy Development

By Sean Whaley | 6:00 pm November 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today issued an executive order directing a state agency and task force to assess the regional market for Nevada’s renewable energy resources.

In a briefing with Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga and Nevada State Office of Energy Director Stacey Crowley, it was explained that the assessment is intended to help determine if alternative energy resources can be developed in the state for transmission to California to meet its ambitious alternative energy goals.

The order directs the New Energy Industry Task Force to facilitate “the timely development of transmission facilities and renewable energy resources in this state  . . .”

Courtesy of the Nevada State Office of Energy.

Crowley said she expects to name the 11 members of the task force by Dec. 1 with the goal of having a first meeting before the end of the year. A technical advisory committee will also be appointed, with representatives from the Public Utilities Commission, among others, to assist in the charge given the panel by Sandoval.

Erquiaga said clean energy is one of the sectors identified in the report released last week by the Brookings Institution and SRI International offering guidance to Sandoval and policy makers on economic diversification and new job creation. The report identifies seven economic sectors, some already in existence such as gaming and tourism, and some emerging such as clean energy, where Nevada should focus its efforts.

“How do we get a market for clean energy generated in this state?” Erquiaga asked. “We have to be able to put it on the grid and transmit it, really, to the hungry market over the hill in California.”

Erquiaga said the transmission line discussion has been going on for some time, particularly by NV Energy.

“Part of this conversation is about the ‘where’ the stuff goes, part of this conversation is about the business case; if we generate it, will they buy it,” he said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also issued an order mandating that areas of the U.S. look at the regional development of transmission lines, Crowley said.

Crowley’s office will oversee the work of the task force, which is an existing statutory committee. The panel has until Aug. 1, 2012 to report to Sandoval on the business case for the production and transmission of renewable energy for both native and regional requirements.

The deadline is to ensure enough time for the drafting of any legislation that may be needed to implement the task force recommendations, and to allow for any budgetary considerations.

“We need to understand the costs associated with that transmission, and the benefits to Nevadans, whether it be new tax base, job creation, etcetera,” Crowley said. “So those numbers need to be determined in order for us to make a business case to say, California we think we can give you our renewable energy. We may have to build some transmission lines to get there, but it will still be worth it for you, there is still value in it for both states.”

Crowley said California has a goal of obtaining 33 percent of its energy needs through alternative sources by 2020.

Nevada’s goal is 25 percent of its energy consumption coming from alternative energy by 2025.

Erquiaga said Nevada officials are working closely with California Gov. Jerry Brown’s staff on the potential of supplying alternative energy to the state. Brown and Sandoval discussed the issue at an energy summit in Las Vegas in August, he said.


Audio clips:

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, says the task force will determine how to create a market for Nevada’s renewable energy resources:

112111Erquiaga1 :12 hill in California.”

Erquiaga says Nevada needs to determine that if the energy is developed, will California buy it:

112111Erquiaga2 :08 they buy it.”

Nevada State Office of Energy Director Stacey Crowley says the study will determine benefits to the state if renewable energy resources are developed:

112111Crowley :25 for both states.”

Governor Estimates $656 Million Lost In Budget Due To Supreme Court Decision

By Andrew Doughman | 11:54 pm May 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY — The state’s budget just took a $656 million hit, according to members of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s staff.

Following a Supreme Court decision earlier today, the governor convened the press at 11 p.m. to outline his opinion of how the decision effects funding streams used in the state budget.

“The problem is much worse than we thought,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser.

Erquiaga, Andrew Clinger and Lucas Folleta, the governor’s budget director and legal counsel respectively, would not speculate as to how they will replace the dollars they assume are lost in the state’s proposed two-year budget.

This morning, the court ruled in the Clean Water Coalition case that the state government could not take $62 million in local revenues to bolster the state budget.

Later this afternoon, Sandoval said he believed the case could have wide-reaching implications for his proposed general fund budget.

“The ruling raises questions about certain assumptions in the proposed executive budget, despite some having been used in the past,” he said in a statement. “As a former federal judge, I am cognizant of the legal issues.  As governor, I am forced to deal with their ramifications and I am responding by reworking the state budget.  I will announce a revised plan on Friday.”

Erquiaga said that the governor has kept legislative leaders appraised of the situation.

Erquiaga also said the governor and his staff plan to work throughout the night to find a solution to replace the lost revenue.

The governor, however, has already announced that he is considering extending taxes that are set to expire June 30. Doing so would bring the state an estimated $712 million, enough to offset the reductions due to the court decision.

In addition to the $62 million, the governor is assuming $594 million in lost revenue.

“The court’s decision forced us with this decision,” Folleta said.

The decision holds that the state cannot siphon money from a local funding stream, thus making the Clean Water Coalition money grab unconstitutional.

The governor’s staff spent the late afternoon and evening evaluating where the money in Sandoval’s budget is coming from and arrived at a “conservative” decision that the court’s ruling could endanger five other revenue sources.

“To take a less conservative approach, if the state were sued, revenue streams will have to be backed out,” Erquiaga said.

In addition to the $62 million lost due to the court’s decision, the governor’s office assumes these revenue sources would be lost if challenged in court:

  • Supplemental account for medical assistance to indigents: $38,427,584

  • Transfer from school districts’ debt service reserves: $247,420,312

  • 4 cent Clark and Washoe counties operating property tax: $52,994,482

  • 2.6 cents in fiscal year 2012 and 2 cents in fiscal year 2013 in Clark and Washoe counties capital projects property tax rate: $30,475,264

  • Room tax dollars: $225,455,400

Rural Lawmakers Could Pay High Price For Backing Governor On Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 4:15 pm April 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s rural Republican legislators are struggling to defend the cuts to their communities in the governor’s budget.

Democrats have been showcasing cuts to the rural counties in order to convince rural Republican legislators that a vote for tax increases is a vote to mitigate the harm to their districts.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said that rural counties are already “cut to the bone,” and in many cases could lose all that they have left.

“Are they willing to be so loyal that they hurt the very constituents that elected them?” Horsford asked.

Many of the governor’s budget cuts would affect rural counties. The budget reduces the money going to rural health clinics or shifts that responsibility to county governments. Many clinics and college campuses that have branched out into the countryside are slated to consolidate to more populated areas.

So far, these cuts have not pushed any rural Republicans to voice anything but support for Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed general fund budget.

“There’s nobody blinking, so to speak, from the rural areas about increasing taxes,” said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora.

Rural legislators say they understand they must share in the cuts, but that the cuts should be fair. For some Democrats, though, that means rural counties need to shoulder more of the burden.


Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, here speaking before the Senate, has highlighted impacts of Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed budget. "I'm particularly concerned about the impact to the rural and underserved communities," he said today./PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

This Monday, Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said that Washoe and Clark counties have to subsidize the rural counties.

“A lot of you come from areas of the state that are taking from the largest counties of the state,” he said to his fellow legislators in the Assembly chambers.

Horsford has argued that it is unfair for the state to divert property tax revenue from Clark and Washoe counties to the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas when counties like Elko and Eureka, beneficiaries of Great Basin College, do not.

The governor’s staff has said that Washoe and Clark counties benefit economically from the state’s two universities and should therefore pay more to support them.

“If you close Great Basin College, which does mining and other training to the mining industry, if you close that campus, that’s going to have a tremendous economic impact to that region,” said Horsford, who earlier urged the Board of Regents to consider closing campuses to save money. “So to suggest that there’s no economic benefit to those rural communities either by underfunding or funding their programs, I’m not understanding their logic.”

The governor’s chief of staff, Heidi Gansert, said that Washoe and Clark counties have more money. The governor is asking all counties to pay for a greater share of health services, but she said the two largest counties can shoulder that burden and rural counties cannot.

Despite this defense, budget cuts in rural counties worried Sandoval enough that he traveled to Elko this past Saturday to listen to concerns from county officials and state legislators.

Rhoads said he had personal chats with the governor during the flights to and from Elko. They discussed cuts to the Wells Honor Camp and the rural bookmobile program. Rhoads said the governor told him he would “add back” funding for these services if the state receives more revenue as the economic recovery inches forward.

“He’s looking at amending this stuff back in now,” said Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, who also met with the governor in Elko this past Saturday. “I think at the end of the day … I’m hoping it’ll be fair.”

From left to right, Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, Senator Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, and Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, watch Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., address the Legislature earlier this week. Gov. Brian Sandoval visited Rhoads and Ellison earlier this week to discuss budget cuts to rural districts. /PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Budget Battle Could Pit Urban Against Rural

Sandoval has said before that the Legislature is free to move money around within his budget. As long as the $5.8 billion arrives at his desk without taxes and fee increases, he will sign it.

“If you don’t want to spend more in this account and move it to that account, that’s the Legislature’s prerogative,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser, at a press briefing earlier this week.

But Erquiaga later suggested that policy decisions “pitting urban against rural” would be bad for the state.

“I don’t think he [Sandoval] has given a carte blanche,” said Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, suggesting the governor would not sign a budget that overtly hammers rural Republican districts.

Given the magnitude of the governor’s proposed cuts, it is unlikely that any one legislator would be spared cuts to his or her district.

“As long as we’re not taking more than their [urban legislators'] share, everyone is willing to do their part,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon.

But what is “fair” is a matter of debate. Just like in Congress, legislators will try to do what they can for their districts. This time, though, that is less a matter of bringing home the bacon than it is of saving the farmhouse.

State entities, however, may have an monetary incentive to favor urban districts. Centralizing services in cities could save money while reaching the majority of Nevadans.

“We’ll offer fewer classes at fewer locations,” said Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich. “In particular, this could impact rural locations that could suffer as our colleges focus on serving the greatest number of students.”

That pressure, however, does not mean rural legislators are pushing to be first in line to vote for a tax increase.

“Most of my constituents have indicated that in these tough times we have to make some cuts,” Settelmeyer said. “Most of them have told me they would prefer to make tough choices [over raising taxes].”

The cuts, though, still could become a bargaining chip. The governor has said he wants “shared sacrifice,” but the Legislature could end up with an Animal Farm scenario in which all cuts are equal, but some cuts are more equal than others.

***UPDATED April 23, 2011 to reflect  that no NSHE entities are fully closing, although some satellite campuses may close.***

Governor’s Education Bills Get First Vetting in Legislature

By Andrew Doughman | 9:33 pm April 11th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval has said before that he can reform Nevada’s education system while still reducing the budget allotted to the state’s K-12 system.

But the cost of several of his proposals drew opposition at a legislative hearing today.

Assembly Bills 554 and 557 would establish a $20 million pot of merit pay for teachers, allow for open enrollment at schools regardless of geographic boundary, give letter grades to schools and end the policy of social promotion.

Representatives from the school districts of Clark and Washoe counties said the reforms, while laudable, required more money than Sandoval has budgeted for.

Joyce Haldeman of the Clark County School District said that pay for performance – basically, a system of awarding bonuses to good teachers – comes at the expense of cuts to programs like class-size reduction and full-day kindergarten.

“Without the resources, this bill is a difficult task for the school districts,” said Craig Hulse of the Washoe County School District.

On the issue of social promotion, legislators asked about the costs and how many students could be held back under the proposal.

Social promotion is a policy whereby students jump from grade to grade regardless of how much they learn each year.

Ending that policy would mean students who cannot read at grade level may be held back, or face summer school or other remediation. These extra programs could potentially cost the state money.

Dale Erquiaga, Sandoval’s senior adviser, said he did not have an estimate of how many students would be affected.

He did, however, criticize the state’s current policy, saying it leads students to failure.

“Unfortunately it causes critical failure later in the system,” Erquiaga said. “They’re going to fail, they’re going to drop out, they will not graduate later in life.”

Legislators on the Assembly Education committee considering the bills usually debate the policy measures of bills. But during this budget-conscious session, money seems like a difficult issue to avoid.

Craig Stevens of the Nevada State Education Association argued against the merit pay bill not for its policy, but because of the context surrounding the bill.

He said it was wrong to cut the pay teachers currently receive for the years they have worked and the advanced degrees they have attained – totals for which run into the hundreds of millions – and replace that with $20 million in merit pay.

The open enrollment and letter grade sections of the bills were not as controversial. Ken Turner of the Clark County School District, however, said that the school district opposes grading schools with letter grades because that system is too simplistic.

The committee did not yet vote on the bills, instead cutting the meeting short and ending at 8 p.m.


Governor’s First Veto Sparks Public Relations Battle

By Andrew Doughman | 2:04 pm April 4th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval’s first veto has sparked a fight over who, exactly, has the support of the people.

Sandoval today vetoed a bill from Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, that would have allowed school districts to use debt reserves for school renovation.

Sandoval is counting on that same pot of money to fund school district operating costs.

Both the Republican governor and the Democratic Assemblywoman are pointing fingers accusing the other of being irresponsible.

Democrats argue that Sandoval’s veto represents a betrayal of the voters will. Smith contends that the governor is raiding a fund that voters approved for school construction.

“Not only are these children being disregarded, so are the voters who voted for these funds to be used for school rehabilitation and construction,” she said in a statement released following Sandoval’s veto.

Sandoval said that the Democrats would open up a hole in his budget that would result in teachers losing their jobs. His advisers said the voters understand times have changed, and the funds are required for operating costs.

“We think the voters understand that the circumstances have changed,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser.

Assembly Bill 183 will almost certainly die since Democrats in the Assembly and Senate do not have the two-thirds majority vote required to override Sandoval’s veto.

Assembly and Senate Republicans voted as a bloc against the bill before it arrived at the governor’s office, and nothing indicates that any of them will change their minds now.

So the real battle is over how Nevadans interpret the veto.

Voters in the school districts of both Clark and Washoe counties approved school construction bonds about a decade ago.

The school districts are required by law to save some of that money in a debt reserve account for repayment of the construction bonds.

Another way of viewing it is to say that voters approved buying a bottle of soda for school districts. The law allows districts to drink most of that soda, but they have to keep some of it in the bottle.

Both Sandoval and Smith want the districts to keep less. Sandoval would use the money to pay for operating costs, the basic expenditures that ensure schools open every day.

“In appropriating bond reserve money for construction, proponents of the bill have reduced the amount of funds available for classroom instruction by approximately $301million,” Sandoval said in a statement issued this morning. “Along the way, they have misleadingly cited those who voted for the issuance of school bonds in the past as supporting their cause today, unfairly attributing to them their narrow view.”

Smith said it was “shocking” that the governor would accuse her and her supports of misleading the public.

“When the voters voted for this, they didn’t vote for part of it to for construction and part of it to go to a reserve,” she said. “…If I’m a voter, I’m assuming anything in that fund is going to go for construction.”

Voters approved the bond money, and the Legislature required in law that some of that money be kept in a reserve account.

None of that money was slated for anything except debt service. Smith and Sandoval want to use some of that money for two different purposes.

The better use of that money is the fight Smith and Sandoval are trying to win.

You can read the bill here and decide for yourself.








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.


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.

Children Who Cannot Pass Reading Test Would Be Held Back Under Sandoval Proposal

By Andrew Doughman | 3:37 pm January 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Third-graders who cannot read at a third-grade level would not advance to fourth grade under a proposal from Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The assertion rests on common-sense logic, and Sandoval has been promoting his idea since he was on the campaign trail.

It’s simple – until third grade, we learn to read. After that, we read to learn,” he said during his State of the State address earlier this week. “Most kids who start behind, stay behind. It has to stop.”

Simple enough. The complicated part, though, will be funding remediation programs or paying for students to re-take the third grade. The governor is already proposing 10 percent cuts to K-12 education and districts are warning of million dollar deficits.

Both state Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault and Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, have said the idea is a good one, but have held further endorsement until the governor shows them the money.

Other Democrats have warned that the proposal comes at a bad time.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, has already criticized Sandoval’s proposal. Although she isn’t against the proposal, she said it’s unjust to first reduce funding for full-day kindergarten, class-size reduction and early learning programs and then expect third-graders to pass a reading exam.

Sandoval plans to introduce a bill to the Legislature that would establish a minimum score on an existing reading test administered to all third graders. Pass and you’re on to the fourth grade. Fail and you’re in for a do-over or at least some kind of remediation like summer school.

This would end the practice called social promotion whereby students automatically go to the next grade regardless of whether they perform at grade level.

Right now, school districts use a hodgepodge of ways to educate under-performing children, said Rheault. These range from small group sessions to individual attention both during school and after school.

Like many programs, though, these remediation programs either aren’t funded or have been eliminated.

The governor’s proposal to end social promotion is still sketchy. The governor’s staff have determined neither a funding source nor the level for a “fail” or “pass” grade.

The state currently provides a base level of funding for all students. Should a third-grader fail the reading exam, the state would either have to pay for that student to repeat the third grade or pay for other remediation programs.

The governor, however, contends that Nevada has to start somewhere in fixing its schools. Part of that, he says, is to establish statewide standards such as this.

At the same time, the governor wants to allow school districts flexibility in how they manage class-size reduction, full-day kindergarten and other programs.

How you deliver the education is up to the school districts,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser. “We’re not going to tell them how to teach.”

Instead, Erquiaga said, the governor will set standards and give districts leeway in how to meet those standards.

Beyond the funding, the debate over whether ending “social promotion” works is still up in the air.

Rheault said that some research suggests children are more likely to drop out later when they’re held back and separated from children their age.

Other evidence appears to refute this.

In Florida, former Gov. Jeb Bush ended social promotion during 2002. Today, literacy levels for Florida’s schoolchildren have dramatically increased. Bush has taken his reforms on the road through his education reform group, Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Here in Nevada, Sandoval is using the Florida model to craft his bill.

Around the United States, the massive New York City school district has done away with social promotion. Bills in various Legislatures around the country would also eliminate it. In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez addressed ending social promotion in her State of the State address as well.

Nevada’s Unemployment Insurance Fund Could Be Insolvent Until 2018

By Andrew Doughman | 2:08 pm January 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s unemployment-insurance benefit fund could be in the red until 2018 as the state continues to borrow from the federal government to keep sending unemployment checks.

To make matters worse, a report today shows a 0.2 percentage point jump in the unemployment rate from 14.3 percent in November, 2010 to 14.5 percent during December.

The state’s Employment Security Council had already raised the unemployment tax rate on businesses from 1.33 percent in 2010 to 2 percent this year to help account for the fund’s deficit. But the tax won’t help pay down the millions of dollars in loans immediately.

“Even with this rate increase, the state will continue borrowing funds to pay benefits,” said Cynthia Jones, Employment Security Division administrator.

Assuming that the average tax rate remains at the 2 percent threshold, Jones said she expects the loan repayment to end in 2018.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, however, has said that he would support the expiration, or “sunset,” of any recent tax hikes.

The Employment Security Council annually recommends a rate based on the financial position of the unemployment benefits trust fund, the impact of any rate change to businesses and the balance of revenue versus expenditures.

Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser, said that he’s unsure whether the governor would want to cut the rate back the lower 2010 rate.

Doing so, however, would most likely push the 2018 projection for loan repayment further into the future.

Meanwhile, the federal government is asking states to begin paying interest on the money they’ve borrowed. The loans began accruing interest this month, and the first payment is due this September. For every year that the states still owe money, the rate of that increase will jump 0.3 percent until the loan is paid off.

The state government was able to defer interest payments last year because of provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. But starting this month, those federal loans begin to accrue interest at a rate of 4 percent, said Mark Mathers, senior deputy state treasurer.

In order to pay the interest, lawmakers could authorize a separate, special tax for that purpose. They could also follow state Treasurer Kate Marshall’s idea to levy a bond that would help pay off the interest, thus softening the burden for state businesses.

The governor, however, has promised again and again that he will not increase taxes. Although businesses would become subject to the federal tax this September, the governor said at a Jan. 19 press briefing that $60 million would be allocated to cover the interest payments through the upcoming biennium.

That money, however, would come out of the general fund. This would leave less money for health care, education and other vital state functions in the general fund.

Regardless of whether the employer-rate decreases or increases and leaving unanswered the question of who picks up the tab for the interest payments, the fact remains: Nevada owes the federal government $645 million.

“That financial cost will be with us for several years,” Erquiaga said. “That will be with us, arguably, for the whole time we’re here.”