Posts Tagged ‘Gibbons’

Gibbons to Present “Gold Star” License Plates to Parents of Two Soldiers Killed in Iraq

By Sean Whaley | 3:43 pm November 4th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons on Monday will present the first two Nevada Gold Star license plates to the parents of two soldiers killed in action in Iraq.

Roger Varela, a Fernley resident and founder of the Gold Star Families of Northern Nevada, will be presented license plate 0001. Varela’s son Ray was killed near Baghdad May 19, 2007 when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED).

Sally Wiley, a Gardnerville resident, will receive license plate 0002. Wiley’s son Sean was killed Feb. 15, 2009 near As Salam, Iraq. His vehicle was also struck by an IED.

The Gold Star plate, available statewide as of Nov. 9, was authorized by the 2009 Legislature and signed into law by Gibbons in May. Only immediate families and grandparents of service members killed in the line of duty while on active duty with the Armed Forces of the United States qualify for the plate.

“The memory of those who fought and died for our safety and liberty must be remembered by all freedom-loving Nevadans,” Governor Jim Gibbons said. “I hope family members who display these license plates do so with honor and pride.”

Former state Sen. Joe Heck, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, sponsored Senate Bill 139 that authorized the issuance of the Gold Star license plate. Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, assumed sponsorship when Heck lost his reelection bid. The bill passed both houses without opposition.

“We recognize and honor the sacrifices made by service members killed in the line of duty, and the Gold Star plate recognizes the ongoing sacrifice family members suffer after losing a loved one,” Heck said. “The license plate is a public way of recognizing and honoring their loss.”

The Gold Star license plate does not raise funds for any organization. The cost for a set is $1 which is the cost to produce the plate. The plate is coded “FV” which stands for “Fallen Veteran.” Details and the application form are available on the DMV’s website under Military and Veterans License Plates.

Gibbons Names Two to Board of Finance

By Sean Whaley | 3:15 pm November 4th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons has made two appointments to the Nevada State Board of Finance, including new appointee Steve Martin, who had served as state Controller after the sudden death of Controller Kathy Augustine in 2006.

Martin is presently self-employed at his own Las Vegas CPA firm specializing in comprehensive accounting litigation with emphasis on fraud and business valuation, auditing and consulting issues, and accounting systems. Martin replaces Michael Kern on the board.

Gibbons also reappointed David Funk of Reno, president and director of Nevada Security Bank, to another term on the board.

The State Board of Finance reviews the policies established by the state treasurer for investment of state and local government funds. The board also approves all state issued debt, including bonds.

The five-member board also includes Gov. Jim Gibbons, state Controller Kim Wallin and state Treasurer Kate Marshall.

Martin was appointed by Gov. Kenny Guinn in July 2006 to complete the term of Augustine, who died in Reno on July 11, 2006. Her husband was later convicted of her murder.

Martin ran for the controller position in the 2008 election, but lost to Wallin, a Democrat.

Commissioners Criticize State Homeland Security Reorganization

By Sean Whaley | 12:57 pm November 4th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Members of the Nevada Commission on Homeland Security today criticized the decision by Gov. Jim Gibbons to merge the homeland security program with the Department of Public Safety, saying the critical mission of the program has been diminished with the move.

The commission was also informed that Rick Eaton, director of Homeland Security, has resigned effective the end of the month. Jerry Hafen, director of the Department of Public Safety, said Eaton submitted his resignation to the governor explaining he wanted to spend more time with his family.

But it was the move of the Office of Homeland Security from under Gibbons to Public Safety that provoked the most comment from the commission.

Commission Vice Chairman Jerry Keller, a former Clark County Sheriff, said the Office of Homeland Security now has no direct link to Gibbons, a communication avenue critical to the mission of the program. Keller acknowledged that Gibbons does not have the authority without legislative approval to create a position of director of homeland security.

“But I’m telling you right now in my opinion, having been involved in homeland security since the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I am disappointed in this move of the state,” Keller said. “They have never taken this to heart.

“We go along at a snail’s pace with every issue on homeland security,” he said. “I am disappointed in this decision. I think it is an absolute mistake. It is a sad day for the homeland security side of the state of Nevada and the citizens it serves.”

Keller’s concerns about moving the program were echoed by Doug Gillespie, the current Clark County sheriff, and others on the panel.

Commission Chairman Dale Carrison acknowledged Keller’s concerns, but said he will support Gibbons’ decision.

“It’s time for all the people in the boat to be rowing in the same direction,” he said.

Carrison said the decision to move homeland security has uncovered issues with the program that could cost the state money in future grant awards.

He said there are “significant chances that we will lose a large amount of money because of what has happened in some of the programs, or better yet what has not happened in some of the programs, that has come to light during this transition period and time.”

The commission will be advised of these concerns in future meetings, Carrison said.

An effort is under way to get the programs back on track, he said. Once this task is accomplished, the commission can go forward with the issues raised by Keller and others, he said.

Keller said that if there was a failure to perform by a member of the program, shifting it from one area of state government to another won’t solve the problem.

Hafen said a review of the programs operated by the Office of Homeland Security is under way to ensure funds are being spent appropriately and within the timelines required by the federal government. Hafen said he does not believe the issues being uncovered in the review and mentioned by Carrison as concerns are, “insurmountable.”

Gibbons in October announced he was moving the program from his office to the Department of Public Safety, following the lead of two dozen other states. The reason for the move is to improve efficiency and response, Gibbons said in making the announcement. Within Public Safety, the program is being overseen by the Division of Emergency Management and its chief, Frank Siracusa. Siracusa reports to Hafen.

Hafen said the move is the best decision for homeland security in the short term until issues raised by Keller and others can be addressed by the Legislature.

“I understand the frustration of everybody, I’ve been as frustrated as anybody else about the performance of that office,” Hafen said. “Not just under Rick Eaton’s leadership. The Office of Homeland Security never really had a place in the state structure because it was never legislatively created.”

Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said there are plans for a workshop to discuss the future of the Office of Homeland Security and the concerns expressed by Keller and others.

Keller praised the work of Siracusa, but said he is overloaded with his current duties.

Keller said he has been asking for a director of homeland security for almost eight years following the 2001 terrorist attacks, but it has not happened.

“There are some significant deficiencies in the overall state plan,” he said. “We don’t have anybody in charge in the state of Nevada in homeland security.”

Keller said both Clark and Washoe counties have created such a position and the state is better off because of this local government commitment to homeland security.

“This commission specifically has no authority to take action,” he said. “We advise.”

Gov. Jim Gibbons Defends His State Staff on Campaign Work

By Sean Whaley | 5:08 pm November 2nd, 2009
CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons today defended his taxpayer-funded staff for working on his reelection campaign on their own time, saying they have a First Amendment Right to do so.

Gibbons made his comments in response to questions posed during a taping of the Nevada NewsMakers program that aired today on KRNV Channel 4 in Reno.

He said criticisms aimed at the actions of Robin Reedy, his chief of staff, and Stacy Woodbury, his deputy chief of staff, for working on his campaign on their own time are illogical.

“You look at the Hatch Act, it expressly allows for people to engage in political activities in their time away from work, when they are not on the public taxpayer payroll,” Gibbons said.

Questions had been raised about whether such activities might violate the federal Hatch Act, which limits partisan political activities by state and local employees.

He called any such suggestions uninformed, and said carrying the erroneous argument to its logical conclusion would mean state employees could not even vote.

As long as it is clear the employees are doing the work on their own time, there is no cause for concern, Gibbons said.

The issue arose last week when it was learned that Reedy, a Douglas County resident long involved in Republican politics, was hosting a fundraiser for Gibbons. After concerns were expressed by the media and political observers, Reedy cancelled the event.

Woodbury also works on the campaign on her own time as the webmaster for the Gibbons reelection website.

Gibbons also disclosed during the NewsMakers interview that U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., has not discussed with him the potential of his resignation from the Senate. Ensign has been under fire after admitting earlier this year he had an extramarital affair with a married campaign staff member from December 2007 through August 2008.

Gibbons said he has not even considered a candidate for Ensign’s seat, “because he has not talked to me about whether or not he is going to resign or not.”

“I’m assuming he is going to continue in his job,” Gibbons said.

 

State Controller Hires Officer to Oversee Federal Stimulus Spending

By Sean Whaley | 3:15 pm November 2nd, 2009
CARSON CITY – Nevada State Controller Kim Wallin today announced the hiring of an officer to oversee the reporting and accountability of the state’s $2.2 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Mary Keating, formerly an administrative services officer with the Department of Health and Human Services, will serve in the position and ensure the reporting follows transparency and accountability requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Keating is a former staff member for Gov. Jim Gibbons who last year filed a wrongful termination lawsuit naming the governor over claims she was forced from her job. Keating has alleged she lost her job because Gibbons thought she leaked information about his use of a state cell phone to send hundreds of text messages to a woman he described as a longtime friend. Keating at the time was overseeing Gibbons’ office expenditures as part of her position. Keating continued to work for the state after leaving the governor’s office.

“I am very happy Mary Keating has agreed to accept the position of the ARRA Reporting & Accountability Officer,” Wallin said. “Her background and wealth of knowledge in grants management, financial reporting, analysis, auditing, budgeting, internal controls and cost allocation will allow her to hit the ground running in helping the state to report and accurately account for the ARRA funds.”

Keating has 26 years of service with the state and most recently was involved in ARRA grant reporting for HHS. She is a certified public accountant. Her new position pays about $102,000 a year.

Nevada’s Transparency Website Improved But Still Incomplete

By Sean Whaley | 7:52 am October 24th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Eighteen months after Gov. Jim Gibbons issued an executive order requiring the state’s financial information to be posted on an easily searchable website for the public, his quest for transparency remains a work in progress.

A significant improvement is expected in the next few days, however.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said Nevada’s transparency website has been up and accessible since January, but so far it contains budget and spending information only for fiscal years 2006 to 2008. It also now includes the 2009-11 legislatively approved budget.

The current website does have a searchable database, and taxpayers can delve into detail showing actual payments to vendors, he said. Searches can be performed by vendor name or by agency.

But financial data is still being loaded into the system for fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, and for the current 2010 budget year. By the end of October, the site should have the current budget and spending information which will then be updated nightly as is done on transparency websites in other states to provide a real time look at spending, Clinger said.

With the implementation of daily updates to the database, Clinger said Nevada’s site will be about 70 percent complete. What will still be missing is data on contracts between state agencies and other entities. A section on the state payroll is also a work in progress.

Clinger said he believes Nevada’s transparency website is as detailed as those in other states, including Texas and Missouri, which are cited frequently as sites that are easy to navigate.

But having looked at the Missouri transparency site, Clinger is working with his staff to see if some of the basic elements that make the Missouri site easy to use can be incorporated in Nevada’s site.

“I think ours will be as good as Missouri’s,” he said. “But their layout is a little more user friendly.“

State Controller Kim Wallin, who is providing the financial data to the Department of Administration for posting, proposed the creation of a transparency website through her office, duplicating the site created by the state of Missouri, at a cost of about $250,000. Missouri was chosen because it uses the same financial accounting software as Nevada.

But the Gibbons administration decided to move forward on its own and has spent about $112,000 on the project so far.

Clinger said once the budget and spending information is current and available to the public, the agency will move on to the issue of posting contract information. The contracts portion will be done in this biennium, but the timing depends on the availability of funding, he said. It will cost about $63,000 to implement.

“We’re trying to find a way to use the resources we have in the current biennium to fund that piece,” Clinger said. “It is one of my top priorities.”

Information about the contracts the state enters into with other agencies and private firms is hard to come by for the general public. The Board of Examiners earlier this month approved more than 80 contracts worth millions of dollars, a process that occurs every several weeks for the board as a routine matter.

But even without the contract information, the transparency website has a lot of information, Clinger said.

“The governor’s budget and the legislative budget are there. And on the spending side, you can actually see payments down to vendors. We’ve got the top 500 vendors in terms of payments. You can do a search by agency. There is a lot of information.”

Sandra Fabry, executive director of the Center for Fiscal Accountability in Washington, DC, and an expert on transparency websites, called Nevada’s effort a step in the right direction. But she questioned the length of time it has taken to get the site ready for daily data updates and said it is not as easy to navigate as it should be.

“Given that web users tend to judge websites on their first impressions, the Nevada site lacks the clean and uncluttered design, and taxpayers unfamiliar with fiscal matters will have to figure out that in order to get to the expenditure database, they have to click on “Actuals” at the bottom of the page,” Fabry said.

Fabry said she is encouraged to hear that the Nevada site will soon have real time updates, and that a change in contracting procedures has been implemented in preparation for posting contract data on the website for public review.

“Ultimately, Nevada taxpayers will benefit when all government expenditures are subjected to their scrutiny via a comprehensive, yet user-friendly website, she said. “The potential for Nevada to deliver is certainly there, it just needs to be harnessed and made a priority.”

The Center for Fiscal Accountability is a project of Americans for Tax Reform, a national taxpayer advocacy organization.

Clinger said the website will also be the place to look for information about federal stimulus funds coming into Nevada.

Gibbons issued a proclamation in March of 2008 requiring the creation of a transparency website “as soon as practicable.”

Called the Nevada Open Government Initiative, the proclamation specified the need for an “easily searchable database of financial transactions related to government budgets and expenditures . . .”

When it is fully operational, Nevada will finally join many other states in posting much of its financial data on a website for public review. Inquisitive taxpayers, the media and others interested in how the state spends its tax dollars will be able to review the financial information as it is updated daily.

The length of time it has taken to get the transparency website fully operational has been criticized by some in Nevada, including the Nevada Policy Research Institute and Citizen Outreach. (Disclaimer: Citizen Outreach provides funding to the Nevada News Bureau.)

Steven Miller, vice president for policy at NPRI, said there is no reasonable explanation for why the site is taking so long to complete, other than the fact that it is not a priority for many of Nevada’s elected officials.

“A modest expenditure that potentially could save millions is a no-brainer,” he said.

R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, said the state’s transparency website, launched in Jan. 2007, has helped the state save money. By posting the data, the agency was not only able to provide public access to state financial information, but the posting provided an opportunity for officials to examine how the state was conducting its business, he said. The website has contributed to the implementation of various efficiencies that are saving Texas taxpayers more than $8 million, he said.

Clinger said the criticism for any delays are not warranted. The Department of Administration is working on the project using existing funds during a time of very tight budgets. No formal request was made to the Legislature to fund it. The target date for the 2009 and 2010 data posting was Oct. 1, which has been missed, but not by much, he said.

The website has been accessible and searchable since it was mentioned by the governor in his state-of-the-state address in January, Clinger said.

Rory Reid Announces His Gubernatorial Bid in Reno

By Sean Whaley | 9:13 pm October 15th, 2009

RENO – Democrat Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission and son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told a crowd of cheering supporters here today he wants to be the next governor of Nevada.

“I am here today because, simply put: Nevada can do better, much better,” he said. “To realize our great potential, Nevada needs a fundamentally new direction. Nevada needs a leader with a new economic plan and vision that moves our state into the 21st century.”

The Northern Nevada announcement comes after his formal declaration of candidacy in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Reid has been traveling the state in preparation for a gubernatorial bid for several months but only made it official this week.

Reid, 47, is expected to face off against either incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, who has indicated he plans to run for a second term even with low public approval ratings, former U. S. District Judge Brian Sandoval, who stepped down from the bench to challenge Gibbons in the GOP primary, or former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon.

In comments to about 100 supporters at Idlewild Park, just west of downtown, Reid stressed his northern Nevada roots and commitment to working for all Nevadans if elected governor.

Reid said he has watched Nevada grow and prosper but now looks on as a severe economic downturn has affected Nevada more than any state in the nation.

“And as I look at Nevada today, I believe we are again at a crossroads,” he said. “There’s an urgency in the air. Nevada has more potential than any other state in America.”

But to realize that potential, Reid said Nevada needs to do two things: Take decisive action to create jobs and lay out an economic plan to transform the state’s economy for the long term.

“For too long, Nevada has kicked the can down the road, relying on the same old industries to get us through, content with that boom and bust, and unable to achieve our potential,” he said.

Reid would be the first Democratic governor in Nevada since Bob Miller left office in January 1999. His position as the Democratic front-runner was cemented when an anticipated rival, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, decided in September against a run for the job.

Reid has already put out a 32-page plan for Nevada called “The Virtual Crossroads.” In it, Reid talks about the need to push for more alternative energy development to create jobs and end reliance on the use of imported coal to power Nevada’s economy.

He also wants to diversify Nevada’s economy to bring in high-paying jobs to reduce the state’s heavy dependence on its tourism economy.

Reid also proposes in his plan to fund education to an “amount objectively required to provide an quality education to every student in the state” and to do so before making any other state budget decisions.

Reid did not elaborate on how he would pay for his version of “Education First,” a concept pushed by Gibbons and put into the state constitution by voters back in 2006.

In an interview before his formal comments, Reid said the key is to first fix the economy for the long term. Economic growth and better paying jobs will do a lot to help create the revenue the state needs to function properly, he said.

“I think we’re never going to solve our fiscal problems until we solve our economic problems,” he said. “That’s why I’m talking about it first.”

Reid said there are three solutions to the budget problems: grow the economy, make government more efficient and raise taxes. Talking about taxes is not an option right now, he said. Speculating on what will happen in the 2011 legislative session is premature, Reid said.

“I want to do right now what I can do to create jobs and diversify our economy, so our discussion in 2011 is much easier,” Reid said.

Reid cited a Western Governors Association report that found if Nevada had developed 2,000 megawatts of solar energy in the last two years it would have created $13 billion in economic activity and generated $1.3 billion in state revenues.

He criticized the Gibbons administration for not moving more quickly in alternative energy development. It wasn’t until this week, more than four moths after the end of the 2009 legislative session, that Gibbons finally appointed an energy commissioner to work in this important area, Reid said.

In his report, Reid also said he would take three immediate steps as governor:

- Boost access to capital for small business and start-ups;

- Focus capital spending on projects that will create immediate jobs;

- Order a comprehensive review to cut unneeded government spending.

The Republican Governors Association welcomed Reid to the race, saying it would help Republicans defeat both him and Harry Reid, who will also be on the ballot in 2010 as he seeks another term in the U.S. Senate. Polls show the senior Reid not doing well against a slew of potential Republican challengers.

“Senator Reid has complete control of the Democratic Party in Nevada, so we’d like to thank him for clearing the field for his son to be the Democratic nominee,” said RGA communications director Mike Schrimpf. “Harry Reid doesn’t do many favors for Republicans, but we could not have asked for a better present than having two Reids on the ballot instead of just one.”

Gibbons said Tuesday he had no comment on Reid’s formal entry into the race.

For his part, Reid said he does not believe his father’s race will have an effect on the governor’s race.

“People want to talk to me about unemployment, education and health care, nobody asks me to show them my family tree,” he said. “People will compare me to my opponent. It is not going to be a determining factor.”

Reid said he has a strong connection to Northern Nevada. He attended one year of grade school in Carson City. All three of his brothers lived in Northern Nevada at some point in time.

“I feel like I have a connection to the north,” he said.

Reid was elected to the Clark County Commission in 2002 to serve in Commission District G. He was re-elected on November 7, 2006, to another four-year term. In January 2005, Reid was appointed by his colleagues as commission chairman. He was re-elected by his colleagues on January 2, 2007, and is again serving as chairman.

Reid was born in Virginia while his father was attending law school. He has lived in Nevada since he was six months old.

Legislative Panel Recommends Four Proposals as Finalists for Revenue Study

By Sean Whaley | 1:37 pm October 15th, 2009
CARSON CITY – A legislative panel today moved four proposals forward as finalists for a study of Nevada’s revenue structure, with a submittal by Moody’s Analytics at a cost of $253,000 receiving the highest rating from lawmakers.
The other three proposals recommended for further consideration are Willdan Financial Services, the second choice of the panel, with a study cost of $153,205; and two tied for third: the Center for Regional Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, at a cost of $909,861; and Nevada Consultants Inc. of Las Vegas at a cost of $500,000.

Moody’s is based in West Chester, Penn., and Willdan is out of Sacramento, Calif.

Four other proposals were rejected.

The finalists were selected after each lawmaker picked their top three favorites. The top selection received three points, the second, two points and the third, one point. Lawmakers offered a number of reasons for their selections, including knowledge of Nevada and Nevada issues, the quality of the proposal, cost and the ability to meet the required deadlines.

The next step in the selection process will be oral presentations by the four finalists to the full Interim Finance Committee’s Subcommittee to Conduct a Review of Nevada’s Revenue Structure, likely in late October or early November. Ultimately the IFC, made up of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, will pick the firm to perform the review. It must be completed by July 1, 2010, well ahead of the 2011 session of the Legislature.

A maximum budget of $500,000 has been set for the study, but the IFC can go higher if it decides it wants to do so.

Lawmakers want a study to provide guidance on how to deal with a two-year budget in 2011 that is expected to be as much as $2.4 billion out of balance.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, the chairman of the panel reviewing the tax study bids, said at a meeting Oct. 7 there is no preordained decision to increase taxes.

He also said it is critical that a study be performed without a hint of special interest influence. Because of that and the high cost, Raggio did not select the UNR proposal as one of his favorites.

Raggio said the presentation was outstanding, but that there might be a perception among some people that the end product would be biased, given that UNR is funded with general fund dollars by the Legislature.

Even so, the decision to move the UNR proposal was part of a unanimous vote of the panel.

Knight Allen, a resident of Las Vegas who testified as a Nevada citizen, asked the panel to reconsider including the UNR proposal because of the need for unbiased study results. Whether intentional or not, biases can creep into the best intentioned study when it is being performed by a public entity involving public revenue matters, he said.

The panel did not change its recommendation, however.

Steven Miller, vice president for policy at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said the purported study will be biased no matter who performs the work.

“It’s the same old story,” he said. “The politicians spend every cent in sight. Then they try to fool the voters with a study that is never designed to get spending under control but to find new revenue.”

Given that the result is predetermined, the least costly proposal is the best of a bad lot for taxpayers, Miller said.

The study will go forward despite objections from Gov. Jim Gibbons that the inevitable result will be a recommendation for higher taxes. Gibbons voted against the funding request Tuesday at a meeting of the Board of Examiners, but the other two members of the board voted in favor.

Democrats Blast Gibbons on Stimulus Spending, Governor Fires Back

By Sean Whaley | 5:58 pm October 14th, 2009
CARSON CITY – The Nevada State Democratic Party today launched an attack on Gov. Jim Gibbons for failing to get federal stimulus transportation and infrastructure projects out to bid in a timely fashion.

“In his typical inept fashion, Gibbons has landed Nevada at the bottom of another list; the state ranks 46th in the number of transportation and infrastructure projects it has put out to bid,” the release says. “While most states have allocated more than 40 percent of their stimulus dollars allotted for transportation projects, according to a report released last month Nevada has put less than 27 percent of its funding out to bid. And the state has begun work on projects that totaled only 23 percent of the state’s transportation and infrastructure funding.”

Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns rejected the criticism, saying the information was inaccurate when it was brought up several weeks ago and it remains inaccurate now.

“We could have done one large project and spent all the money at one time,” he said. “Instead the state is doing a large number of smaller projects that will benefit more people and create more jobs. Even shovel-ready projects have to go out to bid, get equipment ready and get moving.”

The Nevada Department of Transportation reports that nearly $100 million of the $140 million it has received for transportation projects is now obligated. Of the 18 projects around the state under the control of NDOT, 15 are out to bid.

“The money is spent,” said NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder. “We feel we have met, if not exceeded, the expectation of getting these projects out.”

Other transportation projects are being handled by the counties, and Magruder could not speak to the status of those projects.

The Democratic Party release says Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Congress, led by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, worked to bring $1.5 billion in funding to Nevada through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

But Gibbons “foot-dragging” has put Nevada behind the rest of the nation in putting the stimulus money to use, the release says.

Burns said giving Reid credit for Nevada’s stimulus funding is “pathetic and laughable.” Nevada ranks 50th in per capita spending for stimulus funds, he said.

Burns said critics need to take a “Civics 101 class.”

“They have no idea how this government process works,” he said. “There are rules, regulations, stipulations and strings attached. We can’t do this overnight.”

Gibbons is trying to help as many Nevada residents as possible with the funding by creating as many jobs as possible across the state, Burns said.

Funding for Tax Study Approved Over Governor’s Objections

By Sean Whaley | 11:28 am October 13th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Over the objections of Gov. Jim Gibbons, the Board of Examiners today approved a request to spend $500,000 on a study of Nevada’s revenue structure sought by a bipartisan group of legislative leaders.

The $500,000 figure is not guaranteed to be the final price of the study, an uncertainty that caused Gibbons to vote against the request.

Eight bids have been submitted to lawmakers ranging from a low of $32,200 to $909,861. Six of the eight were for $500,000 or less.

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, presented the request to the Board of Examiners, saying the actual amount of the contract will be negotiated and approved by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Nov. 19 if not before.

But Gibbons said it was not appropriate to bring a $500,000 “carte blanche” request to the board. The legislative subcommittee reviewing the eight bids should make a selection and bring that amount to the board, he said.

“It seems to be premature to approve $500,000,” Gibbons said.

The Board of Examiners will meet again before the IFC meeting, and a specific proposal could be approved at that time, Gibbons said.

But the other two members of the board, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, voted to approve the request. Gibbons is a Republican, while Miller and Masto are both Democrats.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger informed the board that any amount approved would be a recommendation only, and that the Legislature could appropriate any amount for the study it saw fit.

Malkiewich said lawmakers decided to seek the $500,000 now because of the urgency of the study, which is scheduled to be completed by July 1, 2010. The lawmaker panel is going to review the bids again on Oct. 15.

The $500,000 bid was submitted by The Nevada Consultants Inc., a Las Vegas-based company.

Lawmakers want a study to provide guidance on how to deal with a two-year budget in 2011 that is expected to be as much as $2.4 billion out of balance.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, the chairman of the panel reviewing the tax study bids, said at a meeting Oct. 7 there is no preordained decision to increase taxes. An impartial study of the state’s tax structure is needed, however, to provide guidance, he said.

His comments were echoed by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, who said the Legislature wants options on how to balance the budget in 2011.

The study is required to be performed by a qualified and independent consultant and will examine the allocation of tax revenues between the state and local governments, the adequacy of revenues and the stability of different tax revenues, among other issues.

A panel of citizens, not yet appointed by the Legislature, will also participate in the study process.

Gibbons vetoed a bill passed by the 2009 Legislature for an appropriation for a revenue study, requiring lawmakers to use their contingency fund instead.

After the meeting, Gibbons said spending $500,000 on a tax study is unnecessary.

If a study is to be funded, do it for the least amount of money possible, he said.

“We don’t have a tax problem in the state of Nevada, we have a spending problem,” Gibbons said.

(This story was updated at 2:08 p.m. on Oct. 13, 2009.)

Gibbons Makes Two Energy Appointments

By Sean Whaley | 9:43 pm October 12th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons announced today his selections to fill two key state positions in the energy field, the newly created commissioner of energy and director of the Office of Energy.

Dr. Hatice Gecol will transfer from her position as director of the Office of Energy to become the commissioner.

“I am pleased to retain the expertise and experience that Dr. Gecol has demonstrated while serving as the director,” Gibbons said. “Her background and planning skills are essential to our future success.”

Gibbons said he is particularly excited about the appointment of Nevada National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Jim Groth, who will take over as the director of the Office of Energy.

“Jim Groth is a can-do kind of guy. Jim has a proven track record of working through bureaucratic red tape and getting things done,” Gibbons said.

Groth presently serves as the Nevada Solar Task Force chairman and is a Nevada Army Guardsman. For the past year and a half, Groth has been serving as the environmental supervisor with the Nevada Army National Guard in Carson City.

In February of this year, Gibbons selected Groth to head the Nevada Solar Task Force which assists military stakeholders in Nevada, state agencies, local governments and commercial businesses with initiatives to develop and implement renewable energy projects. Groth has been instrumental in helping the Nevada National Guard lead the nation in development of solar photovoltaic systems at the state’s Guard facilities.

Groth’s focus in the last year has been the design and implementation of the Guard’s “Super Solar Project,” a 3.4 megawatt project supporting solar electrical energy at the National Guard headquarters in Carson City and at the two largest Army National Guard facilities in the state in Las Vegas. Construction for this project is scheduled to begin in November with system commissioning in March of 2010.

Under Groth’s direction, the Office of Energy will play a major roll in putting into action the 2009 legislation enacted in Senate Bill 358 and Assembly Bill 522 which will stimulate economic growth in Nevada.

Jim Brandmueller, who presently serves as the Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservation Programs manager for the Office of Energy, will be the Acting Director until Groth fulfills his National Guard duties and takes his new position in November.

Gov. Jim Gibbons Makes New Appointment to the Nevada Athletic Commission

By Sean Whaley | 3:57 pm October 12th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons today named Francisco Aguilar to the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Aguilar is presently employed as corporate and communications counsel for The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education and Agassi Graf Holdings. Aguilar’s professional past includes working as senior counsel for Southwest Gas Corp. and as special counsel to the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. He also serves on the Nevada Community Foundation, the Clark County Housing Authority and the Bond Oversight Committee of the Clark County School District.

“Francisco Aguilar has just the right combination of experience and enthusiasm for the Nevada Athletic Commission,” Gibbons said in a release announcing the appointment. “I am certain he will work closely with the other commission members to serve the best interests of our state.”

“I am proud Governor Gibbons has given me this opportunity to serve on the Nevada Athletic Commission,” Aguilar said. “The commission’s work is important to our state’s economy and to the safety of the participants in the events the commission oversees.”

The five-member Athletic Commission regulates all contests or exhibitions of unarmed combat, including the licensure and supervision of promoters, boxers, mixed martial artists, kick boxers, seconds, ring officials, managers, and matchmakers.

Aguilar’s appointment becomes effective on Nov. 1. He will replace John Bailey on the commission. Bailey’s term expires on Oct. 31.

Legislative Panel Delays Selection of Consultant for Revenue Study

By Sean Whaley | 3:17 pm October 7th, 2009
CARSON CITY – A legislative panel today decided to seek clarifying information before selecting a proposal to study Nevada’s revenue structure.

Eight proposals were submitted by an Oct. 1 deadline from organizations both within Nevada and across the country.

However not all of the proposals, which range in cost from $32,200 to $909,861, were complete in providing all of the information sought by a working group of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee. Lawmakers directed staff to seek itemized costs for six of the eight proposals that did not provide the details.

The panel will meet again Oct. 15 to move forward, either by selecting one proposal or by ranking them in order of preference for the full IFC to consider.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, chairman of the working group, said he would prefer to recommend a single proposal, although that decision will be made by the entire eight-member panel, five of whom are Democrats.

A tax and revenue study is needed, but it must be free of bias if it is to serve any useful purpose, he said.

“There have been a lot of studies, but they all have some special interest that is funding them or directing them, and that is what I don’t want to see,” Raggio said. “I want to see an objective study that has at least some credibility.”

The decision by the Legislature to study the tax issue does not automatically mean there will be a push for a tax hike in 2011, Raggio said. But the next Legislature will face enormous challenges, given the fact that a $2.4 billion funding shortfall over the current budget has already been identified, he said.

The shortfall estimate is derived from a variety of factors, including tax increases approved in 2009 that are set to expire in 2011 and one-time federal stimulus funding that won’t continue into the next budget cycle.

The legislative working group did recommend that no more than $500,000 be spent on the study, but Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also a member of the working group, said the decision ultimately will rest with the full 24-member IFC.

The working group can negotiate with any of the submitters to bring the cost down, he said. There are also a number of proposals below $500,000 from contractors who may very well be able to produce the type of study lawmakers need to move forward.

“This is not an exercise in spending money,” Horsford said. “We want to pick the most qualified contractor who can evaluate our options for the upcoming legislative session.”

The costliest proposal was submitted by the Center for Regional Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. The other proposal in excess of $500,000 was for $544,082 from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability based in Chicago, Ill.

The Board of Examiners, made up of three executive branch officials including Gov. Jim Gibbons, will also vote on the proposal, including the contract cost, next month. But Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes told the working group that the IFC has the ultimate authority to determine how much should be spent on the study.

Funding for the study was rejected by Gibbons in the 2009 legislative session. The Legislature is instead using funds available in its contingency fund.

The study is required to be performed by a qualified and independent consultant and will examine the allocation of tax revenues between the state and local governments, the adequacy of revenues and the stability of different tax revenues, among other issues.

A panel of citizens, not yet appointed by the Legislature, will also participate in the study process.

A report is due to the Interim Finance Committee by July 1, 2010.

Employment Security Council Leaves Unemployment Insurance Rate Unchanged

By Sean Whaley | 4:08 pm October 6th, 2009

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Employment Security Council voted today to recommend no change in the unemployment insurance tax rate for 2010 after hearing from business and labor representatives who said any increase would cost jobs and further slow the state’s economic recovery.

The council, a panel of nine representatives of the public, labor and business, voted to leave the average rate charged to Nevada’s employers for the cost of providing unemployment benefits at 1.33 percent in 2010. The decision runs counter to a recommendation by Gov. Jim Gibbons to reduce the rate to 1.0 percent.

Other options on the table were increases in the rate to as much as 2.33 percent.

The final decision will be made Dec. 7 by Cynthia Jones, administrator of the state Employment Security Division. Jones said barring any major developments between now and that date, she expects to adopt the rate recommended by the panel. Jones said she was not rejecting Gibbons‘ recommendation, but rather accepting the recommendation of the council.

Dan Burns, spokesman for Gibbons, said the governor was disappointed that the council did not provide the tax relief he recommended last week, but was pleased the rate was not increased.

“Now is the time, if you want to create jobs, to take some of the burden off of the employer no matter how small,” Burns said.

By leaving the rate unchanged, the state will have to borrow as much as $1 billion between now and the end of 2010 to cover the cost of providing unemployment benefits, Jones said. There is the potential for interest payments on the borrowed money beyond 2010 as well, which could not come from the unemployment fund, she said. The only other time the state borrowed money for the fund was in 1974 when the tax rate charged to businesses was 2.7 percent.

Employer and employee representatives who spoke to the panel said borrowing from the federal government was unfortunate but necessary.

“I’m here to ask you not to increase the unemployment tax rate paid by our employers,” said Veronica Meter, representing the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. “Our state economy and the businesses that operate in it are in difficult circumstances.”

The 2009 Legislature already raised business taxes on the state’s largest employers, she said.

“Your actions today do not take place in a vacuum,” Meter said.

Ray Bacon, representing the Nevada Manufacturers Association, said his membership has been hit hard along with every other employment sector in the recession that has its starting date now pinned to Dec. 2007.

“Go as lightly as you possibly can.” he told the panel.

Danny Thompson, representing the Nevada State AFL-CIO, made a similar plea, saying unemployment rates in the building trades in the Reno area are now at 65 percent in some cases. When the CityCenter and the McCarran International Airport expansion projects are finished, there won’t be any construction jobs in Las Vegas either, he said.

“I don’t think we’re at the bottom yet and we’ve never been at a place we are today,” he said.

Paul Havas, chairman of the panel, said the state is in a difficult economic situation that has not been seen in at least decades.

“The Employment Security Council finds itself in uncharted waters, and the task before us is critical,” he said at the start of the meeting. “We must work towards the goal of reestablishing the trust fund solvency, while at the same time keeping in mind the impact on Nevada business during this period of economic turmoil.”

The panel was told by agency staff that predictions for the future of Nevada’s economic recovery are difficult to make with any certainty.

Bill Anderson, the chief economist for the agency’s Research and Analysis Bureau, said last year the prediction was for an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent this year. Instead it is 11.3 percent on average, hitting 13.2 percent in August. The original forecast was for 44,000 new jobs through 2011. Instead, 75,000 jobs have been lost in 2009 alone.

Anderson said he does not believe there will be any job growth in Nevada until 2011, although 2010 won’t see as big a loss in jobs as has been seen this year. While some job growth is expected in 2011, the unemployment rate will not see any immediate declines to the more traditional 4 percent to 5 percent range, he said. The unemployment rate in 2011 is expected to average more than 12 percent.

“We think a lot of the deterioration is behind us but we’re going to spend a considerable amount of time more or less treading water,” Anderson said.

If the rate recommended by the panel is adopted, it will raise about $313 million in 2010, but the expected payout will be in excess of $1 billion, creating a shortfall and the need to borrow from the federal government in the near term. The state fund is expected to run out of money later this month, requiring the initial borrowing of $264 million this year alone.

Jones said the unemployment benefits must be paid, either by setting the state tax rate higher or by borrowing. But there is a statutory obligation to pay the benefits, she said.

Jones said any borrowed money ultimately will have to be paid back, but business representatives said that should occur after the economy recovers and business can afford to pay the higher rates needed to erase the debt.