Posts Tagged ‘Goedhart’

Sin Tax Debate Focuses On Public Health Benefits, Revenues, Effects On Business

By Sean Whaley | 1:16 pm April 5th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Advocates for a tax hike on cigarettes and liquor made their case in the Nevada Legislature today, both to raise revenue and improve public health.

The proposal received a mixed reaction from lawmakers, and some lobbyist opposition, however, because of the negative consequences on business.

The Assembly Taxation Committee heard a proposal from Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, to increase the tax from 80 cents on a pack of cigarettes to $1.70. Her measure would also increase liquor taxes.

Nevada Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, testifies on her "sin" tax bill today. Photo by Cathleen Allison/NevadaPhotoSource.com

The Senate Revenue Committee also heard a separate measure to increase the cigarette tax to $2 a pack.

Pierce said her goal with Assembly Bill 333 is increasing general fund tax revenue, but a number of health advocates testified in support because of the public health benefits of increasing the tax on tobacco. They noted that smoking rates for both adults and children would decrease with the proposed cigarette tax hike and the increase on other tobacco products.

The Nevada Department of Taxation estimates that about $250 million would be generated over the two years of the budget if the tobacco and liquor tax hikes are approved as proposed.

“I believe this state will be devastated if we do not raise revenues,” Pierce said.

The cuts being proposed in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget will take a minimum of a decade to recover from, she said.

Pierce’s bill is the first tax proposal to get a hearing this session.

But the proposals to increase “sin” taxes in the Nevada Legislature face the same roadblock of any other revenue proposals being considered by some lawmakers this session: Sandoval’s unwavering rejection of any tax or fee increases to balance the budget.

This position includes increases in cigarette and liquor taxes, said spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner.

Advocates for the cigarette tax point to a survey of Nevada voters showing strong support for the measure as a way to raise tax revenue.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, who said he smokes an average of a pack of cigarettes a week, agreed that hiking the tax is a good way to raise revenue if the objective is to correct unhealthy behavior.

But Goedhart said obesity is a bigger health issue, and that a tax on calorie consumption could generate public health benefits as well.

He questioned why the Legislature would want to single out smoking among the many unhealthy activities engaged in by the public at large if the objective is to improve the health of Nevadans.

“I mean where does it stop,” Goedhart said after the hearing. “Then it becomes a form of nanny government. Are we going to do a body mass index and charge a person more taxes because they are going to be a burden on the health system because they are going to have the possibility of weight related health issues?”

The proposed increases generated opposition from a variety of groups.

Katie Jacoy, representing the Wine Institute, a public policy association representing 897 California wineries, submitted testimony in opposition to the increases in the alcohol tax in AB333 because of the significant increase proposed on wine and other alcoholic beverages.

“This proposed tax increase will ultimately harm the responsible wine consumers in Nevada by increasing the price of wine, which is difficult to bear in tough economic times,” she said.

“Under the bill, the excise tax on wine with an alcohol content of 14 percent or less would increase from 70 cents to $1 per gallon, and on wine with an alcohol content above 14 percent would increase from $1.30 to $1.75 per gallon. Given Nevada’s 6.85 percent sales tax that also applies to wine, consumers in Nevada will likely pay one to the highest prices in the U.S. for their wine.”

These price increases will be passed on to the consumer, Jacoy said.

Much of the testimony focused on the cigarette tax, which was last increased in Nevada in 2003. Nevada ranks 35th lowest in its tax rate. New York is the highest at $4.35 a pack, while Missouri is lowest at 17 cents, she said.

California’s cigarette tax is now 87 cents but a $1 increase in the rate is being considered.

One area of opposition to the bill came from premium cigar businesses in Nevada.

Michael Frey, owner of FreyBoy Tobacco, a business that operates six premium cigar shops in Las Vegas, spoke in opposition to the proposed increase in tobacco products other than cigarettes from 30 percent of the wholesale price to 55 percent.

If the increase was approved, Frey said he would close four of his six shops and lay of 35 of 50 employees. Cigar smokers would just begin purchasing their tobacco products over the internet, which is legal, he said.

“Cigar smokers will not quit smoking cigars because it is not an addictive product,” Frey said. “They will simply go on the internet and buy the products with no taxes associated with them and have it shipped into their houses in Nevada.”

There was also concern expressed by some of those testifying that raising liquor and tobacco taxes will cause consumers to purchase their products over the internet.

Goedhart said it may not be legal to purchase cigarettes over the internet to avoid state tobacco taxes, but any projected revenues from a tax increase will be affected by this practice. Goedhart said he found cigarettes for sale on the internet after just a quick search on his computer.

“If we increase the tax we may be increasing tax evasion behavior,” he said.

Peter Krueger, representing the Nevada Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, among other interests, agreed that consumers would likely seek out cheaper alternatives to avoid the tax.

In her concluding remarks, Pierce said: “I think that if we don’t make a considerable course change, I think that when people can begin to sell their houses again, they will go back to the states that they came from with bigger governments and higher taxes, and a better education system, and museums and libraries and all of the things that come from creating community through the collection of taxes.”

Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce says people will leave Las Vegas when they can afford to do so if changes aren’t made:

040511Pierce1 :17 and higher taxes.”

Pierce says they will return to states with all of the amenities that come from the collection of taxes:

040511Pierce2 :15 collection of taxes.”

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart says raising taxes to curb smoking is Nanny State behavior:

040511Goedhart1 :17 weight-related health issues.”

Goedhart says raising cigarette and liquor taxes could lead to tax evasion:

040511Goedhart2 :11 variety of ways.”

Cigar shop owner Michael Frey says he will close some of his shops if the tobacco tax increase is approved:

040511Frey1 :15 I now have.”

Frey says cigar fans will just buy the product over the internet:

040511Frey2 :15 houses in Nevada.”

 

 

Resolution Seeks Federal Government Discussion Over Water Contamination At Nevada Test Site

By Sean Whaley | 2:44 pm March 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada is getting shortchanged from the federal government when it comes to addressing contamination from the underground nuclear weapons testing era, with the Nevada Test Site getting only a small amount of funding for cleanup efforts, a state lawmaker said today.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, testified in support of his measure, Assembly Joint Resolution 5, which seeks discussions with the federal government over much-needed cleanup efforts from years of underground testing of nuclear weapons at the site northwest of Las Vegas that has resulted in massive groundwater contamination.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart/Photo: Cathleen Allison/NevadaPhotoSource.com

The resolution is supported by 19 other lawmakers.

Now called the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), the facility was used from 1951 to 1992 to detonate hundreds of nuclear warheads, most of them underground, Goedhart told the members of the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee.

“Each explosion deposited a toxic load of radioactivity into the ground and in some cases directly into the aquifer,” he said. “The underground contamination under the NNSS is the most significant contamination in the country.”

Even so, “the Department of Energy has ranked Nevada at the very bottom of its priority list for cleaning up major sites in the nuclear weapons complex,” Goedhart said. “The test site only receives about $65 million a year out of DOE’s nuclear cleanup budget. Contrast this paltry sum to the $1.8 billion spent annually cleaning up the Hanford plutonium production site in Washington state.”

Nevada’s contamination is 1,000 times worse than at Hanford, he said.

Nye County consulting hydrogeologist Tom Buqo has estimated the underground tests have polluted 1.6 trillion gallons of water, as much as the Southern Nevada Water District is allowed to draw from the Colorado River in 16 years, Goedhart said.

“The federal government needs to ‘man up’ and either clean up, or pay up,” he said.

Darrell Lacy, director of community development for Nye County, also testified in support of the resolution, saying the contaminated waters cannot be used for economic development. When Nye County sought uncontaminated water on and adjacent to the test site, the applications were opposed by the U.S. Dept of Energy. Most of the applications were denied by the Nevada State Engineer, and they are currently on appeal, he said.

The concern is that pumping groundwater might accelerate the movement of contaminated groundwater from the test site, Lacy said.

Goedhart said water is in short supply in Southern Nevada, so having a large amount of it contaminated is a serious economic problem for the region. He could not put a dollar value on the water, saying the intent of the resolution is to raise awareness of the federal government’s inequity to Nye County and Nevada.

Several other speakers, including Kyle Davis, political director for the Nevada Conservation League, and Nancy Scott, representing the League of Women Voters, testified in support of the resolution.

No one spoke in opposition.

The committee did not immediately act on the measure.

Audio clips:

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart says underground testing contaminated groundwater at the Nevada Test Site:

031511Goedhart1 :23 into the aquifer.”

Goedhart says Nevada is at the bottom of the federal government’s priority list for cleanup:

031511Goedhart2 :10 nuclear weapons complex.’

Goedhart says the Hanford site in Washington gets far more money:

031511Goedhart3 :17 in Washington state.”

Goedhart says the federal government needs to clean up the site or pay up:

031511Goedhart4 :05 pay up, thank-you.”

 

 

State Lawmaker To File Campaign Report Before Early Voting, Challenges Other Candidates To Do The Same

By Sean Whaley | 3:40 pm September 28th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada state Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said today he will voluntarily file his campaign contribution and expense report before early voting begins to give the public adequate time to review the information.

Goedhart, who is running for re-election, said he is joining with Secretary of State Ross Miller in filing his report well ahead of the deadline now in state law.

Miller announced earlier this month he would voluntarily file early and electronically in support of legislation he will seek next session to improve public access to the information contained in the reports. Miller said he will also file a report four days before the general election detailing any contributions received by his campaign in excess of $1,000 after the initial report filing.

Campaign reports from candidates are not due now until Oct. 26, 10 days after early voting begins and only a few days before the Nov. 2 general election.

“There are legitimate concerns surrounding the disclosure of the identities of donors to political campaigns, especially when incumbent legislators are in a position to threaten, either subtly or overtly, retaliation against citizens who contribute to an opposing candidate,” Goedhart said.

“However, if the law requires disclosure, then such disclosure should be done in a timely fashion that provides voters the information they need to make an informed decision at the ballot box before they vote,” he said. “If we’re going to have early voting, then we need to have early disclosure.”

In addition to filing his report before early voting begins Oct. 16, Goedhart said he will also report contributions of $100 or more on his campaign website within 48 hours of receipt through election day.

He challenged other candidates to file early as well.

“We’re never going to get government to be fiscally responsible if we are not transparent and accountable,” Goedhart said.

Audio clips:

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart says he will report his contributions ahead of early voting and update the information through election day:

092810Goedhart1 :17 $100 or more.”

Goedhart says transparency will lead to fiscal responsibility:

092810Goedhart2 :05 transparent and accountable.”

Goedhart says reporting law must reflect popularity of early voting:

092810Goedhart3 :12 reality of voting.”

Nevada Assembly Majority Leader Says Public Transparency Issues Will Be Major Focus Of 2011 Session

By Sean Whaley | 6:21 am September 10th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera said yesterday he will pursue a number of transparency measures in the 2011 legislative session with an eye towards providing the public with accountability and confidence in how the state spends taxpayer dollars.

Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said Assembly Democrats have been working on a number of ideas since last session, including a two-year “cooling off” period before former state lawmakers and other officials could work as lobbyists.

Oceguera, who is expected to be elected speaker for the 2011 session, said Assembly Democrats want to go even further than some other proposals for a cooling off law to include state regulators and local government officials as well.

“Some of these ideas were part of a bill last session that didn’t make it out of the Senate but made it out of the Assembly,” he said. “So it has been on our radar since at least last session and we’ve tried to refine it and look at what we think we can get passed. But some of the issues we’re going to pass out of the Assembly one way or the other.”

The cooling off proposal predates the recent controversy over former Assemblyman Morse Arberry, who resigned to accept a lobbying contract with the Clark County District Court. The contract was rejected earlier this week by the Clark County Commission.

In announcing the proposals earlier in the week, Oceguera said: “We’re serious about reforming the way Nevada government does its business. Today, we are putting a series of reforms before the public. They are common sense and timely measures, and I will work for bipartisan support in both the Assembly and Senate.”

Among the reforms Assembly Democrats will pursue include:

- Establishing a two-year cooling off period before an elected official can be hired to lobby the government body where the individual served;

- Creating a two-year cooling off period before an elected official or regulator can be hired to work for any agency they regulated or oversaw;

- Putting the state’s checkbook online where taxpayers can see how tax dollars are spent;

- Putting the entire state budget on the web so taxpayers can see spending priorities;

- Requiring all candidates for public office to report every financial contribution, the amount and donor, online within 72 hours of receipt.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has created a transparency page on state government spending on his website, so at least some of the state budget and spending information is already available to the public.

Oceguera said the Assembly Democrat proposal for reporting campaign contributions goes even further than what is being sought by Secretary of State Ross Miller, who wants earlier reporting of contributions and expenditures as well. Miller also wants reports filed electronically so the public can search the information more easily.

Oceguera said he and Miller worked closely on other measures in 2009 and will likely do so on the campaign reports transparency issue in the upcoming session as well.

Efforts to improve the reporting and usefulness of campaign reports have ended in failure in the past. A proposal to require online reporting for most officials passed the Assembly in 2009 but the provision was deleted in a Senate Committee by Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

Transparency has become an issue for many lawmakers on many different fronts. Many of those running for seats in the state Senate and Assembly have responded to a transparency questionnaire sent out by the Nevada Policy Research Institute. It asks candidates for their views on the posting of state spending information online as well as the need for a searchable database for campaign contributions, among other issues.

Other lawmakers have previously weighed in with their own proposals, including Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, who has proposed a four-year cooling off period for lawmakers and statewide elected officials who want to become lobbyists.

Goedhart also wants a three-day wait before bills are voted on by the Legislature, another transparency proposal included on the NPRI candidate questionnaire.

Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, has weighed in with his own plan to change the campaign report filing deadlines to make the reports more useful to voters. He introduced similar legislation in 2009 that did not get a hearing.

Democrat candidate for governor Rory Reid in December released an ethics reform plan that includes a call for a two-year cooling off period before former lawmakers or state employees can represent private interests at the Legislature.

Twenty-six states have such laws. Nevada does not.

___

Audio clips:

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera says the Assembly will work to get transparency measures passed next session:

090910Oceguera1 :22 or the other.”

Oceguera says Assembly cooling off law would go further than what others are suggesting:

090910Oceguera2 :23 are talking about.”

New Bill Draft Requests Focus On Wide Range of Issues

By Sean Whaley | 7:00 am September 8th, 2010

CARSON CITY – More than 250 new bill requests were filed for drafting last week by lawmakers and others on issues ranging from requiring health insurance plans to cover acupuncture treatments to implementing a four-year cooling off period before former lawmakers could work as lobbyists.

Other measures would require the precise language of pending legislation to be posted on the Legislature’s website at least three business days before a vote, change the posting dates of campaign contribution and expense reports to make the information more readily available to voters and make changes to the modified business tax to encourage more hiring.

Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, said he requested a bill to change the dates of when campaign reports must be filed by candidates so voters would have more time to analyze the information. The current filing deadlines are right before the primary and general elections and give little or no time for voters to review the contribution and expense reports, he said.

The information isn’t available at all to the majority of people who choose to vote early, Hogan said.

Careful voters will try to have a look at the reports to see if a candidate is “wholly owned” by some special interest, he said.

The bill would also require a candidate to list a specific beginning and ending balance each year, he said.

“It would bring completeness to the reporting system that has been needed for a long time,” Hogan said.

The new bill drafts also include a number of proposals from outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons, including measures to create a voucher program for students and eliminate mandatory collective bargaining for local governments and their employees.

The proposals, which now total 520, will be drafted into legislation for consideration by the 2011 Legislature. Sept. 1 was the deadline for state and local agencies to submit bill drafts. Lawmakers were also required to have some of their requests submitted by the same date.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, requested the cooling off and bill posting measures.

“We always talk about how we are going to reform government – it has to start with transparency,” he said. “With transparency you will have increased accountability.”

Goedhart said he requested the cooling off measure for lawmakers and statewide office holders even before the controversy arose recently regarding Morse Arberry, who resigned as a long-time Assemblyman to accept a lobbying contract with the Clark County District Court system. That contract was rejected today by the Clark County Commission.

Goedhart said he has seen examples of lawmakers positioning themselves to take advantage of their connections when they leave office. A future payday should not be a reason for someone to run for public office, he said.

Requiring a four- or two-year cooling off period should eliminate that as a reason to run for elective office, Goedhart said.

The bill posting request is to ensure lawmakers and the public have a chance to read a measure before it is voted on, he said.

Goedhart mentioned two specific incidents, one in 2009 and the other in the February special session, where measures were rushed through without time for review. One was dubbed the “absolution resolution” which he said was intended to give lawmakers cover to vote for tax increases. The other was the last-minute vote in the special session on a bill to create construction jobs in Nevada. The bill in part eliminated the sunset of a tax levy in Clark County to fund the projects.

“It was the biggest tax increase that was never mentioned in the last (special) session,” Goedhart said. “These are the types of abuses that my bill hopefully will, if not make downright impossible, will at least make them a lot more difficult.”

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, requested the modified business tax (MBT) measure as a way to encourage hiring by Nevada businesses.

The proposal would be to exempt new employees from the MBT to provide an incentive to employers to hire more workers, he said.

“We have to look at ways to get new jobs,” Settelmeyer said.

The bill requiring acupuncture treatments to be covered by health plans offered in Nevada was requested by Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who sought a similar measure without success in the 2009 session.

In testimony in 2009, Segerblom said the coverage is not costly and results in health care savings. The state health plan offers acupuncture treatments and the benefit has not cost the plan a significant amount of money, he said.

Insurance company officials and small business representatives expressed concern, however, about the cost of adding mandated coverage because of the increased cost to consumers.

“Frankly this is a noninvasive medical procedure that in fact saves money,” Segerblom said today. “If it cures people, or deals with their pain problems, then it is better for everybody.”

___

Audio clips:

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom says requiring acupuncture coverage will reduce medical costs:

090710Segerblom :14 better for everybody.”

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart says a cooling off period would ensure people run for public office for the right reasons:

090710Goedhart1 :21 payday for themselves.”

Goedhart says giving lawmakers and public time to read bills before vote would reduce the number of questionable measures:

090710Goedhart2 :20 a lot more difficult.”

Goedhart says transparency will bring about accountability, fiscal responsibility:

090710Goedhart3 :18 fiscally responsible government.”

GOP Caucus Discusses Expansion of State Sales Tax, Reduction of Business Taxes

By Sean Whaley | 4:55 am August 24th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea said today Nevada voters should be asked to expand the state sales tax to include food purchases as a way to raise revenue and broaden the tax base.

But any such revenue hike should be accompanied by a reduction in the state’s regressive business taxes, he said.

Asking voters to apply the two percent state share of the sales tax to food could bring in half a billion dollars over the two-year budget, he said.

Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he believes new tax revenues will be needed to get a balanced budget in the 2011 session, but that any revenue increase should come in tandem with reductions in the modified business tax.

Goicoechea, interviewed on the Nevada NewsMakers television program, said he believes the state will be able to get by with less than $1 billion in tax increases.

“But I do believe we’re going to have to have some revenue increases, and I would hope they come in the way of reforms,” he said.

Goicoechea said it is unfortunate the sales tax expansion idea was not put before the voters in the upcoming November election.

Goicoechea said he is willing to look to expanding the sales taxes to services as well, but that any such expansion would have to cover all services uniformly. In the initial discussions on a services tax there are already groups clamoring to be exempted from such a levy, he said.

“If you’re going to put a sales tax on services, then no exemptions, everyone gets to pay,” Goicoechea said. “But let’s balance it with reducing some of these other very regressive taxes on business.”

Drastic budget cuts will also have to be a part of any balanced budget, he said.

The expansion of the sales tax while reducing the overall rate was proposed earlier this year by the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Several members of the GOP caucus running for re-election this year had mixed reactions to Goicoechea’s suggestions.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said tax reform is fine as long as it is revenue neutral. Goedhart said the NPRI proposal to broaden the sales tax to include food and services is a good starting point.

The overall 6.85 percent sales tax rate could then be reduced to about 3.5 percent, and the state could also do away with the modified business tax, reduce or eliminate the insurance premium tax and significantly lower vehicle registration fees, he said.

The expanded sales tax would then allow the state to begin growing its way out of its fiscal problems, Goedhart said.

As chairman of the Nevada chapter of Americans for Tax Reform, Goedhart said total government spending on services in Nevada is about $40 billion, which puts the state in the middle of the states in spending per capita. The Legislature should have no trouble finding $3 billion in savings out of $40 billion in total spending to balance the budget, he said.

Goedhart pointed to excessively high public salaries such as those earned by firefighters as one example of where spending reductions can be made.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, said any specific tax proposals are premature, and that the idea of going to the voters for an expansion of the state share of the sales tax to include food would not help in the upcoming biennium.

Since the proposal is not on the ballot for November, it would not be able to go to the voters until 2012, he said.

But Grady said with a shortfall that could be as high as $3.5 billion, “everything is on the table.”

“I agree with Mr. Goicoechea we’re going to have to look closely at zero-based budgeting,” he said.

But if the Legislature gets to the point where it can’t fund education or prisons, then it will have to find money elsewhere, Grady said.

The Legislature needs to wait to see what proposals the new governor will have, and it needs to know how short the budget is before there is a discussion of taxes, he said.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said Goicoechea’s proposals are not new but come from the NPRI study on expanding the sales tax released earlier this year.

“We need to look at the NPRI study at least as a starting point,” he said.

But the Legislature also has to keep in mind that the Nevada economy is suffering and businesses are not in a position right now to create new jobs, Hambrick said.

“We need to provide some relief,” he said.

Goicoechea has joined Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in saying taxes will very likely have to be part of any plan to erase a $3 billion shortfall in what is expected to be required to provide government services and education for the next two years.

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, has not weighed in publicly on the tax discussion. Oceguera is expected to become speaker in the 2011 session.

The two leading candidates for governor, Republican Brian Sandoval and Democrat Rory Reid, have rejected the idea of balancing the state budget with tax increases.

Goicoechea said the critical issue for the 14 Assembly Republicans in the November election is picking up at least one or two more seats to take away the two-thirds majority now held by Assembly Democrats. A two-thirds vote is required to raise taxes, and without at least 15 members the Assembly Republicans will wield little power in those discussions.

Budget discussions and the all-important debate over redrawing state political boundaries make it critical for Republicans to have enough members to have a place at the negotiating table, he said.

“You don’t want to be on your back when you’re waging a fight which you are if you are irrelevant and under 15 (members),” he said.

Seats Republicans see as potential take-aways include the open District 40 seat in Carson City and the District 13 seat in Henderson now held by freshman Democrat Ellen Spiegel, Goicoechea said. Republicans also want to hold on to the District 13 seat in Las Vegas that is now open with the departure of Republican Chad Christensen, he said.

Goicoechea said he is encouraged by some of the voter registration trends and the large number of nonpartisan and minor party voters who may support Republicans in November.

Hambrick said he believes Republicans have a few other opportunities to pick up Assembly seats in November. They include the open Assembly 31 seat in Sparks, the Las Vegas 5 seat held by Democrat Marilyn Dondero Loop, and the Henderson 29 seat held by Democrat April Mastroluca, he said.

___

Audio clips:

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea says taxes will be part of budget debate next year:

082310Goicoechea1 :15 that we have.”

Goicoechea says a tax on services has to be across the board with no exemptions:

082310Goicoechea2 :10 taxes on business.”

Goicoechea says key for Assembly GOP is to pick up seats in November election:

082310Goicoechea3 :30 go to session.”

Support, Questions, Rejections Follow Call To Broaden Nevada Tax Base Using Expanded Sales Levy

By Sean Whaley | 1:15 pm June 3rd, 2010

CARSON CITY – A proposal to simplify, broaden and stabilize Nevada’s tax base by expanding and reducing the sales tax to include services from haircuts to legal advice is generating some support and plenty of questions from lawmakers and interest groups.

The proposal, presented Tuesday by Geoffrey Lawrence of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, would be revenue neutral and would lower the 6.85 percent state sales tax rate to 3.5 percent. As part of the proposal, the insurance premium tax and the payroll tax paid by businesses would be eliminated as well.

The NPRI proposal would even include food purchases as taxable items, but would also provide tax relief to residents up to the federal poverty line.

One potential challenge to the proposal is that voter approval might be required depending on how such a plan was drafted.

Lawrence, a fiscal policy analyst for NPRI, said his plan is intended to counter what is expected to be a call for a broad-based business tax by at least some members of the Legislature in 2011.

Lawmakers are facing a $3 billion shortfall and are awaiting a study of their own on how to respond to the anticipated revenue shortfall. The study by Moody’s Analytics funded by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee is due to lawmakers later this year.

Lawrence said his plan would stabilize and broaden Nevada’s tax base without further burdening Nevada’s taxpayers, and would also “strengthen our economy by eliminating the job-killing modified business tax.”

The NPRI study found that a corporate income tax is actually one of the least stable tax instruments available to state governments, and is significantly less stable than any tax instrument currently employed in Nevada. Adding a corporate income tax would therefore make the state’s tax structure more, not less, volatile, Lawrence says in his  report titled, “One Sound State, Once Again: Comprehensive fiscal reforms to again make Nevada strong, prosperous and free.”

The study also calls for spending reforms, including a priority-based approach to budgeting and limits on spending increases tied to inflation and population growth.

Several lawmakers commenting on the report have questioned its usefulness given that it is revenue neutral at a time when the Legislature is anticipating a $3 billion hole in the next budget.

But the proposal is a long-term approach to resolving the state’s revenue and spending issues and is not meant to be a quick fix, said Lawrence. A broader sales tax would bring in increasing revenues at the 3.5 percent rate as the Nevada economy recovers.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said he likes the approach, which follows a flat tax model that he and many voters would support.

“I think most Americans are tired of all these loopholes and exceptions,” he said. “The twisting of tax regulations to benefit a powerful constituency or lobby.”

A straight 3.5 percent tax on consumption would be a stable form of revenue, Goedhart said. There should be no exceptions, he said.

His one objection to the proposal is the provision to provide tax relief to low income residents.

“The cost of government applies to everyone,” said Goedhart, a member of the Assembly Taxation Committee.

Goedhart said such a plan in Nevada could serve as a role model nationally and help generate support for a similar change to the federal income tax.

The Legislature also needs to impose spending controls and look at other reforms, from prevailing wage laws to meaningful changes to the state health insurance and public employee retirement plans, he said.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, said the study contains valuable information the Legislature can use as it tries to resolve its budget problems next session. But details would have to be spelled out in legislation before any such proposal could win his support, he said.

There are a number of sales tax exemptions currently, such as the one for farm equipment purchases, said Grady, a member of the Assembly Taxation Committee. Surrounding states have exemptions for farm equipment and not offering the same here would put Nevada companies at a disadvantage, he said.

The NPRI research is solid and gives lawmakers a starting point for a tax discussion next session, Grady said.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said the proposal as presented wouldn’t bring in more money even though the state is facing a major revenue shortfall. He also questioned whether such a major change to Nevada’s tax structure could be accomplished in the 120-day session when so many other pressing issues are also on the table.

Add in redistricting and all the new lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly and the task would be challenging, he said.

“It would be a major undertaking,” said Schneider, a member of the Senate Taxation Committee. “I just don’t think, with the way our session is designed, that we can get that work done.”

A special session would probably be the best way to tackle such an issue, but whoever is governor in 2011 probably won’t want to call lawmakers back in for such a task, Schneider said.

Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, questioned how a revenue neutral tax proposal would help solve the state’s budget problems. The budget for the next two years would typically be in the $6.5 billion range, but is expected to be about $3 billion short, he said.

In talking to voters, Aizley said he is asking what services they want protected and what cuts they are willing to accept. Most people wanted education protected, he said.

Aizley, a member of the Assembly Taxation Committee, said he would also need details of what services would be included in an expansion of the sales tax.

“People don’t know the implications,” he said. “I would not say yes to a services tax until it was spelled out what those services would include.”

Aizley also rejected the NPRI call for what he described as a “zero based” budgeting process for state agencies to use. It is time consuming and labor intensive to review every single program every two years when it is clear many programs will have to be continued, he said.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said it is encouraging that even a fiscally conservative group like NPRI is in agreement that the state needs to consider revising its tax structure. But any tax plan that is revenue neutral is not realistic given the $3 billion budget hole facing lawmakers next year, she said.

Leslie also suggested the proposal is not really broadening the tax base, since it is just expanding an existing levy to services such as haircuts or tax preparation.

“I don’t think it is broadening the tax base so much as it is taking out the volatility by taxing more things,” said Leslie, a member of the Assembly Taxation Committee.

By eliminating the payroll tax as part of the plan, it could be argued the tax base would actually be narrowed under the NPRI plan, she said.

“It would reduce the burden on business and increase the burden on the rest of us,” Leslie said. “I think the middle class already pays its fair share.”

The idea of taxing services has been discussed before, both in 2003 and 2009, she said. Such proposals always run into roadblocks when the groups to be included in the tax object, Leslie said.

Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, said she welcomes NPRI to the tax discussion, noting that for a long time the conservative voices in Nevada have suggested that no changes are needed.

But Pierce, who also serves on the Taxation Committee, said sales taxes are regressive and the state already has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation.

“Making our tax system more regressive is not an improvement,” she said. “I’m not entirely opposed to looking at a sales tax on some services, but not as a substitute for a broad-based business tax.”

Nevada needs to look at how other states that adequately fund their programs and services raise tax revenue and then model itself after those states, Pierce said.

Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayer’s Association, said the proposal needs a great deal of fleshing out so that policymakers can know the implications of what such a change would mean to the state’s tax structure.

Any change to one portion of the sales tax rate, the 2 percent that goes to the state general fund, would need voter approval, she said. Vilardo also questioned whether such a proposal could have an effect on those portions of sales taxes pledged to pay off bonds.

“When you talk taxes, the devil is in the details,” she said.

Voters to Remain in Dark About Campaign Contributions

By Sean Whaley | 6:05 am April 30th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevadans who intend to vote early in the primary and general elections this year will likely find themselves in the dark on the question of who has contributed to the campaigns of the candidates.

Despite efforts in past legislative sessions to improve the transparency of campaign contributions received by candidates, lawmakers have failed to make meaningful reforms to the reporting process.

The 2009 Legislature failed to approve efforts by Secretary of State Ross Miller to improve the reporting process by requiring electronic filing of the campaign reports. Electronic reporting would allow the creation of a searchable database to analyze who is contributing and in what amounts to the candidates.

Mandating electronic reporting for most candidates was supported in the Assembly but was amended out of Assembly Bill 82 by the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee in the final days of the session.

A look through reports now on file with the secretary of state’s office show that many are hand-written and difficult to read.

Another proposal to make the information more voter-friendly by requiring earlier reporting also failed.

Miller had proposed last session that candidates report individual contributions in excess of $1,000 to his office within a few days of receipt starting 40 days before the primary and general elections. The information would then have been posted on the SOS website and available for voters to review before casting their ballots, especially those voting early, as nearly 60 percent did in the 2008 election.

For the primary, early voting begins May 22, but the campaign contribution and expense reports are not due until June 1. And because candidates can send in their reports by certified mail on the June 1 due date, the release of the information to the public can be delayed even further.

The same scenario will occur with the Nov. 2 general election, with the second round of reports due Oct. 26. Early voting begins Oct. 16.

The proposal – which also covered expenditures and multiple contributions from a single individual exceeding $1,000 – was discussed in committee but never actually made it into any version of AB82.

Miller said the campaign contribution and expense information available on his agency’s website consistently gets an F grade because of this lack of transparency.

The F grade was awarded in 2008 by the Campaign Disclosure Project in large part because the reports are not searchable.

“We need to put it into some type of format the public can use,” Miller said. “A 100-page handwritten report is not useful.”

Miller said he will try again to push for more transparency in 2011 if he is re-elected to another term as secretary of state.

In the meantime many voters will not have the information available this election year unless candidates take it upon themselves to voluntarily report their contributions on their own websites.

The 40th day before the June 8 primary is today.

Reactions from a handful of candidates on the idea of voluntary reporting vary; some say a voluntary posting of information is unworkable because it could give opponents an advantage if they did not participate as well. One lawmaker, however, suggested it could work to a candidate’s advantage.

Several other candidates contacted for the story did not return phone calls.

Miller, acknowledging that he has taken the lead on seeking reforms to the reporting process, said he will make his contributions public ahead of the general election on his website. Miller does not have a primary.

Miller said he will do so even though it may put him at a disadvantage by giving his opponents information about his campaign than he will not have from them. So starting 40 days before the general election, he will post all contributions in excess of $1,000 within 72 hours of receipt to his website for voters to view if they choose to do so.

“If it puts me at a disadvantage, we’ll see,” he said.

Republican governor candidate Mike Montandon said if elected to the job, he will push for reforms to make campaign reports more transparent for the public. Ironically, Montandon said he files his reports electronically in a format that would allow for searches. But the data is then converted into an unsearchable file for posting on the secretary of state’s website.

“This one is a slam dunk,” he said. “It’s common sense. I’m a freedom of speech person. I don’t believe there should be restrictions on who spends what on a campaign, but the information should be totally transparent.”

But Montandon said he would not post such data on his campaign website unless every candidate did the same, citing a disadvantage if his opponents could review his donor list without him having access to their information as well.

Gov. Jim Gibbons, one of three major GOP candidates seeking the governor’s seat, said he has no problems reporting his contributions, but questioned whether he would have the staff available to make such updates.

“We do not have individuals who are directed to work 100 percent of the time on the website or be data input people,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with openness.”

Democratic governor candidate Rory Reid would support more openness and transparency in the campaign contribution and expense reporting process, but he has no plans for early reporting in this election, said his spokesman Mike Trask. Reid has already put out a plan for changes he would make to ensure state government is more ethical and open, changes which he has already implemented as Clark County Commission chairman, he said.

“Reporting early would be problematic for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being the issue of fairness,” Trask said. “We’re going to file the report when we are legally required to do so as we are certain other candidates will do as well.”

Rob Lauer, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, said he supports reporting contribution information so voters can have access to it, but suggested the process needs to be ongoing so that the information does not generate undue momentum for those who receive a lot of financial support.

“I’m not sure I want to see campaign contribution reports affect the way people vote,” he said.

Rather than require reporting of large contributions beginning 40 days before an election, Lauer said transparency concerns could be addressed by requiring the information to be reported within 72 hours, regardless of when the money was received in an election cycle.

Ongoing contribution reporting would help get away from the “horse race” mentality, he said.

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, said he has no problem with reporting his donations, but said for many legislative races the financial support is relatively modest.

“Most of my contributions are $100, $500 or $1,000,” he said. “You can look at my past reports to see who is contributing to my campaign.”

Stewart said Democrats get a lot of their money from labor unions, Republicans get a lot from the business community and the gaming industry supports candidates of both parties.

“There are no surprises, really,” he said.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said he would like to see the secretary of state’s office set up a process where candidates could voluntarily report their contributions using the guidelines and have them posted on the SOS website.

Candidates who choose to voluntarily post their contribution information might get a favorable response from voters for making the information public, he said

“I don’t think it would put a candidate at a disadvantage,” Goedhart said. “Voters are tired of business as usual.”

Passing legislation to require the reporting of such information would be fine as well, he said. But in the meantime, there is no reason why candidates could not do so on their own.

“Anything that adds transparency would be fine with me,” he said.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he supports the earlier reporting language proposed by Miller in the 2009 session, but suggested a voluntary process whereby candidates would post the information on their own websites would not be practical. One candidate might post the information prominently while another would bury it on the website. It would also require voters to seek out each candidate’s website, he said.

An alternative would be to have the secretary of state’s office set up a system that would be uniform for candidates who wanted to provide the information. But it is unlikely that many candidates would voluntarily report because of a concern their opponents would not do the same, he said.

Transparency is critical but not likely to occur without legislation, Segerblom said.

The electronic filing requirement would not have been in place for this election cycle anyway. AB 82 was amended by the Assembly Elections, Procedures, Ethics and Constitutional Amendments Committee to have the requirement take effect in January of 2011.

AB82 passed the Assembly 23-18 on May 21 with the electronic filing requirement in place. It provided an exemption for a candidate who did not have access to a computer and limited the requirement to candidates who collected more than $10,000.

Stewart said he voted no on the bill because of other sections dealing with voter registration changes, not because of the electronic contribution reporting requirement.

But the bill, which contained numerous other provisions relating to election law, was then amended May 30 by the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee to delete the electronic reporting requirement. Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, made the motion to delete the provision. Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, voted no. Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, abstained, according to the committee minutes.

The bill then passed the Senate on a 16-5 vote.

Ultimately none of the provisions of AB82 survived because the Legislature ran out of time before taking final action on the measure.

Numerous state assembly and senate candidates contacted for their comments on the issue did not return calls.

More Calls for Ensign’s Resignation Trickle In

By Sean Whaley | 8:08 am April 11th, 2010

(Updated at 10:02 a.m. and again at 10:41 a.m. on April 11, 2010)

CARSON CITY – Despite being described as a “wounded” senator who has not been effective in representing Nevada in Washington, DC, state Republican officials and candidates surveyed by the Nevada News Bureau for the most part are still not calling on U.S. Senator John Ensign, R-Nev., to step down.

Ensign, under the cloud of an ethics investigation over whether he provided inappropriate and possibly illegal help to former administrative assistant Doug Hampton, was called upon to resign earlier this week by two former Clark County GOP officials. Ensign last year acknowledged having an affair with Hampton’s wife.

Among the few Republicans willing to call for Ensign’s resignation was Michael Roberson, candidate for Senate District 5.

“As a taxpayer and constituent, I have heard and read enough to join other Nevadans in calling for Senator Ensign to resign,” said Roberson. “His behavior shows a callous disregard for moral decency, the dignity of his office and for those of us who elected him.”

“I realize that some suggest that we should wait for the Senate Ethics Committee and U.S. Department of Justice investigations to conclude before making such a determination. However, through his own admitted actions, I do not believe Senator Ensign is worthy of the job he currently holds, and that he is in fact letting Nevadans down by continuing to fight for his job,” he said.

Roberson said that whether Senator Ensign is indicted or cleared is a legal matter and not his top concern.

“As an attorney and a member of the Nevada Bar, I certainly respect our legal system, and I believe Senator Ensign does deserve a full, fair and complete investigation,” he said. “However, the behavior he has shown and the decisions he has made make him an unsuitable representative for our state.”

“Our congressional delegation is weakened by this scandal – and therefore, so is our representation in Congress. Nevada taxpayers  deserve better. It is time for Senator Ensign to resign and allow a more suitable and effective Senator to replace him,” he said.

Ira Hansen, a Sparks resident running for Assembly District 32, also said he thinks Ensign should step down.

“I’ve been a big Ensign supporter from Day One,” he said. “I still think very highly of the guy. But I am extremely disappointed in his unfortunate personal behavior.”

“While it is true that Ensign is innocent until proven guilty,” Hansen said, “his violation of his family values positions by having an extramarital affair does justify asking him to step down.”

“Whether his resignation would be in the best interests of the state is a much bigger question,” he said. “It’s a tough call.”

Elizabeth Halseth, candidate for Senate District 9, also agrees it is time for Ensign to go.

“If you cannot lead effectively, there is limit to your success and the success of those you serve,” said Halseth.  “While I applaud Senator Ensign for the great things he has done for our state, I believe he has become ineffective and will ultimately harm our ability to grow.”

Halseth said she believes we need strong elected officials officials who can help Nevada get back on track.

“The people are our strength, and the people have lost faith in Senator Ensign’s ability to lead effectively,” said Halseth.  “For that reason, I believe it’s in the best interest of the people, the party and the state of Nevada that Senator Ensign resigns immediately.”

Calinit Atia, candidate for state Assembly District 22, said she believes elected officials must always put their constituents first and that it may be time for Ensign to consider stepping aside.

“I don’t know if what Dean Heller said is true, but if John Ensign has lost his effectiveness, then yes, I would say he should put the state’s interests before his own and step down,” said Atia.

“These are dark days for John Ensign and his family and the choices he needs to make are not easy, but they are choices that must be made,” she said.  “My heart goes out to his family.”

George Harris, a former chairman and former treasurer of the Clark County Republican party, re-iterated past statements calling for Ensign’s resignation.

“If Ensign continues to be a wasp in the GOP ointment, he will ultimately damage the prospects of those who come out of the primary election,” Harris said.  “The opposition will absolutely use this ethics scandal against all Republicans in the general election.”

“Ensign could save everyone a lot of embarrassment,” Harris said.  “The problem is, he has become the story.  The media and the Democrats are basically turning him into a clown, the longer this drags on and the more facts come to light.”

“From a strategic perspective, as the former head of the Republican Senatorial Committee, Ensign knows that if this was anyone else, he would be the first in line to tell them to resign,” said Harris. “We cannot have this kind of thing hanging over the party. Ensign should discontinue his selfish behavior and resign now.”

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., agreed in television interviews this week that Ensign is a “wounded” junior senator and that Nevada needs a stronger voice in Washington. But he stopped short of calling for Ensign to resign.

In a written statement to the Las Vegas Review Journal, U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian said, “After consideration of the news reports and Congressman Heller’s recent statements — which I take very seriously — I think the issue is that the people of Nevada need to know that Senator Ensign can represent them effectively.”

“I must respectfully say that as the potential Republican nominee, I do not expect to be campaigning with Senator Ensign this fall,” said Tarkanian.

Interviews with a number of other Nevada Republicans do reveal a general reluctance to call for Ensign’s resignation.  The general consensus is that Ensign has not yet been found guilty of any wrongdoing and that he will make the right decision for Nevada when the time comes.

Still, there is acknowledgment that Ensign’s troubles are creating problems for the Republican Party in Nevada because he can’t raise money for candidates or campaign on their behalf.

U.S. Senate John Chachas said, “Senator Ensign has suffered a great deal of personal and professional grief for some self-acknowledged lapses in judgment and behavior. Nevadans should not make sport of tap-dancing on someone’s misery.

“That said, elected officials need to be held to a higher standard. They have to be,” he added.  “I have served on boards of directors in business, and if a senior director had such issues, I would give him or her a nudge and suggest that moving on would be good for the company and shareholders.”

“But this is politics. The only ‘board’ is the electorate every six years. So in the interim, the only thing that matters is the good judgment of the individual,” said Chachas.  “I am confident Sen. Ensign will exercise good judgment for Nevada. His career and reputation are not the issue. The issue is Nevada, and I am confident he will do the right thing in that regard.”

Mike Montandon, gubernatorial candidate and the former mayor of North Las Vegas, said Ensign appears to be a liability for Republican candidates because they are clearly not seeking his endorsement.

But the issue of his resignation is a decision only Ensign can make, he said.

“I’m not going to call for anyone’s resignation,” Montandon said. “If someone in public office can’t make that decision for himself, then something is wrong.”

Montandon also noted that an Ensign resignation, should it occur, raises myriad political issues that could ripple across the state. Whether it would be better before or after the primary and how it might affect the re-election chances of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are just two of those issues, he said.

State Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said Ensign’s troubles are damaging to the GOP brand, but he added that the inquiries into his actions are still in progress.

“In America we have a system where you are innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “So in the absence of any clear criminal wrongdoing, it would presumptuous of me to be the judge, jury and executioner.”

Democrats are using Ensign’s troubles to their advantage, but ethics issues aren’t unknown to Democrats, Goedhart said. He pointed to New York Rep. Charles Rangel, who is facing an ethics probe of his own.

“Is it reducing Ensign’s effectiveness? Yes,” he said. “Am I calling on him to step down? No. Not unless he has been found guilty of criminal wrongdoing.”

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, a candidate for state Senate, said he believes Ensign will do what is best for the state.

“He has not been charged or convicted, so it is very premature for people to be calling his resignation,” he said.

Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, who is also running for an open state senate seat, said he has stayed out of the controversy but said a resignation could, “throw a monkey wrench into the elections.”

A resignation now would be poor timing, he said.

“We should wait and see what the investigations turn up,” Gustavson said. “Let it take its course. Until then I’m not suggesting we do anything different.”

U.S. Senate candidate Garn Mabey, a former member of the state Assembly, said he would agree with the description of Ensign as a “wounded” senator. But Mabey said he considers Ensign a friend who helped him win his first race for elective office.

“I’m not going to throw him under the bus,” he said.

Mabey said he does not believe Ensign’s troubles will affect other Nevada Republican candidates.

“I think he is a good man,” Mabey said. “It is a decision he has to make.”

U.S. Senate candidate and Assemblyman Chad Christensen said: “This has been an unfortunate situation all the way around. There are two basic issues here. If John Ensign did anything illegal he should resign, if not then voters should decide in 2012 if he should stay.”

Rob Lauer, a candidate for secretary of state, said he believes in loyalty and called Ensign “a great Republican.” It is up to Ensign to decide whether he can continue to be effective in Congress, he said.

“I like him personally,” Lauer said. “He has done a lot of good things for the state. But on a political level as a senator he has an obligation to the people of the state. If he can’t get bills through, if he is not effective for the state, he needs to do what is best for the state.”

Ensign’s troubles are an issue for Nevada Republicans because without them, he could raise money and help GOP candidates, Lauer said. Until the issues facing him are resolved, he can’t be an effective leader for Nevada Republicans, he said.

Craig Lake, candidate for Congressional District 1, declined to comment on the matter. Brian Sandoval, a former federal judge running for governor, also had no comment.

Patrick McNaught, candidate for Senate District 12, and Michelle Fiore, candidate for CD-1, could not be reached for comment. U.S. Senate candidates Sharron Angle also could not be reached.

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

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

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

Notes/snippets:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a good Tweet from Ralston:

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

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

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

Raggio, Gansert Getting Pushback from Conservative Caucus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gibbons Wants Hearing on School Voucher Plan, Says Competition Would Improve Educational Opportunities for Children

By Sean Whaley | 11:09 am February 16th, 2010

(Updated at 12:04 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2010)

CARSON CITY – A handful of state lawmakers have tried and failed over the years to establish a voucher plan for Nevada students, giving parents a share of their taxes spent on public education so they can pick a school that best meets the needs of their children.

While other states have had some success, such measures have gone nowhere in Nevada. Two bills were introduced in the Assembly in 2009 to begin such programs. Neither bill even had a hearing.

Now Gov. Jim Gibbons has taken up the issue, making a school voucher program a central piece of his education reform plan. Gibbons, in his state of the state address Feb. 8, asked lawmakers to give his plan a hearing at the special session set to begin Feb. 23. It also includes a repeal of mandates for all-day kindergarten and class-size reduction and a repeal of the state’s collective bargaining law.

“I believe that we need to give the choice of education back to parents and get them involved,” he said after the speech. “We have 142 schools in the state of Nevada that are rated as the worst schools in the nation.”

Gibbons said parents of students attending these schools should have the choice to go elsewhere.

“I believe that vouchers give that choice to parents,” he said.

A school voucher proposal was not part of Gibbons’ proclamation issued today calling for the special session. Robin Reedy, chief of staff to Gibbons, said the intent is to get the budget shortfall and flexibility issues dealt with first.

“We fully intend on amending the proclamation between now and sine die (the end of the session),” Reedy said.

A school voucher measure will be one of those amendments, she said.

The five-page bill creating the “educational scholarship” as now written would not result in an immediate savings to the state budget, said Stacy Woodbury, deputy chief of staff to Gibbons.

The plan remains a work in progress, with the Gibbons Administration analyzing how best to make the vouchers available. They could be given to parents to give to the school of their choice, which would then be turned into the Department of Education for reimbursement, or given directly to parents.

In an interview last week, Gibbons said that is still being analyzed to determine the best approach to ensure the program is constitutional.

“I have no preference for whether a voucher goes to school or to a parent,” Gibbons said. “If the constitution will allow for it, I’m happy to send it directly to parents.”

Woodbury said the proposal would provide 75 percent of the local school district’s pupil support to the private school.

If tuition was less than 75 percent of the support, then the lower amount that would be provided, Woodbury said. If the cost of the school program was more than 75 percent of the support, the parents would have to make up the difference. The other 25 percent of the pupil support would remain with the local school district.

Private schools would have to be licensed by the state Department of Education to participate, she said. Those private schools that are not licensed would be ineligible. There are about 75 so called “exempt,” or non-licensed schools, operating in Nevada right now.

Licensed schools must use licensed teachers and follow other requirements. Students would have to pass the high school proficiency exam to earn a diploma.

Woodbury said under the governor’s plan, religious schools would not automatically be prohibited from participating. If a religious-based school spent 25 percent of its time on religious instruction, then it could be argued the 75 percent state support would go to the academic instruction portion of the curriculum, she said.

The Gibbons administration believes the proposal is constitutional under the Nevada State Constitution, Woodbury said.

Carson City attorney Scott Scherer, a former state lawmaker who worked on one of the voucher proposals introduced in 2009, said Nevada does not have a lot of case law on the issue, so predicting how the Nevada Supreme Court would rule on such a program is difficult to predict.

But one key element in withstanding a legal challenge is ensuring that only schools that are true educational institutions and that have the appropriate curriculum can participate, he said. Schools that offer a primarily religious education should not be included, Scherer said.

“I think if it is a legitimate educational institution meeting the needs of students to prepare them to graduate from high school and go on to college, then a religious affiliation would not prohibit a school from participating,” he said.

Not everyone agrees.

Article 11, Section 10 of the Nevada constitution is a provision called a Blaine Amendment dating back to statehood, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds on “sectarian purposes.”

Courts have rejected voucher school programs in other states because of these Blaine Amendments.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, said a reading of the state constitution suggests there is no way a voucher plan in any form would withstand a legal challenge.

“We at the ACLU cannot imagine a voucher program that gives direct taxpayer funding to secular institutions that can in anyway comport without our constitutional prohibition on using public money for religious purposes,” she said.

Rowland said the prohibition “creates a very real hurdle for anyone trying to institute a voucher program in Nevada.”

People have a right to attend religious schools, just not with public funds, she said.

The Institute for Justice, a civil liberties and public interest law firm, disagrees with the ACLU interpretation. In its analysis of Nevada law, the organization says there are no recent court rulings or attorney general opinions addressing the issue.

“Although Nevada’s Legislature passed a law requiring that money allotted for public schools be used exclusively for public schools, NRS 387.045, other public money – general revenues or lottery proceeds, for instance – could support a voucher program,” the institute says in its analysis.

Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the Alliance for School Choice, took issue with the ACLU interpretation of the Nevada constitution, saying the organization, “is taking liberties with the state’s constitution in their attempt to deny parents the opportunity to choose the best schools for their kids.”

“It is not surprising, given the ACLU has fought tooth and nail to deny deserving children the opportunity to achieve their own American dreams,” he said.

Woodbury said that if a voucher plan is approved by the Legislature, it would take some time to implement. The state Board of Education would need time to prepare for the new program, and so it might not get under way until the fall of 2011. While access to private schools might be limited at first, establishing the voucher program would allow for new schools to become licensed and offer educational opportunities, she said.

The same process happened with charter schools, she said. When the law first passed in 1997, it took awhile for the schools to be established. There are now 28 such schools operating in Nevada, according to the Department of Education.

There are about 422,000 students in the Nevada public school system now.

Many states have offered vouchers to select groups of students, such as special needs, Woodbury said.

“I say any child should be eligible,” she said.

“I commend the governor and his staff for bringing this forward,” said Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley. “For people who truly care about educating our children, they talk about getting parents involved. What better way to get parents involved than to give them choice.”

Goedhart, who proposed one of the school choice bills in the 2009 session that did not get a hearing, said a voucher program has not moved forward in Nevada because the politically powerful educational establishment enjoys its monopoly.

But offering competition would be best for Nevada’s children, and could even reduce the need to build new public schools, he said.

“We have to embrace innovative approaches to education, and one of those is vouchers,” Goedhart said.

While there may be room for a discussion on the issue, a special session of the Legislature that has to address an $881 million budget shortfall is not the time or place, said Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

“We’re open to just about anything that will get us through this budget crisis,” he said.

But Oceguera said is unrealistic to think the Legislature could consider such a major policy shift given the state’s pressing fiscal crisis.

Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said he too does not believe the special session is the time to take up such an issue, although new ideas are always worth a look.

“We’ve got other things on our plate,” he said. “I am a big proponent of public education based on the success me and my family has had with the system, but I do believe we should be looking at new and innovative programs.”

Gibbons disagrees, saying in an op/ed piece Jan. 8 that a special session is the right time to consider education reform.

“Clearly legislators have not had time in their regular 120 day sessions every other year to address education reform. What better time to focus on reform than in a special session where topics are limited to a very few items?” Gibbons asked.

Woodbury said that since the governor has the exclusive authority to set the agenda for a special session, the Legislature should be prepared to review his education reform plan later this month.

“If they do not consider his plan, he may call them back in again, yes,” she said.

Goedhart also said the special session is the appropriate place for such a discussion. By putting it on his agenda, Gibbons and school voucher supporters will get a chance to see where lawmakers stand.

“The voters, residents and citizens of Nevada will finally get to see how lawmakers are voting on such a crucial issue,” he said.

Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, said any shift to private schools would be slow because of the limited availability. There are about 96 licensed private schools in Nevada now.

The licensed private schools are serving just under about 9,000 students statewide.

But Rheault said most of these schools offer only kindergarten or elementary grade level programs, and several school districts have no such schools operating as all.

“Most are in Clark and Washoe,” Rheault said. “Only eight districts statewide have private licensed schools.”

Rheault said from his agency’s perspective, the challenge of a voucher plan would be ensuring accountability. The state would need to verify the student enrolled in the school and attended, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In all, 18 measures were tracked for the report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawmakers leveled some criticisms at the report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full report is available at the PLAN website.

Assembly Republicans Taking Voluntary Pay Cuts Equal to State Employee Salary Reductions

By Sean Whaley | 3:46 pm December 16th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Republican members of the state Assembly said today they are following through on a commitment made in January to take salary reductions equal to the pay cuts imposed on state employees as a result of the 2009 legislative session.

Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, who also serves as the Assembly minority leader, said checks equaling a 4.6 percent reduction in pay for each Republican member of the Assembly will be sent to the state every six months. Since lawmakers are not in session, pay is received only for attending interim legislative meetings, and it made more sense to cut a check twice a year rather than on a more frequent basis, she said.

Suggestions in news reports earlier this month that lawmakers were not sharing in the pain of pay cuts is not the case for Assembly Republicans, Gansert said.

“We pledged early on to take any pay cuts state employees had to take,” she said. “It has just been an accounting issue for us.”

Checks were being sent today by Assembly Republicans to the state general fund.

“We believe it is important for elected leaders to match the sacrifices being asked of others,” Gansert said. “We shouldn’t ask anything of state personnel that we are not willing to accept for ourselves.”

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, agreed, saying: “We are all in this together. State government must make painful cuts during these times and we all need to do our part to share the sacrifice.”

The 2009 Legislature approved a one-day-a-month furlough plan for most state workers as a way to help balance the budget. The unpaid day off equates to a 4.6 percent pay cut that began July 1.

Lawmakers get paid for the first 60 days of each legislative session held in odd-numbered years, but are paid only for attending sporadic meetings in the interim. The current pay for attending a legislative meeting is $146.29.

Some lawmakers are on more interim committees and attend more meetings than others.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported Dec. 16 that only one lawmaker, Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, had taken a pay cut and returned $526.65 to the state.

But Gansert said all 14 Assembly Republicans are committed to taking the pay cuts as well.