Posts Tagged ‘Goicoechea’

Last-Minute Bill To Change Legislative Process In-Between Sessions Concerns Some GOP Lawmakers

By Sean Whaley | 6:19 am June 10th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Some GOP lawmakers say a bill introduced late in the just-ended 2011 session appears to be an attempt to move the Nevada Legislature more toward a full-time operation in the period in-between the biennial sessions.

Republican lawmakers critical of Assembly Bill 578 also say it would limit participation on interim policy panels by many of the 63 state lawmakers.

A Democrat who processed the bill disagrees however, saying all lawmakers will be able to participate under the new process, which is only intended to make the interim more efficient, not create a full-time Legislature.

“It is very concerning to me,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas. “It seems as if someone is trying to make us a full-time Legislature, and we’re supposed to be a part-time Legislature.”

Cegavske said the major change to how the Legislature operates in the interim didn’t get full hearings either.

“It wasn’t really vetted out,” she said. “Normally something of that magnitude, the majority party would talk to the minority leadership and talk to them about doing something that dramatic. And that didn’t occur, so it is just very troubling and very concerning.”

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he has several issues with the change from the current interim legislative panels to Joint Interim Standing Committees that would mirror the committees used during session.

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea has serious questions about a bill changing the interim legislative process./File Photo: Nevada News Bureau

“I didn’t want to see that change,” he said. “The standing committees would become the interim committees, with reduced membership, and I’m very concerned about that.

“Everyone has their own expertise and that’s why we are a citizen Legislature,” Goicoechea said. “I think we’re better off engaging a few more people and doing true interim committees as pertaining to issues rather than just the standing committees.”

But Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, the chairman of the committee that processed the bill, said there is no intent to create a full-time Legislature in the interim, only to make the meetings in-between sessions more efficient. The intent is to have all lawmakers serve on at least one of the new committees as well so full representation from all members is anticipated, he said.

The first step in the process was to create the same committees in both the Assembly and Senate for the 2011 session, Segerblom said. Past sessions have seen different panels in the two houses.

“The thought was then if we could take those same committees and continue them in the interim it would make for a much more efficient process,” he said.

The new system would actually see fewer days of work by lawmakers than the current process, Segerblom said.

“Most committees would probably meet five times so it’s not a full-time Legislature by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

AB578, introduced May 31, passed both the Assembly and Senate on mostly party-line votes. It passed out of the Assembly on June 5, and was amended and passed by the Senate on June 6, the last day of session. It is now in the hands of Gov. Brian Sandoval for his review.

Rather than a number of interim committees now in existence to consider a wide range of policy issues in-between sessions, the measure would replace the panels with new Joint Interim Standing Committees.

The committees would mirror those established for the 2011 session: Commerce, Labor and Energy; Education; Government Affairs; Health and Human Services; Judiciary; Legislative Operations and Elections; Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining; Revenue and Taxation; and Transportation.

The joint committees would have smaller memberships, however, another element of the proposed change that concerns Republican lawmakers.

The committees would have three members from the Senate and five from the Assembly with no more than five from one party.

Cegavske said the proposed change also comes at a time when other state legislatures are reducing or eliminating their interim activities as a way to save money in lean budget times. This proposal would do the opposite, she said.

“It’s just not the time to add more,” Cegavske said.

Segerblom said the change is expected to be pretty close to cost-neutral compared to the current system.

There was no ulterior motive in making the change, just a desire to make the interim process more streamlined and more effective, he said. If Sandoval has concerns, “we’d love to talk to him beforehand,” Segerblom said.

Audio clips:

Sen. Barbara Cegavske says the bill will move Nevada to a full-time Legislature:

060911Cegavske1 :08 a part-time Legislature.”

Cegavske says the last-minute measure did not get full hearings:

060911Cegavske2 :18 and very concerning.”

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea says the change would limit membership by lawmakers:

060911Goicoechea1 :21 concerned about that.”

Goicoechea says the current interim committee process works well:

060911Goicoechea2 :18 the standing committees.”

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom says the new plan would make the interim process more efficient:

060911Segerblom1 :16 other year too.”

Segerblom says keeping the same lawmakers involved on issues in the interim will help get each new legislative session off to a faster start:

060911Segerblom2 :24 it will do.”

Construction Defect Reform Measure Criticized As Inadequate By Building Industry

By Sean Whaley | 12:52 pm June 3rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill proposing reforms to Nevada’s construction defects law was called inadequate today in a hearing before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

John Madole, representing the Nevada Chapter of the Associated General Contractors, told the panel the best option would be to not proceed with Assembly Bill 401, proposed by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

Madole said his organization has been seeking meaningful reform to the construction defects law, but that AB401 does not meet that test. Rather than waste time on a bill that is only “rearranging the deck furniture on the Titanic,” the committee should defeat the measure, he said.

AB401 would revise provisions regarding attorney’s fees, clarifying that they are not automatic and awarding them only to the prevailing party. It would also clarify the statute of limitations for lawsuits, from unlimited for willful misconduct to three years after discovery.

Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, asked if the measure at least made some progress on the issue and so could be supported by the construction industry.

“A lot of times it takes time to get them where you want them to be,” she said. “There’s no interest in making changes and having something out of this issue versus nothing?”

Madole said he believes the bill would actually make things worse.

“It’s my opinion that this will actually impede the efforts in 2013 to get meaningful reform,” he said. “I think what will happen in 2013 is that when something is brought forward, that people will be told we took care of this problem in 2011.

“I have taken this to an attorney who is an expert and he told me that in his opinion there are about 15 things that wrong with construction defects,” Madole said. “The language in this bill would not even make the top five, so what’s the sense of just trying to make everybody feel good?”

Madole’s comments prompted Oceguera to call his comments “disingenuous.”

Oceguera said he met with building industry officials, including the associated general contractors, before the 2011 session to discuss necessary reforms. The bill contains the three most important reforms cited in those talks, he said.

“I asked for a list of the five most important things,” Oceguera said. “The three that are in this bill are the top three that you gave to me. So to say these aren’t important issues is disingenuous at least. These are the issues you told me you wanted to work on, and we worked on.”

The issue of reforms to construction defect law is in play as part of a budget deal struck by Gov. Brian Sandoval and members of both parties in the Legislature. In exchange for a number of reforms, Sandoval has agreed to extend some expiring taxes to add funding to the budget.

Successful passage of the reforms is key to getting enough Republicans to vote for the compromise.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said AB401 is not real reform.

“It does absolutely nothing,” he said Wednesday following announcement of the budget deal.

The bill is cited by Sandoval as a piece of the reform and budget deal.

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said the concerns expressed by Madole can be raised if the bill is passed by the Assembly and sent to the Senate for further hearings. As written, however, Goicoechea said he would have to oppose the bill.

Audio clips:

John Madole of the Associated General Contractors says the bill does not make any real reforms:

060311Madole1 :22 it any further.”

Madole says the bill would actually make it tougher to implement reforms:

060311Madole2 :17 problem in 2011.”

Madole says the proposed reforms don’t come close to the changes that are needed:

060311Madole3 :16 everybody feel good?”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith asks if the proposed reforms are better than no changes at all:

060311Smith :18 issue versus nothing?”

Assemblyman John Oceguera says the bill makes substantive reforms in three areas:

060311Oceguera :22 we worked on.”



Republican State Legislative Leaders Ask For End To Rhetoric From Democrats On Budget

By Sean Whaley | 12:04 pm February 2nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Republican minority leadership in the Senate and the Assembly has called on critics of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget to trade their “rhetoric for a plan.”

The comments in a letter from Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, and Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, are in response to criticisms from Democrat lawmakers on various elements of Sandoval’s proposed budget released Jan. 24.

Democrats have not yet offered an alternative to Sandoval’s $5.8 billion general fund budget that includes many program cuts and also shifts the cost of some programs to the counties. Democratic leaders last week said they first have to assess the depth of the cuts in Sandoval’s budget before offering an alternative.

In the letter released Tuesday, the two lawmakers said: “We ask them to join us in supporting the governor’s vision of service before self – a vision that reins in spending, makes government more responsive and calls for shared sacrifice over individual gain.

“We hope they will join us, but should they oppose our efforts to reform government they owe it to you to provide a plan of their own,” McGinness and Goicoechea said. “They owe it to every Nevadan to begin providing specific details of not just their plan, but also how they propose to fund it.

“Nevadans deserve an honest and open debate. We call on Nevada leaders regardless of ideology or party affiliation to spend a little less time on rhetoric and a little more time working together toward real solutions.”

The lawmakers also suggested that Democrats are attempting to mislead the public about Sandoval’s budget.

“Unfortunately some have chosen to dust off an old political strategy designed to confuse the public,” they said. “By presenting a barrage of numbers from a variety of sources, they seek not to advance an agenda of their own but, to confuse the issue.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, last week called some of Sandoval’s budget numbers on public education funding misleading and understating the magnitude of his proposed cuts. He called the use of the numbers “trickery.”

Horsford said Sandoval should use the legislatively approved budget as of the 2009 session, not the budget that was changed as a result of further cuts made in the February 2010 special session, for comparison purposes. Sandoval’s budget cuts don’t appear as severe when compared to the further reduced budget as a result of the special session.

Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert said during the hearing last week there was no intent to mislead, only to use the most current budget numbers.

Republican lawmakers are not unified, however, in support of Sandoval’s budget. Long-time state Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, told the Las Vegas Sun on Tuesday that tax increases may be necessary to balance the spending plan.

He made his comments after hearing the effect of Sandoval’s proposed cuts and program shifts on a variety of critical programs, from mental health courts to child welfare.

Democrats in the Senate would need support from three Republicans to get the 14 votes needed to raise taxes. Assembly Democrats would need the support of two Republicans to get the 28 votes they would need. A two-thirds vote would be required to raise taxes and override a governor’s veto.

Newly elected state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, has said Horsford does not have the votes in the Senate needed to raise taxes.

His comment came after Horsford in early January sent a letter to supporters and constituents suggesting the next two-year state budget is facing an attack from “extreme right-wing” interests who will use the current economic crisis to “dismantle our state.”

All this has come before the 2011 legislative session even begins. The session gets under way on Monday.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says Sandoval administration not being clear about the depth of his budget cuts:

020211Horsford1 :25 bad this is.”

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert says there is no intent to mislead:

020211Gansert :12 in the future.”

Horsford says Sandoval’s budget must be thoroughly reviewed before Democrats can offer any alternatives:

022111Horsford2 :06 do anything else.”

Nevada Policy Makers Remain Divided On Future Of Public Employee Pension Plan

By Sean Whaley | 4:12 pm December 20th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada policy makers remain divided over the need to make a fundamental change to the public employees’ retirement system following the release last week of a report showing significant costs to move to a defined contribution plan.

Some lawmakers say they have not yet read the report by the Segal Group Inc. which says it would cost about $1.2 billion over the next two years to change from the current defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan for new state and local government workers. These additional costs would continue for several years.

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue say they need more information and expect to hear more details of what such a shift would entail in the upcoming legislative session.

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval continues to favor a change to a defined contribution plan for new government hires, but has not yet reviewed the study in-depth, said spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner.

She said Sandoval expects to meet with the staff of the Public Employees’ Retirement System after taking office in January.

“Gov.-elect Sandoval remains committed to the concept of defined contribution as discussed in the campaign,” Kinner said.

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he believes the retirement system will have to be changed over to a defined contribution plan, but that he needs more details on how such a change would be accomplished.

The price tag just for the next two years gives him concerns as well.

Goicoechea said if the contribution rates have to be increased significantly for current public employees to fully fund the current pension plan within about a decade, it could be a big hit to workers as well.

Contribution rates, which now are shared by employers and employees, are set to increase over the next two fiscal years to keep the current defined benefit plan financially healthy. Rates will go up to 23.75 percent from 21.5 percent now for regular employees.

But to fund the plan more quickly, the rate would have to increase to 34 percent instead, according to the Segal report.

For police and firefighters, who are analyzed separately, the increase would go from the proposed 40 percent contribution rate over the next two years to 52 percent.

The cost of these increases would total $1.2 billion for the coming two years, and would continue until the closed defined benefit plan was fully funded.

If these increases are shared by workers, it would mean a significant pay cut, Goicoechea said. It could also lead to a mass exodus of current employees who are eligible for retirement, he said.

Goicoechea says he does favor changing to a defined contribution for new hires.

“But I want to see some more on the plan before I really step out there,” he said.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said he does not believe a major change to a defined contribution plan is necessary. But there is no question that the long-term unfunded liability of the current plan, which hit $10 billion as of June 30, needs to be paid down, he said.

“If we can reduce that unfunded liability portion by whatever method, then I think we ought to look at that,” he said. “I don’t think we ought to change the way we do it though, the system we have.

“Getting to 100 percent funded is a good cause, and I think we should try to do that,” Oceguera said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he could not comment because he has not yet read the report.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, favors a change to a defined contribution plan for new hires but said he has not read the Segal report and so could not yet comment on the findings.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the report indicates what other such studies have said previously, that it would not be fiscally prudent to change the pension plan from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan.

The Legislature has been attempting to address the unfunded liability, although budget problems in recent years have made that more difficult to accomplish, she said. It will be up for discussion at every legislative session, Smith said.

“I think the public employee benefit plans will certainly be under scrutiny; and making sure we have plans to fund them,” she said.

The 2009 Legislature did make some changes to the retirement plan for new hires in an effort to reduce costs, including increasing the retirement age to 62 for some workers.

The report released Dec. 15 says that to change to a defined contribution plan for new hires, the existing defined benefit plan will have to be fully funded over a shorter time frame, requiring increased contribution rates from the state and local governments and possibly employees as well.

A change from a “defined benefit” plan where retirement payments are guaranteed based on salary and years worked, to a “defined contribution plan” where public employers contribute to employee retirement without any guarantees of pension amounts upon retirement, is being pushed for public employee retirement plans nationwide.

Such a change would affect only future hires. There is a current legal prohibition for changing the plan for workers currently in the system.

Advocates for the current system say Nevada’s plan is well managed, is being funded appropriately and will be fully funded over time. Supporters of a change to defined contribution say it would eliminate any future unfunded liability and so benefit taxpayers.

Audio clips:

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea says changing the public employee retirement system could have a big financial impact on state and local governments and employees:

122010Goicoechea1 :07 a tremendous impact.”

Goicoechea says a change to the system could generate a large number of retirements:

122010Goicoechea2 :09 until July 1.”

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera says lawmakers should work to close the unfunded liability rather than make sweeping changes:

122010Oceguera1 :13 that we have.”

Oceguera says getting the current plan 100 percent funded is a worthwhile goal:

122010Oceguera2 :04 to do that.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says budget problems have delayed legislative action on the unfunded liability:

122010Smith :14 plate every session.”

Rural Nevada Lawmaker Goicoechea Retains GOP Assembly Leadership Post

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:02 pm November 4th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Rural Nevada lawmaker Pete Goicoechea was elected as minority leader today by the 16-member Assembly Republican caucus.

Goicoechea, R-Eureka, will continue in the leadership position he assumed when Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, stepped down. Gansert did not run for re-election to the Assembly. She was named yesterday to Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval’s transition team.

“I am honored to have the support of the Republican caucus as we enter the 2011 legislative session,” Goicoechea said. “I’m excited as our members are stepping forward and preparing to lead in the coming months and make a firm stand in the Legislature for small, effective government.

“We look forward to working with Gov.-Elect Sandoval, our colleagues in the Senate, and the Democrats in the Assembly in the coming months,” he said.

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart was elected assistant leader. Assemblymen Mark Sherwood and Tom Grady were elected whips.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, also sought the leadership position.

“I had hoped for another outcome, but Pete is a good man,” Hambrick said. “He is an upfront individual. I am supporting him 100 percent. We will be unified going into session.”

Assembly Republicans picked up two seats in the Tuesday general election, giving them 16 members and enough to take away the two-thirds veto-proof majority held by Democrats in 2009. It was the first gain for the caucus since 2002.

Nine members of the caucus are newly elected.

Nevada GOP Assembly Members Call For Suspension of Prevailing Wage on Public Construction

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:54 pm October 7th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Members of the Republican Assembly Caucus today called on state Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek to delay implementation of a new prevailing wage rate in Nevada until the Legislature has an opportunity to review the methodology.

The caucus is concerned a flawed process resulted in the new prevailing wage rate that took effect Oct. 1. There is a 30-day period to file an objection.

In a letter sent to the commissioner, the caucus is challenging the legitimacy of increases to the wage on public construction when the wage rates on private construction have decreased with current market conditions.

“When the wage rates being paid on public works projects are 43 percent higher on average than wage rates being paid in the private sector, something is wrong with the formula,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. “All of us support a fair wage for those who do public construction but in these economic times we cannot afford a more than fair wage.”

According to an analysis done by the caucus, the average prevailing wage has gone up about 3 percent statewide with gains in some counties being offset by decreases in the rural counties. However, in Carson City where much of the construction for state government is performed, the proposed rate increase is nearly 8.5 percent.

“No one will dispute that the wage rate being paid by the private sector has gone down based on current economic conditions,” said Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville. “And Nevada’s own Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation’s reported wage rate confirms that, so how in the world can we have an increase in the cost of public construction labor? A flawed methodology for determining the rate, that’s how.”

The letter to Tanchek is a formal protest to the rates recently released by his office.

Tanchek was not immediately available for comment on the letter.

The letter says: “Frankly, we are stunned that in this economic environment where private sector construction has, for all intents and purposes, come to a complete halt, the average prevailing wage rate for public construction in Nevada could be increased.”

“We recognize that your office simply collects and reports this information based on a formula prescribed in state law,” the letter says. “However, given the unprecedented economic crisis we find ourselves in, the record unemployment we face and the staggering budget shortfall that will confront us in the next session, we felt compelled to submit this protest as a way to begin a public dialogue on this outrageous situation.”

State law requires the commissioner to survey contractors who have performed construction work during the past year in order to determine the prevailing wage rates. Prevailing wage rates are required to be paid on all Nevada public works construction projects such as schools, libraries, roads and government buildings costing more than $100,000.

The information obtained from the surveys is loaded into a computer program which calculates the prevailing wage rates on a county-by-county, job classification basis.

If no rates are reported for a craft in a county, the commissioner must rely on wage rates as reported for the nearest county that has a rate. Many times a low-population county can end up with the same rate as established in Clark County for a particular craft because no rural numbers were reported.

Goicoechea said: “We are faced with unprecedented economic challenges in this state. We have record high unemployment, we have implemented state worker furloughs, and we have asked our state agency heads to renegotiate contracts where possible; how can we, in good conscience, allow the cost of public construction to increase?”

“We all want to create new jobs, especially in construction, but simple economics dictates that if you overpay those currently working, the result is fewer new jobs,” Settelmeyer said.

Assembly Leadership Says Reforms to Campaign Finance Reporting Will Wait

By Sean Whaley | 4:26 pm September 20th, 2010

CARSON CITY – While Secretary of State Ross Miller has announced he will voluntarily post his campaign contribution and expense report early so voters can review the information prior to casting their ballots in the Nov. 2 general election, other candidates are not ready to follow suit.

Both Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera and Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea said there are too many issues involved for them to recommend to their caucuses and candidates to file the reports in mid-October before early voting begins.

Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said changes to the reporting process need to be thoroughly considered by the 2011 Legislature before they can be implemented.

“I have a lot of questions,” he said. “We need to take a long hard look at the total ramifications of any changes.”

Goicoechea said there is a lot at stake for both parties in the legislative elections in November, with Assembly Republicans looking to increase their number to take away a veto-proof 28-seat majority now held by Democrats.

A problem with early reporting of contributions is that the opposing party would see which races a caucus was focusing on, he said.

“We have to show not only where the contributions come from, but where we’re spending the money,” Goicoechea said. “It makes it difficult.”

In an email response to a question about whether Assembly Democrats would follow Miller’s example and post their reports early, Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said any reforms to the filing of campaign contribution and expense reports must be uniformly applied to everyone. In addition, many of the Democrat candidates running for Assembly seats in the November general election do not have the staff or financing to prepare such reports ahead of time, he said.

“Of the 42 Democratic candidates for state Assembly, many have submitted handwritten reports because they don’t have the staff or financing to prepare accurate reports at a moment’s notice during the busiest time in their campaign,” Oceguera said.

Miller has requested legislation to move up the reporting dates for the contribution and expense reports, saying they don’t come out now until early voting is well under way. Miller also wants reports filed electronically so they can be easily searched by the public.

So 21 days before the Nov. 2 general election, Miller said he will electronically file his campaign contribution and expenditure report online for the public to review. In keeping with his proposed legislation, Miller 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.

Oceguera has proposed an alternative for consideration by the 2011 Legislature which would require reporting of contributions within 72 hours of receipt.

“I believe my proposal of switching over to online filing of contributions and expenditures within 72 hours gives even more transparency, and all filings are automatically searchable,” he said. “With my proposal we accomplish both goals at once and the rules apply to everyone.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, did not respond to a request for comment.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he has not asked his caucus members who are running for re-election in this cycle about voluntarily reporting contributions and expenditures ahead of the deadline. Raggio is in the middle of his term and is not up for re-election this year.

Raggio said he has no problem with earlier reporting as long as the process does not become a trap for candidates who might forget and miss a deadline by one day. But he said any reporting changes should apply to everyone, including political action committees that spend money on behalf of candidates or on issues.

“There is no harm in doing it, but I think the information is of more interest to the media than the public,” Raggio said.

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.”

Lawmakers Support Expansion of Nevada Legislature As Part Of Redistricting In 2011

By Sean Whaley | 4:15 pm July 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – Several Nevada lawmakers serving on a panel gearing up for the critical task of redrawing the state’s political boundaries in 2011 said today they support expanding the size of the Legislature to provide better representation.

Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said the Legislature should have added more seats to the Senate and Assembly in the 2001 redistricting process. Because Southern Nevada’s population has boomed for most of the decade, more legislative seats will move south from rural and northern Nevada unless more seats are added, he said.

This makes it almost impossible for some lawmakers to properly represent their districts, both because of the overall population growth and because some rural districts are geographically immense, Raggio said.

“They are not really manageable,” he said. “So you need to increase the size so that you don’t have districts with geographical areas that are just impossible or impractical for one person to represent.”

The Nevada Legislature has 21 state senators and 42 members in the Assembly for a total of 63 lawmakers. The state constitution limits the size of the Legislature to a maximum of 75.

Currently 14 of 21 senators are from Clark County. Twenty-nine of the 42 members of the Assembly are from Clark County.

Raggio said he believes the Legislature should consider expanding all the way to the full 75 allowed, with 25 members in the Senate and 50 members in the Assembly.

Raggio will be involved in the redistricting process but he won’t be crafting a Senate district for himself. The 2011 session will be his last.

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said they too support an expansion of the Legislature when interviewed after the meeting of the Legislative Commission’s Committee to Study Requirements for Reapportionment and Redistricting.

Goicoechea said at least two Assembly seats and one Senate seat need to be added in the 2011 legislative session. The Assembly Republican Caucus will push for that, he said.

Goicoechea said he would also like to see districts more closely mirror county lines where possible. Several rural Nevada counties have multiple legislative representatives right now, he said.

Smith said she believes more seats are needed to ensure adequate representation outside of Clark County. In the 2001 redistricting process, two Assembly seats and one Senate seat went south from Washoe County to compensate for the population growth. Smith saw her own district carved up as part of that process.

Smith lost re-election in 2002 following the redistricting by the 2001 Legislature. She was re-elected in 2004 and has served ever since.

Smith said the cost of an expansion would not be that great because the legislative building can accommodate more members.

Smith said she is not certain yet on how much of an expansion would be appropriate.

Redistricting occurs one every 10 years following the census count.

The Legislature must redraw their own districts to make them approximately equal in size. They will also redraw the state’s congressional boundaries. Given Nevada’s population growth since the last census, the state will likely expand to four seats in the House of Representatives from the current three seats.



Sen. Bill Raggio on need to expand size of Legislature:

072110Raggio1 :23 not very representative.”

Raggio on some districts being too large to represent:

072110Raggio2 :26 person to represent.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith on concerns about representation:

072110Smith :8 means to representation.”

State Agency Overtime Costs Decline But Remain Drain On Nevada Budget

By Sean Whaley | 6:42 am July 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada state agencies and their employees appear to have gotten the message about the budget crisis, at least as far as the accumulation of overtime is concerned.

A report presented to the Board of Examiners last week on the use of overtime and comp time by state agencies shows a 33 percent reduction in the period January through March compared to the previous quarter. The reduction is equal to about $2 million less in overtime costs.

For the first nine months of the 2010 fiscal year, from July 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010, overtime and comp time is down nearly $9 million compared to the same three quarters in the prior fiscal year, a 33.7 percent reduction.

Overtime remains a significant factor for most state agencies, however. The January to March quarter saw $4.1 million in overtime and comp time. For the first nine months of the 2010 fiscal year, overtime and comp time totaled $17.7 million and equaled 2.3 percent of base pay.

Even so, every major state agency reported a drop in overtime in the first nine months of fiscal year 2010 compared to the prior year.

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said the numbers are encouraging. But the elimination of state positions and the reductions in overtime are being reflected in a reduction in service levels, he said. Lines at Department of Motor Vehicle offices are getting longer, but Nevadans are probably going to have to get used to reduced services, at least for the short term, Goicoechea said.

“I think it is a trend,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to have to accept in these economic times we’re in. If you cut the people out, cut the overtime out, it will cut services.”

Some smaller agencies showed overtime increases. The Secretary of State’s office, for example, saw overtime jump by nearly 165 percent in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2010, compared to fiscal year 2009. The amount of overtime totaled just under $68,000. The agency reported a decline in overtime in the third quarter from the second of 27 percent.

The agency ranked 11th overall on overtime as a share of base pay at 1.9 percent.

Pam duPré, public information officer for the secretary of state’s office, said the overtime was made necessary when the office took over the responsibility of issuing business licenses on Oct. 1 with no new staff. More than 35,000 licenses were issued in the fourth quarter, she said.

The new responsibility came at the same time as mandatory furloughs and staff reductions, duPré said. The office won approval from the Legislature to reinstate a few positions to help with the new responsibility, which generates revenue to the state, she said.

Secretary of State Ross Miller authorized the use of overtime to ensure customers received an appropriate level of service, duPré said.

“If we can’t serve our business clients, whether they are seeking a new business license or an annual renewal, they might look to incorporate, and do business and pay their fees in another state,” she said.

The overtime will continue to decline, duPré said.

The Department of Transportation ranked first in the amount of overtime and comp time as a percentage of base pay at 6.3 percent. The agency also ranked first in dollars spent on overtime and comp time, totaling $3.9 million in the first nine months of fiscal year 2010.

The agency has reduced overtime in the first nine months of the 2010 fiscal year, however, by nearly 30 percent compared to fiscal year 2009. The agency does not depend on the general fund for support.

The Department of Corrections reduced its overtime significantly over the previous fiscal year, cutting costs by nearly 50 percent. That could change however, as the agency implemented furloughs for correctional officers starting July 1.

Agency Director Howard Skolnik said overtime costs appear to be increasing since the mandatory one-day-a-month furloughs have been instituted for employees. Skolnik he will ask the Board of Examiners in August to approve an exemption to the furlough requirement for correctional officers, which would be expected to reduce overtime costs.

The department is also filling a number of vacant positions that will help reduce the need for overtime, he said.

The 2009 Legislature imposed the furloughs beginning July 1, 2009 for most state agencies as a way of saving personnel costs to help balance the budget.


Audio clips:

SOS Spokeswoman Pam duPré on reason for overtime:

072010DuPre1 :20 business clients needed.”

Pam duPré on need to provide good service to business community:

072010DuPre2 :13 in another state.”

Corrections Director Howard Skolnik on plans to fill vacant positions:

072010Skolnik1 :24 don’t need overtime.”

Assembly Republican Caucus Launches New Media Contacts To Keep Voters Informed

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:18 pm June 22nd, 2010

CARSON CITY – The Republican Assembly Caucus has launched a media suite to keep Nevadans engaged and informed about lawmaker activities as the general election campaign season gets under way.

The suite includes a new website, blog, twitter feed, Facebook page and e-newsletter.

The resources will provide real-time updates about the caucus and its individual members. Nevadans will be able to access campaign, special event, legislative and community information at the click of a button, via computer or phone.

“I am pleased that the caucus and its members are utilizing every available medium to communicate with the residents and families of Nevada,” said Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. “The caucus looks forward to exploring new ways to remain accessible to the people we represent.”

Goicoechea was recently elected minority leader, replacing Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, who is not running for re-election. In an interview last week, Goicoechea said his leadership position will last at least through the November election, when newly elected caucus members will meet to decide leadership positions for the 2011 legislative session.

At least seven current members of the Assembly GOP caucus will not be returning in 2011 due to term limits, retirement or because they are seeking higher office. The other seven must win re-election in November.

Goicoechea said the caucus is working together to pick up at least one new seat while holding on to the 14 the GOP controls now to take away the two-thirds majority Democrats now have in the 42-member lower house. Fifteen votes would give what Goicoechea calls a “super minority” where Democrats could not vote to raise taxes or override a governor veto without Republican support. Democrats now have a supermajority with 28 seats.

Others would say the GOP Assembly is in a super minority now, since there aren’t enough votes to stop a Democrat agenda.

“We recognize the need to get above 14 if we are to be effective at all in the next session,” he said. “The whole caucus is behind that.”

audio clip:

Goicoechea on need for Assembly GOP to pick up more seats:

062210Goicoechea :22 you’re in trouble.”

Delay In Federal Payment Not Expected To Cause Hardship To Strapped Nevada Counties

By Sean Whaley | 1:57 pm June 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – A delay in federal payments to Nevada’s counties is not anticipated to cause any financial problems for the cash-strapped local governments, officials said in interviews last week.

Nevada and other western states were notified last Wednesday that Payment in Lieu of Taxes funds from the U.S. Department of Interior for fiscal year 2010 will be delayed until July, a move that was criticized by Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The payments to Nevada’s 17 counties, meant to provide compensation to offset the amount of land controlled by the federal government and thus not contributing to the tax base, are an important source of funds to the counties, said Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties.

“The most important thing is they get the money and they get the full amount appropriated,” he said.

Fontaine said he has not yet heard of concerns from any of the state’s 17 counties that the delay in the payment from June to July will cause any cash flow concerns.

Churchill County Commissioner Norm Frey said the delay is not expected to be an issue. The payment is expected by July 16, he said. The county received just over $2 million in payments in fiscal year 2009.

“If it is a couple of weeks delay it is not going to create any problems for us at this time,” he said. “We should be in pretty good shape.”

But the county has other financial problems, including sales tax revenues that are expected to be $2 million lower than projected by the end of this fiscal year, Frey said.

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he does not believe the delay will be an issue for the counties, as long as the payment coming next month is the full amount. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., worked to get full funding for the payments, and any delay raises concerns about whether the full amount will be provided, he said.

If a county was relying on the payment to make it through the 2010 fiscal year that ends June 30 it could cause a problem, but Goicoechea said that would be an example of bad budgeting practices.

Fontaine said the payments can be substantial to rural counties with limited revenues. Humboldt County received $1.6 million in payments in 2009, Lyon, just over $2 million, Mineral County, $728,000, and Nye County almost $2.9 million.

While the delay should be only a minor convenience, it comes on top of another financial hit to several Nevada counties that have been receiving royalties from the Department of Interior on the sale and lease of BLM lands for geothermal development, Fontaine said.

In what he said was described by the agency as an oversight, the payments that have been made since 2005 are instead going to the U.S. treasury, he said. Nevada’s Congressional delegation is attempting to restore the funding through legislation but it has not yet happened, he said.

Despite the change, some payments had already been made to counties and now the Interior Department is demanding repayment of those funds by the end of the year, Fontaine said.

Payments were being made to 31 counties in six states, with Nevada having five of the top 10, he said.

“For some of the counties it is a huge amount of money,” Fontaine said.

Frey said Churchill is one of those counties getting a repayment notice, having been asked by the Interior Department to return $180,000.

“It was paid to us and we figured it was committed,” he said.

The royalty payment is worth about $4 million annually to Churchill County.

Frey said the county has seven operating plants in the county now.

Heller and several colleagues have asked that the royalties be restored in the tax extenders bill now under consideration.

“Some of our Western counties have as little as 2 percent taxable land base, and geothermal revenue sharing provides a funding stream that allows communities to fund vital services such as law enforcement, emergency health care and search and rescue,” the lawmakers said in their letter. “During these difficult economic times, the retention of this amendment in the final version of the bill is vital.”

Frey said the royalty payments, established in 2005 with the help of then Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., have totaled about $40 million and have helped the counties through tough times.

Goicoechea said he is concerned that the size of the federal deficit could mean a new and growing effort to eliminate programs and revenues to the counties.

“I’m afraid this is just the start,” he said. “I’m very concerned in the end they are going to have to take a lot of this money back.”


Audio clips

NACO Ex. Direct. Jeff Fontaine on delay not expected to be a problem:

061810Fontaine :34 something about that.”

Assemblyman Goicoechea on concerns about delay:

061810Goicoechea1 :26 to be for.”

Goicoechea on potential loss of federal funds:

061810Goicoechea2 :8 $13 trillion dollars.”

Churchill Commssioner Frey on value of geothermal payments to counties:

061810Frey :26 like that, so.”

Goicoechea Named GOP Assembly Minority Leader

By Sean Whaley | 12:43 pm June 16th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The Republican Assembly Caucus has elected Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea as its new minority leader, replacing the retiring Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert.

Goicoechea, R-Eureka, was the unanimous choice of the 14-member caucus.

Gansert, R-Reno, is not running for re-election to the Assembly.

Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats in the Assembly by a 28-14 margin, the number of votes Democrats need to raise taxes or override a veto by the governor. The Assembly GOP caucus is working to pick up additional seats in the November general election to eliminate this numerical advantage in the 2011 session.

Goicoechea said: “I look forward to working with fellow caucus members to elect additional Republicans to the Legislature, and I am excited to present the GOP case to voters. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us these next few months and we are determined to get it done.”

Gansert said Goicoechea will be an outstanding leader for the caucus.

Public Employee Retirement Board Authorizes Study to Look at Impact of Reform

By Sean Whaley | 4:25 pm May 28th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers agree the 2011 legislative session will likely see a debate about the future of Nevada’s public employee pension program, but differences remain over whether radical change is needed to protect the state from a multi-billion long-term unfunded liability.

The $9 billion question is whether the Public Employees Retirement System should be converted to a “defined contribution” program for new hires, or whether the “defined benefit” plan now in place for state and local government employees, including teachers, should be preserved.

In anticipation that the future of Nevada’s public pension program will be a topic of discussion in 2011, the board that oversees the program voted last week to undertake an analysis of what a conversion to a defined contribution would mean in terms of cost and required regulatory changes, said Tina Leiss, operations officer for PERS.

“It is not something the board is proposing,” she said. “They want to be prepared to provide facts.”

The study is expected to come to the board for review this fall, Leiss said. It is being performed by the system’s current actuary at no additional cost.

PERS officials argue that major changes to the plan are unnecessary because the contributions flowing into the plan from government and public employees, combined with an estimated 8 percent rate of return on investments over time, will see the plan fully funded in the next 30 years. The contribution rates are recommended by an actuary, approved by the seven-member PERS board and the Legislature every two years.

The Nevada Legislature has always endorsed the contribution rate approved by the PERS board, and those contributions have not been diverted to other uses as has occurred in some others states.

The state retirement plan was estimated to have a long-term unfunded liability of $9.1 billion on June 30, 2009. At its high point the state public pension plan was 85 percent fully funded. It now stands at 72.5 percent.

A recent study of state and local government pension funds by the Pew Center on the States identified Nevada as one of 19 states where “serious concerns” exist about the long-term health of the retirement plan.

The question of what state and local governments should do to resolve the long-term financial uncertainty of their public pension plans is a concern nationally. A number of independent reviews have shown that many of the plans are underfunded and not likely to remain solvent over the long term.

A new report suggests the federal government and taxpayers nationally could end up bailing out the underfunded plans.

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he believes the time has come to change the plan to defined contribution, which would provide new public employees a contribution to their retirement that they would then invest on their own behalf.

“It’s going to be tough enough to keep it afloat as it is,” he said.

The current plan called defined benefit, where public employees are guaranteed a specified retirement income upon retirement based on salary and number of years of service, cannot be continued, Goicoechea said.

While employee recruitment and retention would likely be a problem going forward, the pension plan needs to change to bring it more into line with what is offered in the private sector, he said.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said an estimated $3 billion general fund budget shortfall for the next two-year state budget means all issues have to be debated in the session, including the public employee retirement system.

“I think, when you are $3 billion short, you have to look at the basic structure,” she said. “So we have to look at structural changes, both on the expense side and the revenue side. So I am not willing to exclude anything.”

But Leslie said at this point she believes the defined benefit plan should be continued.

Requiring public employees to make their own investment choices could jeopardize their retirement if the stock market suffers downturns as it is doing right now, she said. The result could be retirees with inadequate retirement income, which could then lead the state to deal with the problem, Leslie said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, acknowledges that the public pension program, and whether it needs reform, will be one of the top issues in front of lawmakers next session.

But the Legislature has acted to keep the retirement plan funded by adjusting contribution rates paid both by public employers and their employees, he said. There seems to be an assumption by some that if everyone retired today that a $9 billion bill would come due, but that is not how retirement plans work, Horsford said.

The potential for a change to a defined contribution plan is not the only reform proposal on the table. The SAGE Commission has also recommended a number of changes to the current defined benefit plan to bring pension costs down. The Spending and Government Efficiency panel appointed by Gov. Jim Gibbons to review government operations did not recommend a change to a defined contribution plan, however.

SAGE commission recommendations include setting a minimum retirement age of 60 before benefits can be paid out. Regular employees in the plan can now retire at any age with 30 years of service.

Other recommendations include calculating the retirement benefit over five years of pay, not the current three highest pay years and imposing a moratorium on any benefit enhancements until the plan is fully funded.

All three Republican candidates for governor advocate a change to a defined contribution plan, saying such a program would be more in line with what is offered in the private sector.

The expected Democrat candidate, Rory Reid, has not yet come to any conclusion on what changes, if any, are needed to the plan, saying those who hold opposing views need to first come to some consensus on the issue.

The 2009 Legislature did make some modest changes to the retirement plan for new hires starting Jan. 1, 2010, including increasing the retirement age after 10 years of service to age 62 from 60.

Any changes to the plan would affect only new hires. The pension plan has been determined to be a vested property right for current employees that cannot be changed.

Audio files:

052810Goicoechea1 :16 is defined contribution.”

052810Leslie1 :10 the current system.”

052810Horsford1 :23 it’s an issue.”

2010 Election Season Crucial with Redistricting on the Agenda in the Next Legislative Session

By Sean Whaley | 3:18 pm March 26th, 2010

CARSON CITY – As millions of Americans fill out their census forms over the next several weeks in the nation’s once-a-decade head count, they no doubt will see the process as a minor inconvenience at most.

But the 2010 census count isn’t just about adding up the population in each state. It is also the starting point for what most observers agree is the most political and contentious issue state lawmakers ever face: The redrawing of political boundaries for members of Congress and especially themselves.

The census count triggers the redistricting and reapportionment process every 10 years, which is designed to make political boundaries approximately equal in population in each state. The census can also lead to Congressional seats being relocated to states where populations have increased since the prior count.

In Nevada the process can pit party against party, national party interests versus local interests, north versus south and Assembly versus Senate. Add to the mix the desires of lawmakers who wish to protect their seats and ensure continued re-election, a major statewide budget crisis, a dozen or more freshman lawmakers and 120 days to get job done, and the 2011 Nevada legislative session will likely be both grueling and interesting to watch.

“It’s huge,” said Ryan Erwin, a political consultant who worked on reapportionment in Nevada in the 2001 session on behalf of Assembly and Senate Republicans. “Ultimately what happens will have a huge impact on Nevada politics over the next decade. Redistricting will have a longer term impact on the finances of this state than any two-year budget ever will.”

In one sign of how serious the issue is for the parties, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, in a memo put out March 15, identified Nevada’s state Senate as one of 10 legislative chambers having tight contests where Democrats need to work to maintain control this election year.

“The DLCC is determined to run the largest Democratic redistricting mobilization in history this year to ensure that our state legislative candidates have the resources needed to win against well-heeled Republican special interests,” the memo says.

The DLCC has established a fund to put $20 million into races that will have the greatest impact on reapportionment, the memo says.

Erwin, who was the executive director of the state Republican Party at the time of the 2001 redistricting, said the issues for lawmakers can be very personal. In the 2001 process, for example, there was a lawmaker who demanded that the hospital she was born in be included in her district, he said.

Others want double-digit voter registration advantages, Erwin said.

“It’s a very personal process,” he said. “You see the selfish side of people with redistricting more than with any other piece of legislation.”

But much of the process is bound by constitutional requirements for fair and reasonable district boundaries, and so only a portion of the process could be called discretionary, Erwin said.

In the 2001 process, which included the creation of a new Congressional 3 District in Southern Nevada, no one was really happy with the final result, which Erwin said is probably a sign that the process was fair.

“First and foremost you have a responsibility to create fair lines,” he said. “Second is to get what you want.”

In the 2011 process, lawmakers will likely have the chance to create a fourth Congressional seat given Nevada’s population growth over the past decade. Another issue on the table will be whether to expand the size of the Legislature, which now stands at 63 members.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who is running for the Washoe 1 Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Reno, due to term limits, said the process is critically important for both parties but the results are not always easy to predict.

“Republicans designed a lot of seats last time, and see what happened in 10 years,” she said. “It’s hard to predict what will happen in 10 years.”

The Senate in 2001 had a 12-9 GOP edge, and Republicans held on to the majority in the upper house until the 2008 election, when Democrats took the majority for the first time since 1991.

In the Assembly, Democrats ruled with 27 members compared to 15 GOP lawmakers. Democrats have held on to the majority ever since.

The importance of the redistricting process can be gauged in a variety of ways. For Leslie, winning her race is important because it is now the only Democratic state Senate seat outside of Clark County.

“From that point of view it could not be more critical to maintain at least one seat and hope to expand Democratic representation in northern Nevada,” she said.

But Leslie said she also favors an effort to create some more competitive seats in the process so that voters have a choice.

“It really serves Democracy better by creating a more even playing field,” she said.

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said enlarging the Legislature is an issue of particular concern to rural lawmakers, who have seen their districts grow large geographically because of the population growth in Southern Nevada.

Also on the Assembly GOP agenda is taking away the Democrat’s current veto-proof 28-seat advantage by winning as many new seats as possible.

“Otherwise it is pretty tough to play,” he said.

The process will be interesting because so many veteran lawmakers will not be participating due to term limits and other reasons, Goicoechea said.

Only two members of the Assembly, Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, will have gone through the redistricting process, assuming they are both re-elected this year.

“It’s almost a different generation,” Goicoechea said. “There aren’t as many scars. I do feel we will get along.”

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, who was involved in the 2001 redistricting process as a member of the Assembly GOP leadership, said the impending 2011 redistricting is why she and other Republicans are working so hard to regain the majority in the Senate.

“It is so essential that we have control for this redistricting,” she said. “Without it this will be very detrimental, not for two years, but 10.”

The last go-round was grossly unfair to Republicans in the Assembly, Cegavske said.

“We should have sued,” she said. “It was so out of whack and unfair.”

Cegavske, who herself is up for re-election to her Clark 8 seat, has two Democratic challengers who will fight it out in a primary. An Independent American candidate withdrew from the race.

Cegavske said she is taking nothing for granted in her race. She expects to be targeted because the Democrats would like to pick up two seats to get 14 members, a veto-proof majority.

“Redistricting should be about the representation of the people of Nevada,” she said.  “I believe in that. The side deals have to stop. It should all be out in the public and not behind closed doors.”

While Cegavske believes the GOP got a bad deal with the Assembly districts created in 2001, they were finalized without any representation from the Assembly GOP in a final late night meeting.

Then-Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, now a deputy chief of staff for Gov. Jim Gibbons, said there was no representation in the final meeting because there was nothing to negotiate.

Hettrick said he worked all session to try to come up with a compromise plan only to be told in the final days that Assembly Democrats had decided to draw the districts on their own. There was nothing to negotiate at any final meeting on redistricting because the bill had already been drafted, he said.

Hettrick said he offered to participate if there was a real chance of compromise with Democrats, but never got a call.

“I was asked to come in so it appeared I was agreeing with the plan,” Hettrick said. “There is no way I would have agreed to it.”

“It was a done deal,” he said. “There was no negotiating I was going to be able to do or not do.”

Former Gov. Kenny Guinn, who was involved in the 2001 redistricting process, said he recalls there was a strong interest on the part of Republicans to get as favorable a registration balance in the newly created Congressional 3 seat as possible, and so the Assembly districts ended up more favorable to Democrats as part of the give-and-take of the negotiations.

The new Congressional seat was won by then-state Sen. Jon Porter, R-Henderson, in the 2002 election, a seat he retained until losing in 2008 to former state Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas.

But the strong Democrat majority in the Assembly had a lot to do with how the districts ended up being redrawn as well, Guinn said.

Another major issue in 2001 was a desire to create some districts that would give minority candidates, including Hispanics, an opportunity to run and win office in the state Legislature, he said.

Guinn said he believes Hispanic representation did improve as a result of the redistricting, although it occurred over time, not immediately. The issue of minority representation will likely come up again in 2011, and it has to be given serious consideration, he said.

Guinn said the 2011 redistricting process will be the most important in Nevada’s history. But he said the governor does not have a lot of power, other than that of persuasion, over the process.

The governor does have the power to veto any redistricting plan passed by the Legislature, however, which would require a two-thirds vote in both houses to override.

Erwin said the Assembly Republicans probably did as good a job as possible given their minority status in the Assembly.

“The reality is the minority party in redistricting rarely has the opportunity to make substantial gains,” he said.

In the 2010 election, a mid-term contest where voters frequently favor the minority party, Republicans have a chance to pick up a state Senate seat and possibly as many as four Assembly seats, he said.

Reducing the Democrat edge in the Senate and taking away a veto-proof majority in the Assembly will have a substantial impact on the redistricting process, Erwin said. Having a Republican in the governor’s office, which appears likely, will also help, he said.

For Democrats, “It will no longer be a home run,” Erwin said.