Posts Tagged ‘Hardy’

Budget Deal Announced Today Includes Extension Of Taxes, Major Reforms

By Sean Whaley | 5:03 pm June 1st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislative leaders from both parties announced a budget agreement today that will see tax extensions and restorations of funding to public and higher education in exchange for significant policy reforms in education and collective bargaining.

The agreement came on the 115th day of the session, and virtually guarantees that lawmakers will adjourn the 2011 session by Monday as the constitution requires.

“Nevadans deserve leadership, stability and consensus, and I believe this budget and reform package provide all three,” Sandoval said at a press briefing attended by numerous lawmakers, lobbyists and other interested parties.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, called the agreement fiscally responsible and a true compromise that “protects the most essential funding for our schools, our community colleges and universities, and services for our most vulnerable.”

Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, head of the Assembly GOP caucus, said the deal is the best that could be achieved among the two houses and parties.

“None of us got everything we wanted,” he said. “But the bottom line is we hung together.”

Faced with a recent Nevada Supreme Court decision that threw his budget into turmoil, Sandoval reluctantly agreed to extend higher business taxes on the state’s largest employers for two more years to bring in nearly $300 million. The budget deal also includes a reduction in tax exemptions for the mining industry that will bring in another $24 million to the state general fund.

In all, the two-year state budget that begins July 1 totals $6.24 billion. This does not include another $265 million in other revenue that will go directly to the state’s public schools system bringing total spending to about $6.5 billion.

Sandoval decided to agree to extend sun-setting taxes because of the court ruling issued last week over the decision by the Legislature in 2010 to sweep a$62 million local government water fund. The court said it was impermissible. While opinions on the effect of the ruling differed, ultimately $481 million in anticipated revenue was eliminated from Sandoval’s proposed budget. The ruling forced lawmakers and Sandoval into intense budget negotiations.

Until Sandoval opted to relent on the tax issue, Republicans had held firm with him opposing new revenues to increase funding to public education, higher education and health and human services programs.

In exchange for extending the sun-setting taxes, Sandoval and Republican lawmakers won a number of reforms, including the elimination of teacher tenure and ending the seniority system used in the public schools for layoffs.

“These reforms do not hurt good teachers,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “If you are a good teacher, you have a job.”

The reforms also include the complete elimination of the modified business tax for 70 percent of the state’s smallest employers. This group currently pays a 0.5 percent rate based on payroll.

Other reforms include the elimination of health care benefits upon retirement for new state hires. The state currently subsidizes health insurance for retirees. The change effective Jan. 1, 2012 will save an estimated $275 million over the next 30 years.

There are also reforms to the state’s collective bargaining law, including a provision allowing agreements to be reopened in cases of fiscal emergency and eliminating bargaining for supervisory public employees. There will also be a study on how to deal with the $10 billion unfunded liability of the Public Employees’ Retirement System.

The governor will also get to appoint the superintendent of public instruction.

One area that remains an issue is construction defect reform.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said Assembly Bill 401, proposed by Oceguera, is not real reform. The construction industry is expected to oppose the measure, he said.

“It does absolutely nothing,” Hickey said.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the budget bills implementing the spending plan should be introduced tomorrow. A final joint money committee hearing set for later today will put the few final minor finishing touches on the budget, she said.

But even with the increased funding, Leslie said the 2011-13 spending plan is not one she is proud of, or believes adequately funds important social and education programs.

“We’re eliminating programs like a senior outreach program,” she said. “We have the highest suicide rate for seniors in the country, and we eliminated the one outreach program for senior mental health that we have.”

It does eliminate the unacceptable securitization of the insurance premium tax proposed by Sandoval as a way to generate $190 million in additional funds for the budget, Leslie said. It also eliminates the use of the school bond reserve funds.

One bit of bad news for Nevada’s economic future was mentioned in passing in the budget compromise. Nevada’s forecast for revenue from unclaimed property was revised downward by nearly $34 million. The reason is the relocation of a division of Citibank now located in Southern Nevada.

The state’s unclaimed property fund has benefited from the Citibank presence because money belonging to the company’s customers from around the world ends up here when the owners cannot be identified. The company turned over $36 million in unclaimed property this year. With the relocation, this revenue will no longer flow to Nevada.

Reaction to the budget and reform deal varied.

Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, R-Mesquite, said: “I think neither one of us ended up real happy with the situation. I think we’re both pleased we have come to a consensus. They didn’t get their $1.2 billion tax package; we’re really happy about that.

“We had five reforms we wanted. We didn’t get all of them,” he said.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said: “The Republican Assembly caucus had certain goals and priorities in mind and we stuck to them, but unfortunately through no fault of the governor he was handed a devastating blow by the Supreme Court’s ruling and he had to pick up the pieces.

“I had personally hoped for a little more depth in construction defect and collective bargaining reforms,” he said.

Nevada News Bureau Editor Elizabeth Crum contributed to this report

Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the budget deal is the result of leadership and consensus:

060111Sandoval :12 provide all three.”

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera says budget deal is bipartisan and fiscally responsible:

060111Oceguera1 :18 our most vulnerable.”

Oceguera says work is still needed on reforming the state’s revenue structure:

060111Oceguera2 :12 state forward, thank-you.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says the reforms to teacher tenure won’t harm good teachers:

060111Horsford1 :13 a great job.”

Horsford says Nevada policy makers came together while facing the biggest fiscal challenge of any state:

060111Horsford2 :13 to the plate.”

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea says not everyone got all they wanted in the deal:

060111Goicoechea :15 resolve this issue.”

Sen. Sheila Leslie says the budget is not one she is proud of because of the necessary cuts to important programs:

060111Leslie :12 that we have.”

Bill To Generate Money For Public Education, Create Jobs, Raises Legal Concerns

By Sean Whaley | 5:20 pm May 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill authorizing the state Treasurer to use up to $50 million in education funds to support economic diversification efforts and generate more money for public schools passed the Senate today despite questions about the constitutionality of the measure.

Senate Bill 75, amended twice before the vote, passed 12-9 with 10 Democrats and two Republicans in support. It will now be considered by the Assembly.

The bill is being sought by state Treasurer Kate Marshall.

It would create a first-for-the-state private equity fund to allow for investment in both existing Nevada companies and companies seeking to locate to the state that are in such industries as cyber security, alternative energy and health care.

The intent is to assist in diversifying Nevada’s economy while generating a better return on the invested monies from the state’s Permanent School Fund.

A big hurdle for the measure is the state constitutional prohibition on loaning state money to any company except a corporation formed for educational or charitable purposes. Supporters of the bill have a judicial determination that the proposed investments would be constitutional. Some Republican lawmakers say the determination is insufficient to satisfy their concerns.

The bill also has some political overtones. Marshall is a Democrat who has announced her intention to run for the open Congressional District 2 seat in the September special election. State Sen. Greg Brower, who voted against the measure today, is a Republican who has also announced his intention to seek the seat.

The constitutional question proved troubling for some lawmakers during a debate before today’s vote.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said he wanted to see either an attorney general’s opinion or one from the legal counsel of the Legislature answering the constitutional question before he could support the measure.

“It’s one thing to ask a judge to sign an order,” said Roberson, an attorney. “It’s another thing to have the imprimatur of the attorney general’s office saying yes, we believe as a matter of law, this is our opinion, that it is constitutional.”

Brower, R-Reno, also an attorney, had similar concerns.

“I sat on the committee that heard this bill and was impressed by some of the ideas brought forward that were behind this bill, and considered it with great interest in terms of it being, as you might call it, an outside-the-box approach to this issue,” he said.

But, Brower said: “We haven’t been able to get a good, clean bill of health on this bill in terms of its constitutionality.”

Until the issue is clarified, the Legislature should not pass a bill that may not be constitutional, he said.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said waiting for the Nevada Supreme Court to rule on whether each bill passed by the Legislature is constitutional would unduly hamper the legislative process. He said he would rely on the district court determination.

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said the bill has the potential to help create desperately needed jobs in Nevada. There is time while the bill is being considered in the Assembly to resolve the constitutional question, he said.

The bill had already been amended by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, who successfully put the authority of the investment process in the hands of the Commission on Economic Development. Even so, Cegavske said her concerns with the overall bill, including the constitutionality question, caused her to vote against the measure.

Kieckhefer and Hardy voted for the bill. Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, was the only Democrat opposing the measure.

The bill as originally introduced would create a nonprofit public entity, the Nevada Capital Investment Corporation, to be headed by a board that includes members appointed by the governor and legislative leadership based on their investment expertise. The state treasurer, whose duties include the investment of state money, would also be a member.

The NCIC would hire professional private equity fund managers that would seek to partner with capital investment firms to invest in select companies and innovative start-up businesses that would assist in the state’s efforts to grow and diversify its economic base, leading to increased employment.

Steve George, chief of staff to Marshall, said the office remains supportive of the intent of the bill. But he suggested the Cegavske amendment, by changing the focus of the bill from improving the investment return for public school funds to one solely looking at economic development, could actually make it unconstitutional.

The primary focus originally was to get a better rate of return on the Permanent School Fund, a trust fund made up of federal funds provided to the state for decades from such sources as the sale of federal lands and court fees, George said. It is a trust fund that can’t be spent, only invested.

Eleven other states, excluding Nevada and Colorado, can invest their funds in more diverse ways, George said. Nevada has earned 4 percent on its investments over the past five years with the current limitation, while three other states have earned in excess of 5 percent, according to information provided by the Treasurer’s Office to Gov. Brian Sandoval. Oklahoma has earned 6.22 percent over the past five years.

“With no focus on return, we don’t think it will pass the constitutional requirement,” George said.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says his constitutional concerns with the bill remain unanswered:

051811Roberson :12 that it’s constitutional.”

Sen. Greg Brower says he has the same concerns despite the outside-the-box thinking in the bill:

051811Brower :17 to this issue.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says he will rely on the opinion of the district court:

051811Kieckhefer :23 on his opinion.”

 

 

 

Many Proposals To Amend Nevada Constitution, Including School Vouchers, Fail To Advance In Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 2:05 pm April 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Efforts in the Legislature to amend Nevada’s constitution failed for the most part to move forward today as a deadline hit to get measures passed out of committee.

Measures creating a lottery, repealing the minimum wage and allowing tax dollars to be spent on religious schools all failed to advance.

One of the most significant failures came on the issue of vouchers for religious schools. Two measures, including one introduced by Gov. Brian Sandoval, did not make it out of committee by the deadline.

Sandoval has advocated for the change to allow for the use of tax dollars by parents to send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The state constitution currently bans the use of tax money for sectarian purposes. His measure would have clarified that using tax money to educate children in religious schools would not violate this prohibition.

But Sandoval’s proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 8, did not even get a hearing in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee by the deadline.

Senate Joint Resolution 10, a separate measure by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, had a hearing Tuesday but never came up for a vote in the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. It would also have amended the constitution to allow tax dollars to be spent on the education of children in religious schools.

While a number of parents spoke in support of his measure, public school officials and the state teachers union were opposed.

Roberson said he appreciated the Democrat-controlled Senate holding a hearing on his proposal, but was not surprised that it did not come up for a vote.

“The Democratic Party is in the majority, and so many of these folks, their core supporters are the public sector unions,” he said. “They’re being asked to hear legislation and vote for legislation that one of their core constituencies is vehemently opposed to.

“Frankly I think it is shameful that they won’t even consider a vote in the committee on SJR10,” Roberson said. “But they are in the majority and that is their prerogative.”

Roberson said the discussion of school choice will not go away. If Republicans can win another seat in the state Senate in 2012 they will be in the majority, and proposals such as school vouchers will be brought forward again.

“So this is the opening salvo,” he said. “We’re not finished by a long shot.”

Amending the state constitution is not an easy task. Any legislative proposal to change it requires passage in two consecutive sessions, then a vote by the public. So if any pass this session, they will have to be approved by lawmakers again in 2013 and then approved by the voters in 2014 before they could take effect.

Most of the proposed amendments failed to survive the deadline.

A proposal to establish a lottery in Nevada to fund education failed to advance. The proposal has come up in numerous legislative sessions over the years but has never been successful.

Also failing to win a committee vote was a proposal from Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, to repeal Nevada’s minimum wage law.

At a hearing earlier this session, Hardy argued Nevada’s law, which sets the minimum wage at typically one dollar above the federal level, has reduced hiring by restaurants and other businesses that rely on unskilled workers.

The measure was criticized by labor representatives who argued Nevada voters approved the current law and the Legislature should not attempt to override the will of the people.

A few of the proposed constitutional amendments remain alive, including Senate Joint Resolution 15, which would remove the separate tax rate and assessment method established for Nevada’s mining industry. The proposal was given a waiver from the deadline by lawmakers.

If ultimately approved, it would allow the Legislature to set new tax rates for the industry, which has been the focus of some lawmakers this session looking for additional revenue to help fund the operation of state government and education.

Another measure sought by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to impose an unfunded mandate on local governments, is exempted and so remains alive. The idea was embraced by local government officials at a hearing earlier this week.

Lee said the time involved in getting an amendment to the constitution approved should give lawmakers and the executive branch enough time to get the state’s finances in order before it could take effect.

“We owe them the responsibility of running a good state,” he said.

Also still active is Assembly Joint Resolution 2, which would provide for annual sessions of the Nevada Legislature. The Legislature now meets every two years.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says he is not surprised his measure did not come up for a vote:

041511Roberson1 :09 public sector unions.”

Roberson says core Democrat supporters are opposed to school vouchers:

041511Roberson2 :12 vehemently opposed to.”

Roberson says the debate over school choice is far from over:

041511Roberson3 :06 a long shot.”

Roberson says it is shameful the committee did not hold a vote on his measure:

041511Roberson4 :13 that’s their prerogative.”

Sen. John Lee says the time involved in getting his constitutional amendment approved will give the state time to get its finances in order:

041511Lee :10 own personal finances.”

Nevada Minimum Wage Repeal Proposal Gets Legislative Hearing

By Sean Whaley | 3:18 pm February 16th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, told a Senate panel today the Legislature should move forward with repealing the state’s minimum wage law.

Hardy testified in support of his Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would have to pass this session and again in 2013, then go to a vote of the people in 2014, to repeal the state’s law that sets the minimum wage higher than the federal rate.

Hardy told the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee that the law, which has pushed the minimum wage in Nevada to $8.25 an hour for most workers as of July 1, 2010, has had a chilling effect on hiring and hampered the state’s economic recovery. The law, which is now part of the state constitution, requires a complex calculation, but essentially means Nevada workers earn $1 more an hour than the federal minimum wage rate.

The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.

Hardy said 36 states have a minimum wage set at the federal level. The other 14 have higher rates, including Nevada.

The Legislature needs to support repeal of the law to return the state to a level playing field with other states “for those who want to create jobs and foster economic growth in Nevada,” he said.

The Nevada State AFL-CIO worked to put the state’s minimum wage law on the ballot. It passed twice and because it is now in the state constitution, repealing or changing its provisions is a complex and time consuming process.

Speakers, including business representatives and union advocates, took predictable stances regarding the proposal.

Tray Abney with the Reno-Sparks chamber said the state’s minimum wage should not be on “autopilot,” rising without regard to economic conditions.

Sam McMullen, representing the Las Vegas chamber, said locking the law into the state constitution has made it impossible to change as economic conditions have changed.

But Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, said the ballot initiative was launched because the Legislature refused to consider proposals to increase the minimum wage.

Gail Tuzzolo, also with the Nevada State AFL-CIO, said Nevadans “should be talking about creating jobs and rebuilding the economy, not taking income away from individuals struggling to put food on their tables.”

The historical record shows that increasing the minimum wage has reduced the poverty level, she said. Economists have demonstrated that the statistical effect of the minimum wage on job losses is nearly nonexistent, Tuzzolo said.

The panel took no immediate action on the bill.

Future Of Millennium Scholarship Focus Of State Lawmaker Interest In Upcoming Session

By Sean Whaley | 3:34 pm January 27th, 2011

CARSON CITY – While several state lawmakers say they are seeking changes to the popular Millennium Scholarship for Nevada’s academically successful high school graduates, no one yet is pushing for income eligibility restrictions to ensure the program’s continued viability.

None of the five bills requested so far dealing with the program, which has faced funding problems in recent years due to budget cuts and reduced revenues, seeks to restrict eligibility to those in financial need.

Two measures, one by former state Sen. Bill Raggio, and another requested by the Senate Finance Committee, were requested to ensure continuation of the program.

The need for these two measures will now be evaluated based on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommendation to continue the program as is. He has proposed adding $10 million in general funds to ensure its financial viability through 2016.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the governor would consider legislation to impose a means test for eligibility, or seek to restrict the scholarship to students who pursue specified courses of study.

“The first priority was to keep the program whole,” he said. “And really there are two schools of thought in this building and I don’t think there is consensus yet so we will participate in that conversation.”

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said he is seeking a requirement that high school students perform community service in addition to the GPA requirement to qualify for the scholarship.

“It would teach them the concept of service, get them out into the community and make them more well-rounded persons,” he said. “They would network with people, do good things and have a better resume.”

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said his proposal would require eligible Millennium scholars to first fill out a federal financial aid form. Students eligible for federal aid or private sector scholarships would then use those funds first, offsetting the need for the Millennium scholarship awards.

“We have the potential to make the Millennium scholarship last longer if eligible students take advantage of other sources of funding first,” he said.

If a student was ineligible for other funding, there would be no restriction on the use of the Millennium Scholarship in his proposed legislation, Settelmeyer said.

Probably the most restrictive of the measures sought so far comes from Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said he will introduce a bill to limit eligibility for the scholarship to students who pursue specified courses of study.

“It makes sense to reform the program to make it more tailored to our areas of special need,” he said. “It would be a good incentive to lure new people into education as a way to help fund the education training that we need for new teachers.”

Courses of study critical to Nevada’s economic development would also be part of his proposal, which remains a work in progress, Kieckhefer said.

“As our needs change as a state in creating new jobs, we want to have the educated workforce to fill those areas of need,” he said. “If we can leverage something like the Millennium scholarship to ensure that people are trained to fill those jobs, I think that makes sense.

“It is a subject area test, not a means test,” Kieckhefer said.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the purpose of the committee bill draft is to extend the life of the scholarship.

“I was very pleased that the governor announced $10 million in his budget for that and hope that we will be able to sustain that throughout the budget process so we can extend the life of the program because it is important to the students of the state,” he said.

Horsford said he would not support a change to the program based on financial need.

“I think that the merit based emphasis based on GPA is important to preserve,” he said.

While a separate issue, Horsford said that if student fees are increased in the coming two years as expected, it will be important to ensure there is financial aid available to those in need.

The scholarship currently provides about $25 million per year to Nevada high school graduates who attend a Nevada institution of higher learning. Initial eligibility requirements include graduating from a Nevada high school with a minimum 3.25 grade point average.

About 8,000 high school graduates per year are eligible to receive a millennium scholarship, of which about 60 percent choose to activate their award.

The scholarship ranges from $40 to $80 per college credit hour depending on the college attended. The scholarship limit is $10,000.

The scholarship is named after the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, who established it during his first term as governor.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the governor is open to possible changes to Millennium Scholarship eligibility:

012711Erquiaga :22 the program alive.”

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says it makes sense to tailor the program to Nevada’s specific needs:

012711Kieckhefer1 :08 of special need.”

Kieckhefer says teaching and areas of study relating to economic development should be the focus of the scholarship:

012711Kieckhefer2 :11 of economic development.”

Kieckhefer says leveraging the scholarship to help develop an educated workforce makes sense:

012711Kieckhefer3 :15 that makes sense.”

Sen. Steven Horsford says the scholarship is important to Nevada’s high school graduates:

012711Horsford1 :14 of the state.”

Horsford says he does not favor a means test for the scholarship:

012711Horsford2 :05 important to preserve.”

Nevada Medicaid Program Continues To Grow, Adding To State Budget Challenges

By Sean Whaley | 10:15 am December 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Despite the need for drastic spending reductions to balance Nevada’s budget, the government program that provides health care to the poor continues to expand, consuming a growing share of the state’s scarce state revenues.

Medicaid, the cost of which is shared by both the federal government and the state, could require about $1.25 billion in state general fund support in the upcoming two-year budget. That’s a spike up from the $835 million approved by the 2009 Legislature for the current spending plan.

The increase is due both to an ever rising caseload and the loss of federal stimulus funds that paid for a greater share of the Medicaid budget in the current biennium.

Unlike many other state-funded programs, the state must provide Medicaid coverage to those who qualify. Higher education funding can be cut and prison populations can be managed with early parole or alternative sentencing. While the state must also fund the public education system, enrollments are expected to be nearly flat because of the current economic situation in Nevada.

Medicaid has expanded significantly in the current economic slowdown, however, as more people lose jobs and become eligible for the government funded health care coverage. As a result, the program is consuming a larger piece of a shrinking budget pie.

The increasing cost of the Medicaid program can be seen in the caseload. The number of Nevadans receiving assistance totaled nearly 276,000 as of October. The caseload is expected to hit 311,416 by the end of the next biennium on June 30, 2013.

“That’s significant growth,” said Charles Duarte, administrator of the Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which oversees Nevada’s Medicaid program.

In December of 2000, Nevada had a Medicaid caseload of 116,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. In December of 2009 that figure had more than doubled to just over 238,000.

The foundation reported recently that from December 2008 to December 2009, Medicaid enrollment increased by 8.4 percent nationally. In Nevada, that number was 22.4 percent, the biggest increase reported by any state.

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval, who will take office in January, recently traveled to Washington DC to discuss Nevada’s growing Medicaid costs with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Sandoval intends to balance Nevada’s two-year general fund budget without a tax increase, which could mean even greater reductions to the Medicaid budget than are already under consideration by the agency.

Duarte said that despite the increasing caseload, the agency is looking at reducing the cost of the program in the next two-year budget. Options are limited, however, since Medicaid is an entitlement program and people who are eligible must be served. The cuts are even tougher because of reductions already made over the past two plus years, he said.

Two general approaches to cost cutting are reducing or eliminating some services to recipients and reducing payments to the various medical providers who treat Medicaid recipients, Duarte said.

Nevada’s Medicaid program does offer some optional programs which can be cut to the adult population, he said. Under consideration are cuts to personal care services, which involve helping adults with daily activities at home, eye glasses and dentures.

“Final decisions aren’t made on a lot of this,” Duarte said.

There are other optional programs that could potentially be cut, including pharmacy coverage for adults, but such reductions could result in serious adverse consequences, he said. Cutting prescriptions could result in increased hospitalization, Duarte said.

Pharmacy coverage is a big factor in the Medicaid program, costing Nevada $81 million total in fiscal year 2008, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

There are also potential legal challenges to program cuts if they could lead to people ending up in institutional care, Duarte said.

“We fully understand the effects on lives,” he said. “But we’re looking at a cash issue.”

Any budget cuts could also have an effect on the state’s employment situation, since Medicaid pays for many programs such as those that employ thousands of home health care aides, Duarte said. Most of Nevada’s Medicaid program is spent directly on care provided by private sector health care professionals, he said.

“It affects their revenues and the ability of those providers to pay people,” he said. “We’re a fairly big chunk of the health economy.”

Cutting rates paid to health care providers has its own set of issues, Duarte said.

Decisions at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, mostly involving challenges to reductions in California, could make such reductions difficult if they are challenged in court, he said.

“So there is a host of legal restrictions, dealing with the courts, judicial actions, as well as federal regulatory actions, that really restrict our ability to manage the budget in a crisis,” he said.

State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said there are no realistic options available to policy makers to cut Medicaid.

Nevada has one of the stingiest Medicaid programs in the country, and other states that are cutting Medicaid are making reductions to services that Nevada never offered to begin with, she said.

Cutting personal care services that keep Medicaid recipients in their homes will just shift costs to more expensive nursing home care, Leslie said.

“Any of the optional Medicaid programs that we have, if you eliminate them, there is a corresponding cost in another area that exceeds the cost of providing that optional service,” she said.

And the state has already made some payment reductions to health care providers, Leslie said. Further reductions could reduce access to care for Medicaid recipients as providers drop out, Leslie said.

About the only option is to seek more funding from Congress, unless there is an appetite to drop out of Medicaid entirely as outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons suggested at one point earlier this year, she said.

Other states have also entertained the idea.

“It’s a very difficult problem,” Leslie said.

State Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said the reality is there will be painful cuts to education, Medicaid and other programs in the upcoming session because there just isn’t going to be enough revenue to continue to pay for all existing services.

But the problem with cutting state dollars to Medicaid is that the federal match is lost as well, so it costs the state as much as $2 or more in Medicaid funding to save $1 in state general fund support, he said.

The key to reducing Nevada’s funding for Medicaid is to create jobs and get people back to work, Hardy said.

“The most important thing we can do to decrease Medicaid expenses is get people back to work,” he said. “If we get people back to work, if our focus is on jobs in the private sector, where the jobs produce instead of use, anything we do that gets people to work will help us with our Medicaid budget.”

Several states have a program where employers can hire the unemployed and use the individual’s jobless benefits as part of the worker’s salary, Hardy said. It is an incentive for businesses to hire workers.

The last time Nevada’s Medicaid population declined was in the boom years of 2005 and 2006. Nevada now leads the nation in unemployment.

Heading off potential cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates will be the top goal of the Nevada Health Care Association in the upcoming session of the Legislature, the group’s president said this week.

Charles Perry, president and chief government affairs liaison for the non-profit group, said the association will play a defensive position in the 2011 session in an effort to ensure adequate Medicaid funding to the nearly 50 non-profit and for-profit assisted living and nursing facilities that care for over 6,000 elderly and disabled individuals statewide.

Perry said the association was able in the 2010 special session in February to head off a proposed $10 per day per patient reduction in Medicaid reimbursements after it was shown the state would only save $3.60 because of the sizeable federal matching share of the program.

There has been discussion of a $20 per day per Medicaid patient reduction in the 2011-13 budget, he said.

Such a reduction would lead to some facilities having to close, Perry said.

“And it would also have a very detrimental effect on the issue of access to care,” he said.

According to a recent study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and authored by University of Kentucky economics professor John Garen, a big part of the increased cost of Medicaid is the conscious decisions by many states to greatly expand who is eligible for the program.

According to research done by Matthew Mitchell, a research fellow with the Mercatus Center’s State and Local Policy Project, since 2001, 24 states have expanded their eligibility. In some of these cases, the expansion more than doubled the number of possible participants for the program.

Duarte said Nevada has not expanded its eligibility in any significant way so this expansion is not a factor driving the state’s Medicaid costs.

On a per recipient basis, Nevada’s costs are about in the middle of all states because the Medicaid population is smaller and there are fewer healthy people in the program, he said. Nevada is also a high health care cost state.

But on a per capita basis, Nevada historically has spent the least of any state on Medicaid, Duarte said.

“We run a fairly modest program from an eligibility standpoint,” he said.

Nevada has likely seen an increase in the percentage of people covered by Medicaid because of the economic downturn, Duarte said. Nevada is probably at about 10 or 11 percent now, but nationally the rate is higher at 14 percent to 15 percent, he said.

Audio clips:

Chuck Duarte, who oversees the Nevada Medicaid program, says caseload growth and the loss of federal funding is driving costs higher:

120810Duarte1 :07 issues for us.”

Duarte says the state is limited in its ability to reduce Medicaid spending in a crisis:

120810Duarte2 :18 in a crisis.”

State Sen. Sheila Leslie says Nevada’s Medicaid program is already stingy.

120810Leslie1 :12 to begin with.”

Leslie says cutting optional services just transfers the cost elsewhere:

120810Leslie2 :12 that optional service.”

State Sen. Joe Hardy says the key to reducing Medicaid spending is to create private sector jobs:

120810Hardy :26 our Medicaid budget.”

Health Care Association President Charles Perry says Medicaid reimbursement reductions could close some facilities:

120810Perry :17 access to care.”

Nevada Lawmaker Proposes Repeal Of State’s Minimum Wage Law

By Sean Whaley | 4:26 pm November 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Newly elected state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, has requested the drafting of legislation to repeal Nevada’s minimum wage law.

A repeal would have to go to voters, who approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 to set the minimum wage at a higher rate than the federal rate. The current minimum wage in Nevada is $8.25 an hour and took effect on July 1. The federal rate is $7.25 an hour.

If a Nevada employer offers a qualified health plan, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

The Nevada Legislature would have to approve a proposed constitutional amendment repealing the minimum wage twice, in 2011 and in 2013, before it could go to a vote of the people in 2014.

Hardy, who has been serving in the Assembly, could not immediately be reached for comment on his purpose for the repeal, although the minimum wage has been blamed by some for stifling job creation, particularly in the current economic slowdown.

Nevada leads the nation in the unemployment rate, which remained at 14.4 percent in September.

Democrats are in control of both the Senate and Assembly in the upcoming session, making passage of such a proposal questionable.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, the group that put the minimum wage measure on the ballot through the initiative petition process, said the vote in favor of the measure in 2006 was higher than for any other candidate or issue on the ballot that year.

“On its face it is shortsighted,” he said of the proposed repeal. “People need to make a livable wage.”

Thompson said $8.25 an hour is not a living wage but is an improvement over previous rates. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

“Truly this thing is the will of the people,” he said. “To go against that flies in the face of our system.”

Thompson said if there is a desire by some to repeal the minimum wage law, they should use the initiative petition process and collect signatures from registered voters to put the proposal on the ballot like proponents of the current law did years ago.

“If they want to overthrow the minimum wage go back to the people.,” he said.

Thompson said any suggestion that Nevada’s minimum wage is having a chilling effect on job creation is not true.

“If anything, it levels the playing field for employers,” he said. “No one is getting rich off that wage.”

Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the Washington, DC-based Employment Policies Institute, said in June that Nevada’s minimum wage was making it particularly tough for teens to find jobs and that the increase on July 1 would make it even worse.

Audio clips:

Danny Thompson of the AFL-CIO says a legislative effort to repeal the minimum wage would thwart the will of the voters:

11910Thompson :10 of our system.”

Nevada Group Alleges Pro-Union Bias by Members of State Apprenticeship Council

By Sean Whaley | 6:18 am August 26th, 2010

CARSON CITY – A Nevada group that offers training to non-union construction workers has sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford alleging an improper pro-union bias by some members of the State Apprenticeship Council.

The allegation comes following the failure of the Nevada Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC) to win approval of an apprentice weatherization program for its non-union construction workers. The same council approved a union-backed program in December 2009.

The ABC initially sought approval of the program in May under Senate Bill 152 sponsored by Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the 2009 session. The program was tabled until August after the ABC had provided all the information sought by the apprenticeship council.

In the letter, ABC President Clara Andriola said the program was virtually identical to the program approved by the council for the Laborers Union with the only changes being those sought by the council itself.

Despite this, the council voted 3-1 on Aug. 13 to reject the program citing a “lack of need.”

Voting to reject the program were employee representatives Daniel Rose and Greg Smith and employer representative Dana Wiggins.

Horsford and others were clear in testimony on SB152 that the programs were to be available to all.

Former state Sen. Warren Hardy, the lobbyist for the ABC, said the organization has not received any response yet on the concerns.

But when members of the Legislature ask why the weatherization program isn’t moving along as rapidly as they would like, the ABC will mention the action of the council, he said.

Hardy called the ability to get an apprentice program “absolutely critical.”

By rejecting the ABC’s program, 85 percent of the construction industry that is not unionized cannot participate, he said. The agency can and will continue to provide weatherization training through its nonprofit collaborative, but there is a belief that the Legislature will require an apprenticeship program in 2011.

“In the short term it’s not the end of the world,” Hardy said. “(But) if you pull the rug out from 85 percent of the industry, you can’t successfully put the construction industry back to work.”

Andriola said in the letter the reason the union training programs have not met with much demand is because weatherization of residential properties is a task that “has traditionally been performed by the non-union sector of the industry.”

The federal government has also said that councils may not apply a “needs based” test when deciding whether to approve a program, she said.

The letter, which was also sent to the members of the Legislative Commission and the Interim Finance Committee, also suggests that SB152 be amended, “in an effort to eliminate the potential for the political gamesmanship that has been so obviously displayed by certain members of the State Apprentice Council in seeking to ‘pull up the ladder’ and insure that such ‘green training’ programs are only available through union programs.”

Horsford was not available Wednesday to comment on the letter.

A representative of the Nevada State Apprenticeship Council could not comment because the decision is being appealed to the Nevada Labor Commissioner. Las Vegas Laborers Union Local 872 could not be reached for comment either.

Andriola said the ABC will appeal the decision to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship as well.

She noted that the ABC supported the Laborers Union program in December, but that union officials testified against its program at the May 13 meeting.

Andriola called the testimony inflammatory and inaccurate “by an organization that is openly hostile to our intentions . . .”

SB152 provided for the use of incentives contained in the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to provide job training, the promotion of energy efficiency and the promotion of the use of renewable energy in Nevada.

It received unanimous support in the Senate but 10 no votes from Assembly Republicans. Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, one of the no votes, said there were two concerns: whether the training would be available to non-union workers and if enough of the money would go to actual weatherization and not just training.

In testimony on the bill in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee in 2009, Andriola expressed concern the weatherization program might allow for only union-affiliated groups to participate.

In response, Horsford said his experience suggested there was no way the U.S. Department of Labor could pass programs that only allowed participation from labor entities. Horsford said it was the intent, based on the wording of the bill, that all apprenticeship organizations, labor or non-labor, were included, according to minutes from the hearing.

The weatherization program in Nevada has been hugely successful, according to Gov. Jim Gibbons, who recently announced the U.S. Department of Energy has selected Nevada to receive nearly $7 million ARRA funds to continue the Nevada Housing Division’s Weatherization Assistance Program.

Nevada has been one of the country’s weatherization leaders under ARRA and is continuing to weatherize thousands of homes for Nevada’s low-income families, he said. Through July, Nevada had weatherized a total of 5,351 homes.

Horsford has been critical of the state Housing Division’s ability to move forward more quickly with the weatherization program, which also involved grants from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to non-profit entities to train workers in how to perform the weatherization work.

In turn Gibbons has criticized Horsford in July, saying the majority leader has a conflict on the implementation of SB152 because he is chief executive officer of the Culinary Training Academy, an organization with a vested interest in ensuring the funds identified in Senate Bill 152 go only to union-based collaboratives.

“Despite this conflict, Sen. Horsford continues to regularly participate in hearings and meetings regarding the implementation of S.B. 152,” Gibbons said.

Horsford said in response in July that Gibbons’ claim that he has a conflict regarding the Housing Division and the weatherization program is wrong.

Horsford said the Culinary Training Academy is an agency that helps prepare people to acquire the skills needed for employment in the hospitality industry, and has never had a role in the weatherization program. Horsford is also a volunteer member of the board of Nevada Partners, but said the organization has no direct role regarding the weatherization program either.

“The governor is wrong, and his allegation is unfounded,” he said.

___

View the letter from ABC here:

ABC Letter 8.16.10

___

Audio clips:

ABC lobbyist Warren Hardy says Apprenticeship Council has removed access to 85 percent of the construction industry.

082510Hardy1 :20 who wants it.”

Hardy says denying training to 85 percent of construction industry will ensure economic slump continues:

082510Hardy2 :36 back to work.”

Contested GOP State Senate Primary Races Split Between Moderate And Conservative Candidates

By Sean Whaley | 10:44 am June 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – In the fight for control of the Republican Party in the state Senate in the Tuesday primary it was an even split, with conservative candidates taking two of four contested seats and two others going to more moderate candidates backed by Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio.

The winners of the contested GOP Senate primaries, depending on the results in the November general election, could change the character of the caucus. Raggio, R-Reno, has voted for tax increases in past sessions and has worked across the aisle with Democrats to end often contentious legislative sessions.

Those calling themselves the true conservatives in the contested primaries say they will not compromise on taxes or other core Republican issues.

In Washoe District 2, Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, defeated Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, 59 percent to 41 percent. Larkin, the candidate endorsed by Raggio, had a much bigger war chest in the race. Gustavson has said he will not compromise on core Republican values and will not vote for tax increases.

In another closely watched race, Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, lost to state employee Ben Kieckhefer, in the Washoe 4 contest. Kieckhefer, who is endorsed by Raggio and the caucus, won 42 percent to 37 percent. Two other Republicans also ran in the primary.

Kieckhefer, who had more money to spend on the race, repeatedly ran an ad showing Cobb responding awkwardly to media questions about an incident in which he had destroyed a campaign sign belonging to a Reno Democrat running for another state Senate seat. The ad called his leadership abilities into question.

In Clark County in the GOP Senate 9 primary, challenger Elizabeth Halseth defeated incumbent Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, 57 percent to 43 percent. Nolan was criticized by Halseth in the campaign for testifying as a character witness for a friend who was being tried for a sex crime. Nolan said he was subpoenaed to testify by the public defender’s office.

Halseth said she will not support tax increases if elected to the Senate.

In the Senate 12 race in Clark County, Raggio-backed candidate Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, defeated Patrick McNaught 55 percent to 40 percent. A third candidate pulled 6 percent.

In all four races, the senators that have been serving in the districts were supporters of Raggio in the GOP caucus.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist and Independent American Party candidate for the Assembly seat in Elko, said the outcomes of the state Senate contests are not a surprise.

“Races are often determined not by ideology but by who has the most money and who runs the smartest campaign,” she said. “Even when there is tremendous interest in the elections like this year, those who are involved are a minority.

“The vast majority of people still respond to the name they know the best,” Hansen said.

Gustavson said his grass roots, door-to-door campaign made the difference in the Washoe 2 race.

“I’m always outspent,” he said. “At least 2 to 1 this time. Hard work is what wins races.”

Kieckhefer, who faces an Independent American candidate but no Democrat in the November general election, said he believes his campaign of offering effective, conservative leadership made a connection with voters. He also challenged any notion that he is not a conservative Republican.

“Obviously we have a massive budget shortfall we need to address by prioritizing spending,” he said. “I stand ready to make those hard decisions.”

In a fifth GOP Senate primary, Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, defeated fellow conservative Steve Yeater in the Capital Senate District. Settelmeyer is backed by Raggio, but has taken a strong stand against tax increases during his tenure in the Assembly. Long-time Raggio supporter Mark Amodei, who had held the seat, was term-limited out of office. He is now chairman of the Nevada State GOP.

In addition to Amodei, Raggio had the backing of Sens. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, and Nolan in past legislative sessions. Townsend and Washington also left office due to term limits. Hardy resigned.

A change in the approach by Senate Republicans in the 2011 session could mean tough negotiating with Democrats over how to balance a budget that is expected to be $3.4 billion out of balance. Other critical issues include the redrawing of political boundaries, economic diversification and a major tax debate.

If enough GOP Senate Republican are unwilling to compromise on taxes and the budget in the 2011 session, Raggio’s job could be considerably more difficult as leader of the caucus. Republicans are a minority in the Senate 9-12, the first time they have not been the majority since 1991.

Raggio is in the middle of his final term in the Senate, having served longer than anyone in state history. He was first elected to the Senate in 1973. Rumors circulated earlier this year that Raggio might resign in mid-term and not serve in 2011. Raggio has said he has no plans to step down.

Conservative Candidates Challenge Moderates in Key GOP State Senate Primary Races

By Sean Whaley | 3:55 pm May 21st, 2010

Part 2 of a Series on Key GOP State Senate Primary Races

CARSON CITY – While Republican voters have a rare chance to chart the course of the GOP Senate caucus in the upcoming primary, the candidates described by some political observers as the establishment choice say they too are true fiscal conservatives who believe in core party values.

Both Ben Kieckhefer, running against Ty Cobb in the Washoe 4 race, and Bob Larkin, running against Don Gustavson in the Washoe 2 race, reject any label to the contrary.

Both have been endorsed by the Senate Republican Caucus headed by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

“I consider myself a pretty darn conservative guy,” said Kieckhefer, a former press secretary to Gov. Jim Gibbons. “Any notion of me as some pro-tax Republican is totally flawed. I’m not.”

Larkin said his work on the Washoe County Commission, which has involved cutting $100 million from the budget over the past three years and eliminating 500 positions, is evidence of his strong GOP philosophy.

“Government can’t live beyond its means,” he said. “There was too much fat. That is what a conservative does.”

Joe Hardy, running for the Clark Senate 12 seat against newcomer Patrick McNaught, could not be reached for this story.

Sen. Dennis Nolan, who is facing a challenge in his re-election bid in Clark Senate 9 from newcomer Elizabeth Halseth, also could not be reached for comment.

The June 8 primary offers an unusual opportunity for GOP voters. Five GOP Senate contests are on the ballot with four offering a choice between what some observers say is an establishment candidate and a more conservative opponent.

The Capital Senatorial District race will see conservative representation regardless of which GOP candidate wins in the November general election. Both James Settelmeyer and his primary opponent, Steve Yeater, say they will not be willing to compromise on tax issues in the 2011 session where lawmakers face a potential $3 billion funding shortfall.

Gustavson, Cobb, Settelmeyer and Hardy, all current members of the Assembly, voted against a package of tax increases in the 2009 session. Nolan voted with Raggio and three other GOP senators for the tax increase, giving the bill three more votes than needed to meet the two-thirds requirement for passage and enough to override a veto by Gibbons.

Republicans were in the minority in the Senate in the 2009 session for the first time since 1991. But Republican support was critical to reaching the two-thirds vote needed to raise sales and payroll taxes on Nevada’s largest businesses as part of the final budget.

A new position of unwavering opposition to general tax increases on the part of Senate Republicans could make the 2011 session one of the more contentious in state history.

In addition to Larkin, Kieckhefer and Hardy, Settelmeyer has also been endorsed and given financial support by the Senate Republican Caucus headed up by Raggio.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist as a member of the Independent American Party, said that support is an enormous hurdle for Republican challengers to overcome.

“More money and access to the establishment power base is a significant issue in any race,” she said. “For non-establishment Republican candidates it is incredibly difficult to overcome. It will be very significant if it happens.”

Gustavson said he is being outspent by Larkin, who he describes as his more moderate GOP opponent, but that a low turnout in the June 8 primary could benefit his campaign. Conservatives will turn out, and Gustavson said the conservative mood of GOP voters in Nevada should be a trend in his favor.

“I think it is a revival for the true Republican Party, the conservative wing that values true conservative principles,” he said. “This is the best opportunity we have had in years.”

Gustavson said there is no question but that the Senate Republican Caucus approach in the Legislature will change if he and his conservative colleagues win in the primary.

“We would have a much more conservative state Senate that we have had for years,” he said.

Raggio’s leadership position could also be jeopardized as a result, Gustavson said.

Larkin said that if he is elected to the Senate, he will work to balance the budget while maintaining the core Republican values of limited government, minimal taxes and fostering business growth and individual freedoms.

“I am the conservative candidate who gets things done,” he said.

Cobb said he is not a member of the Senate GOP caucus and so declined to comment on what the future might hold for the group following the November general election.

But Cobb said the caucus approach would likely change with the election of himself and his fellow conservatives.

“We would be getting rid of a lot of the old school way of handling things,” he said. “There would be more conservative, aggressive members of the caucus.

“There will be a new type of leadership focused on core values,” Cobb said. “We will use every bit of leverage we have when we enter into negotiations with the opposition.”

Kieckhefer disputed any characterization of him being the establishment candidate, noting that it is Cobb who is serving in the Legislature.

While he has not signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Kieckhefer said he won’t be supporting a budget in 2011 that is any larger than the current spending plan.

“Now is not the time to increase taxes,” he said. “We need to look at our spending.”

Kieckhefer said Cobb voted for the 2007 budget that saw spending go up by 17 percent over the 2005 budget.

“So let’s be clear who people claim to be as well,” he said.

Kieckhefer said the real choice for GOP voters is a candidate who is focused on solving problems or one who has a track record of failure. Cobb has only seen one of his 17 bills become law, he said.

“We don’t need people who just sit there and be conservative and accomplish nothing,” Kieckhefer said. “The question is who is going to be an effective legislator, an effective conservative voice.”

Kieckhefer said he has the endorsement of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, which he described as a fairly conservative business organization in Northern Nevada. He believes anti-incumbent sentiment among voters will also help his bid in the primary.

Settelmeyer said the Senate GOP caucus will see more focus on core conservative values next session, but to what degree will depend on the voters.

“If they choose to send more conservative representatives we will see less going along with the increases in taxes and spending” he said. “Efforts in the past to place surpluses towards the unfunded liability of the retirement and health programs have always taken a back seat to new program creation.”

While general tax increases have been a part of many budget compromises in the past, Settelmeyer said he won’t be on board with such proposals because they, “just kick the can down the road.”

Continuing the sales and payroll taxes approved in the 2009 session, for example, won’t be an option, he said.

“They are killing businesses in the state, and we need jobs, not more boarded up businesses,” he said.

“There will definitely be a roadmap for the future of Nevada after this primary,” Settelmeyer said. “But that roadmap will be dictated by voters, as it should.”

Yeater said a true conservative will be representing the Senate capital district regardless of which GOP primary candidate wins the general in November. Yeater said he has signed the taxpayer pledge and does not believe raising taxes is a good idea, especially in the current economy.

“I want to reduce existing taxes,” he said.

Yeater said GOP voters are energized and informed and as a result, the conservative candidates will win out on primary election day.

“I believe the Senate will look a lot more conservative in 2011 than it does in 2010,” he said.

Halseth said she will not be a vote for tax increases if elected to the Senate.

Negotiations in past sessions seem always to end up favoring the Democrats, she said.

“This election cycle will be different,” Halseth said. “I’ve been meeting with the people in my district for eight months. What they want is lower taxes. Raising taxes has never been the answer. We can’t afford that anymore.”

McNaught said he decided to run for the seat because of concerns Hardy has been too willing to compromise with Democrats in the past, sacrificing core GOP issues in the process. The Republican Party has lost its way by giving in to Democratic demands, he said.

McNaught said he won’t be the party of “no.”

“I will be the party of no taxes,” he said. “Any corporate or broad-based business tax will drive away jobs.”

McNaught said the state has lost tens of thousands of jobs and, “we need to get those jobs back.”

McNaught said he reached out to Raggio but that the minority leader failed to respond, instead opting to “anoint” Hardy for the open seat. He also noted that Hardy has passed up at least three different opportunities to debate him on the issues in recent weeks.

The voters in Clark Senate 12 have a clear choice, he said. A candidate who won’t raise taxes and who will seek fiscal reform, or a candidate who will consider tax increases to balance the state budget, McNaught said.

GOP Primary Voters Could Chart Course of State Senate, Nevada Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 1:29 pm May 20th, 2010

Part 1 of 2 on Five Key State Senate Races

CARSON CITY – Over the past several legislative sessions the state Senate Republican caucus has shown a willingness to work across the aisle with Democrats, with some GOP lawmakers voting more than once for tax increases as a way to balance the budget.

Led by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, Senate Republicans have often gone along with programs and policies pushed by Democrats in a spirit of compromise to finish the Legislature’s business every other year.

But this long-held practice could soon change.

Three of Raggio’s long-time allies in the Senate are being termed out of office and a fourth has resigned. Former Sens. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, are already gone, having resigned to take other jobs. A third senator loyal to Raggio, Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, will be replaced in the 2010 general election. Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, also resigned from the Senate.

Another Raggio colleague, Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, is facing a primary challenge from Elizabeth Halseth in his Clark Senate 9 re-election bid. Halseth calls herself a “true conservative” for Nevada.

These primary races all have something in common. They include Republican candidates who are, if you believe their campaign promises, far less likely to seek compromise with Democrats if they win in the primary and then general elections.

In four of these five cases, more moderate Republican primary challengers are also on the ballot, giving Republican voters a choice.

Republicans are expected to easily take at least two of the seats in the general election, and three of the five have sizable GOP voter registration edges over Democrats.

If voters decide to back the more conservative GOP candidates in the June 8 primary, the 2011 legislative session could see a far more confrontational relationship with Senate and Assembly Democrats over a multitude of issues, not the least of which will be taxes.

A conservative turnout in the primary might also shift the balance of power away from Raggio, potentially putting his position as current Senate minority leader in jeopardy. Rumors have circulated that Raggio, who is in his final term in the Senate, might step down before the 2011 session. He has denied these rumors, saying he will serve in his final session.

Raggio has served in the Senate since 1973, most often as the leader of the GOP caucus, either as majority leader or minority leader.

Early voting for the primary begins Saturday.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist with the Independent American Party, said she believes Republican voters will show up on election day and cast their votes for the true conservative candidates.

Republican voters are fed up with establishment candidates who have voted for tax increases and an ever-expanding government, she said.

Hansen, who is running as the IAP candidate for an Assembly seat in the Elko area, said some Republicans have left the party because true conservative candidates don’t get support from the powers that be.

“There is a chance for significant culture change in the state Senate,” she said. “I think it would benefit the public.”

Many observers says turnout will be a key in the contests. Lower turnout is generally viewed as favoring the more conservative candidates.

Pete Ernaut, a political consultant with R&R Partners, said there are too many variables at play to make any predictions about who will win in the contested Senate and Assembly races. The ability for candidates to talk with voters one-on-one plays a big role in such contests, he said. But Ernaut said he does believe turnout will be higher than many observers are predicting.

Several candidates also cite the adage that “all politics is local,” meaning that voters in each district may vote for a candidate based on local issues and concerns rather than some overarching conservative versus moderate theme.

Running in Washoe Senate 2 are Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, and Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, viewed as the more moderate of the two candidates. There are also two Democrats in the race. The district favors the GOP by 2,000 voters based on active registration numbers as of April.

Running in Washoe Senate 4 are Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, and former Gov. Jim Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer, again considered to be the more moderate of the two candidates. Two other Republicans, Todd Bailey and Frank Wright, are also running, but no Democrats are on the ballot. An Independent American Party candidate will be on the November ballot. The GOP has a 6,000 vote edge over Democrats in the district.

Running in the Capital Senate District are Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, and Steve Yeater. A Democrat and IAP candidate are also running but the district has an 8,000 GOP edge. Both Settelmeyer and Yeater, of Dayton, describe themselves as traditional GOP conservatives.

Running in Clark Senate 9 are Nolan and Halseth, along with three Democrats and an Independent American. The district has a nearly 4,000 Democrat voter registration advantage, however.

Running in Clark Senate 12 are Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, and newcomer Patrick McNaught, viewed as the more conservative of the two candidates. The registration balance in the district is virtually tied with Democrats. There is a third Republican, Steve Sanson, as well as a Democrat and IAP candidate, in the race as well.

The conservative Keystone Corporation, which says its goal is to recruit, support and advocate for candidates for public office who support private sector job creation, low taxation, a responsible regulatory environment, and effective delivery of essential  state services, has endorsed Cobb, Settelmeyer, Halseth and McNaught. There was no endorsement in the Washoe Senate 2 race.

Keystone Treasurer Monte Miller said the Senate candidates endorsed by his organization were selected because they share the view that the public employee sector has not shared in the job losses, salary reductions, benefit reductions and other sacrifices made by the private sector in the current downturn.

“These candidates believe that public employees need to be part of the solution,” he said.

Essential government services can be preserved if public employee wages and benefits are put more in line with what is offered in the private sector, Miller said.

The endorsed candidates also agree that businesses cannot afford to pay more taxes. The “compromise” in the 2009 session led to a 97 percent tax increase on business, he said.

The trend seen nationally of voters rejecting candidates who don’t share these views will be in evidence in Nevada in the primary as well, Miller said.

“Compromise has to come from the other side of the aisle,” Miller said. “It’s our turn.”

Next: The Candidates Weigh In on Their Races

McNaught’s Big Idea (Not)

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:20 pm May 12th, 2010

Wow.

This is one of those times when I can’t decide if feeling utterly amazed is worth the accompanying sense of despair.

The setting for this tragic drama:

Due to a co-candidate’s schedule conflict (uh huh), Senate 12 hopeful Patrick McNaught (GOP) was at center stage on Ralston’s Face to Face tonight.  Which I just finished watching thanks to the modern miracles of digital recording.

The curtain lifted, and McNaught uttered his first sentence about the reasons for his candidacy:

“I felt it was important that we got more of a conservative voice inside District 12.”

He then said that state government has not gone through the same “exercise” as the private sector (meaning cutting jobs, not hopping on a treadmill) and added that he deals with businesses every day “that would like to move to the state of Nevada, but even the idea of creating a corporate tax or gross receipts tax is driving those people to states such as Texas.”

McNaught said he wants to squash the rumors that such taxes would ever happen here and create a budget “in which the state has to live within.” He agreed the poor education system also plays a part in our difficulty attracting businesses to the state but said taxes are the main problem.

When asked for solutions, he said:

“We need to create reform and live inside our budget; we cannot continue to spend money we do not have.”

Ralston challenged:

“You know, you just got three clichés jammed into about ten seconds without telling me what you would do. Tell me what you would do.”

McNaught:

“The first thing I would look at is cutting state legislative pays. I mean if we are going to ask the employees of the state of NV to take a hit, I think it is important as leaders and legislators that we do it first.”

Um…

Wot?

Ralston:

“Are you serious about that? Come on… They make seven grand.”

(Right.  Multiplied by 63 legislators, the total savings to the state would be $431,000 if they all took a 100% pay cut.  So, assuming there is a $3 billion budget shortfall come February, we’d have just $2,999,569,000 more in cuts to go.)

McNaught defended:

“It’s better to at least take something from the people that go to Carson City.”

Is it?  Priority One is a take-away of the pittance our citizen legislators receive for dedicating four months of their lives every other year (plus any special sessions) to trying to solve the state’s biggest problems?

When pressed for other budget cutting ideas, McNaught said he is looking to our gubernatorial candidates for their Plan.

Really…?  No additional suggestions?  Just whatever the governor-to-be posits?

McNaught then made some vague references to jobs, the private sector and state worker wages.  And going “line item to line item” as we “get into the balance sheet, line by line.”

And said he has a friend at the Department of Transportation who sent him suggestions via “seven pages of cuts.”

None of which he could or would name.

A few sentences more and then his big finish:

“The Republican party has lost its brand.”

Yeah, it has.

In part because of cliché-loving candidates who even after months of studying-up and campaigning are either unable or unwilling to suggest a single decent proposal for cutting the state budget, creating jobs or improving education in our state.

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.

Conservative Caucus, GOP Minority Fight to Get Their Views Heard in Special Session

By Sean Whaley | 4:51 pm February 24th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Assembly Republicans, who haven’t had a majority presence in the Legislature in 25 years, are working with their Senate colleagues in the special session in an effort to get their views heard on how to solve a $900 million budget shortfall.

Senate Republicans, who are in the minority themselves in the upper house for the first time since 1991, nevertheless have some leverage in the budget debate.

The GOP caucus in the Assembly stands at 14 members, one shy of the number needed to block a two-thirds vote on fee or tax increases. Fee increases are very much a part of the discussion of how to balance the budget.

Senate Democrats, however, have only 12 of the 14 votes they need to approve such measures. So Republican support is essential if a tax or fee increase is to be part of the budget solution.

A two-thirds vote is also required to override a veto. Gov. Jim Gibbons has threatened to use his veto authority if a measure comes to him that does not fit in with his views on such revenue enhancements. Gibbons had indicated he will only support such increases if the affected industries agree to the levy.

A new wrinkle for the 23 GOP lawmakers in the two houses, however, as the special session moves through its second day, is a subset of Republicans who want to bring their own plan forward on how to balance the budget, a plan that would not rely on fees or taxes but cuts.

The effort is a work in progress.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said her caucus recognizes the number disadvantage and the need to work with Senate Republicans to gain leverage.

“Pete Goichoechea, (R-Eureka) and I attend quite a few leadership meetings to make sure our voices are heard,” she said. “We’re very focused on cuts right now. There are a lot of pieces that seem to be coming together. We’re really trying to figure out what the whole package is.

“We have not come to any consensus, particularly on the new fee and revenue items in the budget,” Gansert said.

Gansert said the caucus is interested in taking a look at Nevada’s collective bargaining law to see if it can at least be altered to require public employee contract negotiations to be subjected to the state Open Meeting Law. The process involves taxpayer money and the public should be involved in the process, she said.

Gibbons, who saw a couple of his budget-balancing proposals fall by the wayside today, amended the proclamation calling the Legislature into special session to consider Nevada’s collective bargaining law, among several other items.

Gibbons’ proposal to raise $50 million by revising the mining tax deduction, and a plan to use traffic cameras to catch uninsured motorists that reportedly would have raised $30 million, were both rejected by lawmakers.

Both these issues were problematic for some in the GOP caucus, so seeing them taken off the table simplifies the ideological concerns, at least for the time being. Their elimination also creates an $80 million gap in the budget plan, however.

Gansert said she retains strong support in the caucus for her service as minority leader, despite a comment by Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, that Gansert is too willing to compromise with Democrats. Hambrick’s comment was reported in the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday.

Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said his caucus is benefiting from a national shift to the right in the political climate.

“So the pendulum swings, and just because you are low today doesn’t mean you won’t be high tomorrow,” he said.

The last time Republicans had a strong presence in the lower house was in 1995, when there was a 21-21 split requiring a power-sharing arrangement. Lynn Hettrick, now a deputy chief of staff to Gibbons, was GOP co-speaker in that session.

In a twist of political irony, Hettrick’s present-day successor, Gansert, has contributed to a rift in GOP leadership by joining Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio in endorsing Brian Sandoval over Governor Gibbons in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

A source on the Gibbons’ campaign team acknowledged that Gansert and Raggio’s support of the governor’s opponent along with Raggio’s recent support of Sandoval’s proposal to sell and lease back state buildings in order to generate revenue – a plan the Governor strongly opposes – has infuriated Gibbons and contributed to the recent war of words between the governor’s office and Raggio as budget talks have progressed.

Despite the contentious tone between the governor’s office and Republican legislative leadership and the numbers disadvantage, Assembly Republicans are trying to remain involved, Hardy said. “We still get to ask questions. We still have a voice.”

Hardy said the Senate GOP caucus has been willing to listen to Assembly Republicans, but he acknowledges there are no easy answers to the current fiscal crisis.

“It’s not so much good ideas right now (but) which is the least of the worst ideas,” he said.

Hardy praised Gansert’s leadership, calling her performance “excellent.”

While there is a view by many Republicans that the current budget problems should not be solved through the imposition of new fees and taxes, Hardy said his own position is to accept such solutions if they are acceptable to the affected industries or interest groups.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said the Assembly caucus has been encouraged to participate in the leadership discussions on how to solve the budget gap.

Senate Republicans, because of the two-thirds vote requirement for tax and fee measures, retains some level of power in the discussion, he said. The Assembly has not had that luxury.

“I told them just because you don’t have the numbers doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the solution,” Townsend said. “But just saying “no” is not being part of the solution. Saying “yes” to everything is not being part of the process either. Jump in and explain the things that are important to you. You may win a few.”

Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, a fiscal conservative who would like to see Nevada adhere to a state spending cap, said balancing the budget with new taxes and fees is not the answer.

The state should use 2001 as the base year and then allow for growth based only on inflation and population growth, he said.

“We’re not going to do that in the special session, but that is what my goal will be,” Gustavson said.

“We are working with Senate Republicans on the budget,” he said. “We met with them last night and had a long discussion. They have a little more pull than we do, obviously.”

Every agency, including public education, will have to take a cut to get the state out of the current crisis, Gustavson said.

Clark County Republican Party, Grassroots Leaders Organize for 2010 Elections

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:23 am October 26th, 2009

Las Vegas — Clark County Republican Party (CCRP) event organizers packed the house for their “Flip the House” kick-off coalition meeting Saturday afternoon.   Approximately two-hundred and twenty attendees filled the auditorium at the Clark County Public Library on East Flamingo Road.

Among those in attendance were U.S. Senate candidates Danny Tarkanian, Sharon Angle, and Bill Parson.  Other candidate attendees included Joe Hardy, Lynn Stewart, Elizabeth Halseth, John Hambrick, Tibbe Ellis, Eric Morelli, Glenn Greener, Richard McArthur, Kathryn Njus, Geraldine Lewis, Matt Passalacona, Scott Neistadt, Joseph Tatner, and Barbara Altman who is running for the School Board.

Clark County Republican Party (CCRP) precinct administrator Duane Libbe opened the event and welcomed the crowd to enthusiastic applause.

“This meeting kicks-off our “Flip the House” action program.  We are going to take back the legislature.  With only eight months to the primary and thirteen months until the general elections, it is time for us to roll up our sleeves, stop talking about last year’s problems and get to work,” said Libbe.

CCRP coalitions director Frank Ricotta echoed Libbe’s comments and welcomed grassroots leaders from around the Las Vegas valley.

“I am encouraged to see so many grassroots organizations in attendance today.  Thank you for coming, and I hope this is a sign of things to come,” said Ricotta.

In attendance were representatives from Nevada Patriots, Citizens Awareness Network, Nevada Active Conservatives, Nevada Innovative Coalition for Education, Nevada Federation of Young Republicans, Nevada Conservatives for Freedom, Nevada Health Care Professionals Coalition, Las Vegas Republican Meetup Group, Sun City Conservatives, the Southeast Las Vegas Glenn Beck Meetup Group and the Las Vegas Sean Hannity Meetup Group.

Republican Assembly Caucus executive director Monica Moradkhan was the first guest speaker.  She warmly greeted the attendees and then addressed divisions within and between the party and grassroots groups by invoking Ronald Reagan’s “big tent” conservatism.

“We have to unite for the common good in order to elect Republicans in the 2010 general elections,” said Moradkhan.

“We cannot let divisions over single issues prevent us from supporting the best candidate available,” she said.

Nevada Senate-Minority Whip, Barbara K. Cegavske, also spoke at the event.  Cegavske is running for her third and final term due to term limits.

“I am saddened by what I see going on in Nevada right now,” she said.

“I am also tired of our ever increasing debt.  Of course, we have to make sure we have the essentials, but – just like Nevada’s families – the state needs to live within its means,” she said.

“We also need to create jobs to Nevada.  We need a strategy to bring businesses here, and we need to stop legislating mandates that drive up costs and fees to small businesses,” she said.

Cegavske then presented a seat-by-seat analysis of the state assembly and senate races in 2010.  She twice referred to the Democratic party’s desire to pick up two more senate seats and reminded attendees that fifteen Assembly seats are needed for veto power.

“There are seventeen term-limited seats up for grabs, in addition to all the others.  There is going to be huge turnover.  We need to strategize and capitalize where we can,” she said.

Cegavske also alluded to disagreements about candidate endorsement within her caucus.

“I did not agree with our caucus in endorsing candidates early  That was not my choice.  I thought we should have waited a little longer, for more good people to come out,” she said.

Cegavske received enthusiastic applause when she talked about the state of Nevada’s public education system, school choice and competition.  At one point she circulated a handout of the K-12 educational governance structure in Nevada.

“This so-called structure borders on the ridiculous,” she said.

“I have tried for two sessions to get a governance bill introduced, to change the educational structure in Nevada.  I will try again as I serve my final term.  This should be something both parties can agree on,” she said.

Frank Ricotta closed the meeting by challenging every attendee to commit to an action item.

“Help us find more candidates.  Volunteer to work for a candidate, or be a precinct captain, or knock on doors.  We need to work the precincts to sign up voters and collect email addresses.  We also need more volunteers to staff the CCRP office,” he said.

After the meeting, Ricotta said he was pleased with the turnout and pointed to the long line of people signing up to be volunteers.

“People are energized.  It’s good to see,” he said.

Sharon Angle talks with a grassroots activist before the meeting

Sharon Angle talks with a grassroots activist before the meeting