Posts Tagged ‘Horsford’

Democrats Narrowly Maintain Control Of State Senate

By Sean Whaley | 12:30 am November 7th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Nevada state Senate will remain in Democratic control following Tuesday’s election after three Republican candidates won victories in five closely contested races, one short of the number needed for a change of power.

Democrats won two of the five races in play for control of the Senate, maintaining the 11-10 status quo over Republicans.

Republicans needed to win four of the five contested seats to achieve an 11-10 edge and win control of the Senate. Democrats have controlled the Senate since 2008.

But Republicans won only three of the five races, all of which were closely contested.

The results ensure that both the 21-member Senate and the 42-member Assembly will remain in control of Democrats in the 2013 session, requiring GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval to work with the opposing party in both houses to push through his education reform agenda in the 2013 legislative session.

There were 12 Senate races in the Tuesday election, but only five were considered in play by the two parties.

Mark Hutchison, Republican victor in Senate District 6.

In Senate District 5, former state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, defeated Republican and former Henderson city councilman Steve Kirk for the four-year term. The final vote had 52 percent for Woodhouse to 48 percent for Kirk. Woodhouse served previously but had lost a re-election bid in 2010.

In Senate District 6, GOP attorney Mark Hutchison narrowly defeated Democrat businessman Benny Yerushalmi, 50.8 percent 49.2 percent.

In Senate District 9, Democrat Justin Jones defeated Republican Mari St. Martin by a margin of 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent.

In Senate District 15 in Washoe County, a closely watched race that pitted Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, against former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, Brower eked out a narrow victory. Leslie had resigned her previous seat to face Brower, but lost the hotly contested race 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent. More than $1 million was spent on the race by the two candidates, with Brower winning by a mere 266 votes.

In Senate District 18, GOP Assemblyman Scott Hammond defeated Democrat Kelli Ross, 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent.

Both GOP caucus leader Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, and Democratic leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, had high hopes for their slate of candidates.

In the Assembly, Democrats picked up a seat to take a 27-15 edge over Republicans, although there were some significant developments in a handful of the races.

Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, expected to be the next Assembly Speaker, lost a fiercely contested race to GOP newcomer Wes Duncan, by a margin of 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas.

Conklin’s loss opens up the leadership post among Democrats for the 2013 session.

In Assembly District 20, Democrat Ellen Spiegel, who lost a re-election bid in 2010, won her election bid over Republican Eric Mendoza.

And in a race sure to cause some difficulties for Democrats, candidate Andrew Martin won over Republican Kelly Hurst, despite being found ineligible for the seat by a Clark County District Judge on Monday due to a residency issue. Evidence presented at a court hearing resulted in a ruling that Martin did not actually live in the district.

In other races, President Obama’s strong showing in the Silver State did not have the coattail effect that Rep. Shelly Berkley, D-Nev., needed in her challenge to Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. Heller narrowly defeated Berkley to keep the Senate seat for the GOP, even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will maintain his position in the U.S. Senate with victories elsewhere across the country.

In the state’s four House races, former Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., won election in the 1st Congressional District. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., won a full term to the 2nd District, and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., defeated challenger John Oceguera for a second term in the 3rd District. The most closely watched race, in the new 4th Congressional District, saw state Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, defeat GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian.

Horsford will be Nevada’s first African American member of Congress.

Democrats Continue To Outpace Republicans In Voter Registration, Gain 100,000 Edge In Clark County

By Sean Whaley | 12:38 pm September 18th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Democrats continue to out-register their Republican counterparts, with the latest data from Clark County now showing a more than 100,000 voter advantage as the deadline to participate in the Nov. 6 general election draws ever closer.

Today just before noon the Clark County website, which updates registration totals regularly, showed 346,703 Democrats registered to vote compared to 246,479 for Republicans, a 100,224 advantage.

Nonpartisans totaled 132,529 and other minor parties totaled 41,910 for a total registered population of 767,621 in Clark County.

Early voting will begin in just a little more than a month.

The consistent outpacing of Democrats over Republicans in the voter registration race could spell trouble for the GOP from the presidential race on down to state legislative races.

In addition to the presidential contest between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, an important Senate race pitting U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., against Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., is at stake.

And Republicans in the state Senate are engaged in a concerted effort to win control of the 21-member house in November. Democrats now hold an 11-10 edge.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said Democrats are doing well in the registration race because the message of the party on improving education and creating jobs is resonating with voters.

“We thought the economy was going to be the No. 1 thing, but education is and so, I think the message – better educating our children, trying to diversify our economy in different sectors, trying to do things that bring job here – I think those are all messages that are resounding with folks and they’re choosing to register Democrat,” he said.

Denis said Democrats in Nevada have a history of strong turnout for elections, which will also aid the party and its candidates. While nonpartisans will be a big factor in the races, many of those voters are expected to vote Democratic as well, he said.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said Republicans have the edge despite the registration difference.

“Well look, obviously we don’t want to see the numbers getting more divergent than they are in some of these races, and it’s unfortunate, but the reality remains that these are very winnable races for us,” he said. “We have a superior candidate, we have a superior organization, we have superior funding. So in that way, we still feel confident in each and every one of these districts that we’re fielding the better future state senator. So in that way I believe that we’re going to win every one of them.”

Contrary to Denis’ view, Kieckhefer said he believes nonpartisan voters are going to break Republican in the election.

Republican Senate candidates “are right on the messages, they are right on the issues,” he said.

“They have the position that is more in line with the majority of voters in their district,” Kieckhefer said.

The deadline to register to vote in the election is Oct. 16. The last day to register without appearing in person at an Election Department office is Oct. 6.

“I encourage everyone to visit our website to make sure they are registered to vote or to ensure their registration information is current,” Clark County Registrar of Voters Harvard Lomax said in a recent news release. “Individuals with a Nevada driver’s license will be able to take advantage of our online registration services and there is still time to register through the mail.”

Early voting for the election begins on Saturday, Oct. 20 and extends through Friday, Nov. 2.

A check of the Clark County website at noon each day for the past few days shows Democrats continue to consistently out-register Republicans.

On Thursday, the site showed 342,293 registered Democrats, 244,963 registered Republicans and 130,789 nonpartisans.

On Friday, Democrats had added 1,196 registered voters in Clark County from Thursday, Republicans added 322 voters, and nonpartisans increased by 478.

On Saturday, Democrats had added 287 voters from Friday, Republicans added 104 voters and nonpartisans rose by 98. The numbers were not updated on Sunday.

On Monday at noon, the Clark County site showed Democrats had added 1,970 voters from the weekend report, Republicans had added 610 voters, and nonpartisans increased by 674 voters.

On Tuesday at noon, the site showed Democrats had added 1,024 voters, Republicans had added 509 voters and nonpartisans increased by 520 voters.

In 2010, at the close of registration, Democrats only held a 91,633 advantage in Clark County. In 2008, at the close of registration, Democrats held a 125,218 advantage in Clark County.

Democrats have been outpacing Republicans in the statewide numbers reported monthly by the Secretary of State’s Office as well. Even nonpartisan registrations have exceeded Republican registrations in recent months.

As of the end of August, there were 463,229 Democrats registered statewide, 407,513 Republicans and 186,941 nonpartisans. The Democratic advantage stood at 55,716.

As of Saturday, Democrats had 471,585 registered voters statewide and Republicans had 411,525, giving Democrats a 60,060 edge, up by 4,344 voters since the end of August.

The push to control the state Senate is one of the bigger Nevada election stories this year. There are five seats considered competitive, and Republicans need to win four of them to take an 11-10 edge.

But Democrats keep making headway in the four Southern Nevada districts. As of last week, Democrats had a 4 percent edge over Republicans in Senate seat 5, 5.1 percent in seat 6, 6.1 percent in seat 9, and trailed Republicans by 2 percent in seat 18.

Seats 5, 6 and 9 now have larger Democratic edges than even in 2008.

In another closely watched contest, the race for the 4th Congressional District seat between state Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and Republican Danny Tarkanian, Democrats now have an 11 percent edge, or 30,000 more voters, than Republicans.

“This is only the latest sign that Nevadans are rejecting Mitt Romney and Dean Heller’s plan to outsource jobs and end Medicare by turning it over to private insurance companies,” said Zach Hudson, spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party. “Nevadans across the state are excited about re-electing President Obama and sending Shelley Berkley to the Senate to create jobs, protect Medicare, and strengthen the middle class.”

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Audio clips:

Sen. Mo Denis says the Democratic Party message is resonating with potential voters:

091812Denis1 :24 to register Democrat.”

Denis says Republicans have disenfranchised voters, which is why many are registering as nonpartisan:

091812Denis2 :16 as a Republican.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says he believes Senate Republicans are still favored to win because they are the better candidates and are better funded:

091812Kieckhefer :23 one of them.”

 

 

Two Democrat State Senate Candidates Debate In Race To Succeed Steven Horsford

By Sean Whaley | 7:59 pm June 6th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Two Democrats seeking to succeed Steven Horsford in the 4th Senate district in Clark County disagreed today in a televised debate on a business margin tax sought by teachers to fund public education.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, currently representing District 17, and Katherine “Katie” Duncan, president and founder of the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce, discussed the issues on the Face To Face television program in advance of the June 12 primary.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson.

The candidates were asked if they support the initiative petition filed today by the teachers union to implement a business margins tax.

While supporting the margin tax in 2011, Atkinson said he would have to review the proposal filed today by the teachers union before he could support it. The lawmaker said he does believe Nevada’s tax base needs to be broadened, however.

“Do I think that we need to do something to broaden our tax base, absolutely we need to do that,” Atkinson said. “We’ve talked for years about it. Haven’t done a whole lot about it. And it’s time that we do something about it. We’ve talked to some very interested groups over the past few months that do indicate that they do want to be involved and they do want to do something about broadening our tax base.”

Duncan said she does not support the margin tax, and noted that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman is expected to come to the Legislature next year with a lottery proposal that will have the support of the gaming industry. Duncan said she will support Goodman’s efforts at the Legislature to raise money for public education.

Senate 4 candidate Katherine "Katie" Duncan.

The lottery will be gaming based, not a government-sponsored proposal, which is why the gaming industry will come on board this time, she said.

“I’m just supporting her education initiative,” Duncan said. “She has taken education as one of her primary focuses knowing that if we don’t up the bar on our education we lose all the new businesses that are looking to move into the state (that) are looking for an educated workforce.”

District 4 is dominated by Democrats and is a safe seat for the party as it faces Republican efforts to take control of the 21-member Senate.

Democrats now hold an 11-10 edge.

Horsford is seeking the new 4th Congressional Seat created as the result of the 2010 census. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, with more than 25,000 registered Democrats to just over 6,000 Republicans.

The winner will face Republican candidate Linda West Myers in November.

GOP Congressional Candidate Danny Tarkanian Says $17 Million Judgment The Result Of Fraud

By Sean Whaley | 9:02 pm May 31st, 2012

CARSON CITY – A leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the 4th Congressional District seat said today a $17 million court judgment again him and his family is the result of fraud and not bad judgment.

Danny Tarkanian, one of several Republicans vying in the June 12 primary to face state Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the November general election, said the developer in the transaction took his money and used it for purposes other than developing a project in Anza, Calif.

4th Congressional GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian.

Tarkanian discussed the case on Jon Ralston’s Face To Face television program today. The son of basketball legend Jerry Tarkanian, he is viewed as a favorite in the primary, which includes state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.

Tarkanian said his family was misled in the real estate deal, and that it bears no correlation to how he would perform as a member of the House of Representatives. The judgment is the result of a dispute that bankrupted both the original developer, Robert Dyson, and La Jolla Bank, which financed most of the deal.

“He was to use that money to develop the property in Southern California,” Tarkanian said. “He didn’t do that. Instead he used the money for other purposes, including repaying a loan he had with a bank that loaned us the money. We believe there was clear evidence of fraud there.

“We’re just like thousands of other Nevadans around here that are losing their life savings because of unscrupulous acts by banks and others that are involved in that stuff,” he said. “Yes, I feel horrible for my family and I wish we could have done something differently.”

The judgment, entered by a federal judge, comes at a bad time for Tarkanian as voting is underway in the primary.

As reported first by Ralston, the federal judge has ruled that Tarkanian, his parents and siblings owe the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. $17 million for a loan they took from the now-defunct bank that is under federal receivership.

Tarkanian has said he will appeal the judgment, and that it in no way is a reflection of his suitability to serve in the 4th Congressional district.

“I think it is a big stretch to say that because I guy defrauded our family, that that gives me poor judgment,” he said.

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Audio clips:

Danny Tarkanian says he and his family were victims of fraud:

053112Tarkian1 :13 of fraud there.”

Tarkanian says his family has been victimized like many Nevada families:

053112Tarkanian2 :11 done something differently.”

 

Gov. Sandoval Makes Appointments to Health Insurance Exchange Board

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:44 pm September 23rd, 2011

Dr. Ronald Kline.

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval announced today his appointments to the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange Board.

Sandoval has appointed Elsie Lavonne Lewis, Leslie Ann Johnstone, Dr. Ronald Kline, Barbara Smith Campbell and Marie Kerr. Each of the appointees will be voting members of the board.

“While Nevada remains a partner in challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law, we are mandated to move forward with its implementation,” Sandoval said.  “Each member of the board will bring a distinctive perspective to the table to help Nevada formulate the most effective exchange.”

Lewis, chief operating officer of the Clark County Urban League, will serve until June 30, 2013. Johnstone, executive director of the Health Services Coalition in Clark County, will serve until June 30, 2014. Kline, a physician with Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada in Clark County, will serve until June 30, 2012. Smith Campbell, a Washoe County resident and former chairwoman of the Nevada Tax Commission, is the founder of Consensus, a tax consulting firm, will serve until June 30, 2014. Kerr, an attorney in Reno, will serve until June 30, 2012.

Reno attorney Marie Kerr.

Created by Senate Bill 440, the Exchange is required to:

-          Create and administer a state-based health insurance exchange;

-          Facilitate the purchase and sale of qualified health plans;

-          Provide for the establishment of a program to assist qualified small employers in Nevada in facilitating the enrollment of their employees in qualified health plans;

-          Make only qualified health plans available to qualified individuals and qualified small employers on or after January 1, 2014; and

-          Unless the federal health care law is repealed or is held to be unconstitutional or otherwise invalid or unlawful, perform all duties that are required of the exchange to implement the requirements of the law.

The bill creating the exchange passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously with four members of the Assembly not present for the vote. While lawmakers questioned the effect of the act being found unconstitutional on the operation of the exchange, there was no testimony in opposition to the measure.

The exchange is governed by the Board of Directors, consisting of five voting members appointed by the governor, one voting member appointed by the Senate majority leader and one voting member appointed by the speaker of the Assembly.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford has appointed Dr. Judith Ford with Canyon Gate Medical Group in Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera has appointed Lynn Elkins.

Carson Judge Russell Expected To Rule Quickly On Redistricting Guidelines, Sets Public Hearings For Oct. 10-11

By Sean Whaley | 3:14 pm September 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Racial gerrymandering, fracturing, packing, nesting – a three-hour hearing today in Carson City District Court over how to draw Nevada’s new political boundaries was full of arcane concepts and obscure terminology.

The much anticipated ruling from Judge James Todd Russell on guidelines for drawing those new districts will have major ramifications, however, for the state’s voters and its two major political parties.

The purpose of the hearing was to decide what factors a panel of three citizens must consider when drawing the state’s political lines for four congressional and 63 legislative seats based on the new population figures from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Attorneys for Democrats and Republicans used the terminology to make their cases for how the new political lines should be drawn. Most of the hearing focused on the four congressional seats that must be drawn for the 2012 general election. Nevada earned a 4th seat due to population gains over the past decade.

Time is of the essence in the dispute, with the election season set to get under way early next year.

Attorney Mark Hutchison, representing the Republican Party, argued that the Hispanic community in central Las Vegas should form the basis for one of the four congressional districts in any new redistricting plan.

Attorney Marc Elias, representing Democrats, argued that while communities of interest should be considered, there is no requirement in the federal Voting Rights Act that a predominantly Hispanic district be created.

Special Master Thomas Sheets, from left, GOP attorney Mark Hutchison and Democrat attorneys Mark Braden and Marc Elias confer after the redistricting hearing today. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

After the hearing, Hutchison said: “The court is going to take care to make sure this process is fair and from the beginning that’s all the Republicans have wanted, for the process to be fair. We want to start with a level playing field and let the chips fall where they might. We’re just opposed to any sort of a partisan Democratic slant to this process and I think we got that today.”

Hutchison said he will not appeal Russell’s ruling on how the redistricting process should be carried out by the special masters.

Elias declined to say whether he would appeal Russell’s ruling on the guidelines for the special masters on how to draw the maps.

“I always take these things one step at a time,” he said. “I’m here today and I’m going to wait for the ruling.

“Look, you heard the same thing I did – I think he said he was going to take this under advisement, he obviously listened attentively, he said he was going to do some research and then I expect we will hear from him.”

Russell has appointed the three special masters – Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover, Las Vegas attorney Thomas Sheets and former legislative Research Director Bob Erickson – to draw new political districts.

The issue ended up in the courts when a bipartisan plan could not be hammered out between Democrats and Republicans in the 2011 legislative session.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature passed two redistricting plans, both of which were vetoed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

While not immediately ruling on the Hispanic congressional district question, Russell did announce some developments in his plan to resolve the dispute.

He announced that the special masters will hold two public hearings, one in Las Vegas on Oct. 10 in the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, and the other Oct. 11 in the Carson City legislative building, to take comment from interested parties on what Nevada’s new districts should look like.

Following those hearings, the special masters will have until Oct. 21 to submit new political maps to the court. Russell said he will then release their report and proposed maps to the public.

Russell said that by Nov. 15 or 16 he will decide whether to accept the maps as drawn by the special masters or send the issue back for any specific revisions he deems necessary.

Regardless of how he rules, the redistricting issue is expected to end up in front of the Nevada Supreme Court, and could be appealed into the federal court system as well.

Elias asked Russell to use Senate Bill 497, the second redistricting measure passed by Democrats but vetoed by Sandoval, as the starting point for the special masters to draw new districts.

Hutchison and other attorneys representing Republicans rejected the idea, saying the maps approved for the 2001 redistricting, along with the many sets of maps proposed this year by lawmakers and citizens, could all be considered by the special masters as a starting point.

Attorney Daniel Stewart, representing Clark County resident Daniel Garza, who opposed SB497, said the congressional districts in the bill inappropriately “fractured” the Las Vegas Hispanic community into three different districts to create three safe Democrat congressional seats.

“This is a perfect example of what I think the masters shouldn’t do,” he said.

But Elias warned that any effort to focus exclusively on creating one Hispanic congressional district could lead to “racial gerrymandering” which would put any plan approved by Russell at risk for a federal court challenge. It is not possible to draw a congressional district in Las Vegas that would have a majority of eligible Hispanic voters, he said.

There is also no evidence of block voting by white residents that has thwarted the efforts of Hispanics to elect candidates of their choice, Elias said, noting the election of Sandoval, who is Hispanic.

One of the experts cited by Republican as evidence of block voting by whites was the election of former state Sen. Bob Coffin to the Las Vegas City Council in Ward 3, defeating Hispanic candidate Adriana Martinez in the process, he said. But the expert failed to note that Coffin is of Hispanic heritage himself, Elias said.

“Nevada is not Mississippi,” he said. “There is no white block voting in Clark County.”

Attorneys also argued their positions on other issues, including whether two state Assembly districts should be drawn to fit exactly within each state Senate seat, a process called “nesting.”

They also argued whether “representational fairness”, or consideration of how many “safe” seats each political party should have, is appropriately before the special masters.

A number of prominent Democrats have either announced or are said to be interested in running for the Southern Nevada congressional seats even though the district lines have yet to be drawn. Already announced candidates include Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, former Rep. Dina Titus who lost to Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., in the 2010 election, state Sen. John Lee of North Las Vegas and state Sen. Ruben Kihuen of Las Vegas. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford of Las Vegas is also said to be interested in running for Congress.

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Audio clips:

GOP attorney Mark Hutchison says Republicans want a level playing field:

092111Hutchison :25 got that today.”

Democrat attorney Marc Elias says Judge Russell listened attentively and will issue his ruling after conducting some research:

092111Elias :15 hear from him.”

Governor, Legislative Leaders, Make Appointments To Economic Development Board

By Sean Whaley | 6:18 pm September 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislative leaders today announced their appointments to the new Economic Development Board, which will focus on job creation and economic diversification.

Sandoval has appointed Rob Roy, CEO of Switch in Las Vegas, William Weidner with Gaming Asset Management, and Kathleen Drakulich, a lawyer with McDonald Carano Wilson.

Rob Roy, CEO of Switch in Las Vegas.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, has appointed Heather Murren of the Nevada Cancer Institute. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, appointed Benjamin Yerushalmi with the Jewelers of Nevada and Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, has appointed Sam Routson with Winnemucca Farms.

The new board was established by Assembly Bill 449, passed during the 2011 Legislative session with bipartisan support.

“The new Economic Development Board brings together individuals from across Nevada representing some of the economic sectors we will be targeting to help diversify our economy and help get Nevada working again,” Sandoval said.

William Weidner with Gaming Asset Management.

“We worked hard to create an entirely new and results-oriented economic development model through this legislation, and today we have taken another step that will deliver the results we need,” Oceguera said.

“These individuals represent some of the best and brightest minds in our state, from small businesses and large, and we are fortunate to have their expertise made available at this critical time,” Horsford said.

“Nevada has a rare opportunity with this legislation and the joint efforts of the Governor and the Legislature to make real changes in the way we help small businesses in our state grow and bring new employers here,” McGinness said.

Nevada Legislative Leaders Make New Appointments To Homeland Security Commission

By Sean Whaley | 3:57 pm September 6th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada legislative leaders have selected Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, and Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, to serve as nonvoting members of the Nevada Commission on Homeland Security.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, last week selected Lee to serve on the panel, which meets quarterly to hear updates on Nevada’s efforts to deal with homeland security issues.

In response to an inquiry, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said today he picked Horne to represent the Assembly. Horne, on his 2010 re-election website, said he took the lead on homeland security issues in the Assembly.

Nevada state law says the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker are to appoint one nonvoting member each.

Assemblyman William Horne, center. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Lee replaces former state Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, on the commission. Horne replaces Oceguera, who has announced he is running for a seat in Congress. Oceguera is termed out of office in the Assembly.

Lee has also announced he is a candidate for one of the congressional seats that have yet to be created because of a dispute between Republicans and Democrats about how the lines for the districts should be drawn in Southern Nevada. A hearing on the dispute is set for later this month in Carson City District Court.

State Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas.

Horsford is also believed to be considering a run for Congress.

The appointments of Lee and Horne come after a meeting of the commission last month during which the lack of participation by the nonvoting members of the Legislature was raised as a concern. No legislative representative has yet attended a meeting of the panel this year.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has appointed himself as chairman of the commission, a departure from past governors who designated others as their representatives on the panel.

There will be other new appointments made to the panel as well by Sandoval in coming weeks to replace voting members who have stepped down, including former chairman Dr. Dale Carrison, who served as vice-chairman under Sandoval.

Sandoval is charged with appointing the 14 voting members of the commission.

The next meeting of the commission is scheduled for Nov. 2.

Democrat Congressional Candidate Oceguera Says He Will Face Off Against GOP Incumbent Heck In 2012 If Necessary

By Sean Whaley | 3:40 pm August 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Assembly Speaker and announced candidate for Congress John Oceguera acknowledged today that a number of Democrats are seeking seats in the House of Representatives in the 2012 election, and that hopefully any costly primary battles can be avoided.

Oceguera, who announced in July he will run as a Democrat for Congress despite the fact that lines for what will ultimately be four districts remain theoretical only, said a primary battle between two Democrats for one or more of the seats would not be beneficial.

While unlikely, a primary battle is a possibility and Oceguera said he is prepared for such a scenario. But a primary would not help any of the candidates, and hopefully could be avoided “in the spirit of cooperation,” he said.

Former Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., has announced she intends to run again for a seat in Congress. State Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, is also an announced candidate. State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, both D-Las Vegas, are also potential candidates for one of the seats.

Democrat Assembly Speaker John Oceguera.

Oceguera made his comments during an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

The district lines remain undecided because the Legislature failed to approve a redistricting plan based on the 2010 census that met with approval of both Democrats and Republicans. Two Democrat plans were vetoed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval. The issue is now in front of Carson District Judge James Todd Russell with no clear timetable on when it will be resolved. It will likely end up before the Nevada Supreme Court.

Oceguera said he does not know what district he will end up in, but that he may have to face Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., who represents the 3rd Congressional District. Heck is a freshman who defeated Titus in the 2010 election.

Oceguera, who lives near Heck in Clark County, said he is not concerned with the possibility of facing an incumbent in his congressional run. Oceguera, who is termed out of the state Assembly, is a North Las Vegas firefighter, attorney and fourth generation Nevadan, born in Fallon.

Heck’s district has elected both Republicans and Democrats, he said.

“Where ever I end up, as far as where the maps are drawn, is where I will run,” Oceguera said.

Ryan Erwin, a political consultant to Heck, said in response to Oceguera’s comments: “Commenting on every Democrat candidate looking for the title of Congressman would be a full time job.

“Dr. Heck has been spending his time helping constituents and trying to get the federal government out of the way of small businesses trying to create jobs,” he said. “The truth is, creating an environment that allows Nevada businesses to grow, invest and hire new employees is far more important to Joe Heck than who might run against him next year.”

Oceguera announced his intention to run in July, saying it would be too late to mount a competitive campaign if he waited until the redistricting issue is decided. While fundraising is difficult in such an uncertain situation, waiting until the 2012 filing period next spring is unworkable, he said.

Oceguera said it will take between $2 million and $3 million to run a competitive race, and that he expects to have about $250,000 by the first reporting period.

Oceguera said he is running on his legislative record, including job creation efforts in the 2011 session, and on his history of hard work and desire to seek compromise on issues facing the state.

“It is something we’re sorely missing in Washington, DC, right now,” he said.

Oceguera said he and his fellow lawmakers fulfilled their promises in the 2011 legislative session.

“We said we were going to cut – we did, we cut,” he said. “We said that we were going to reform – we did, we reformed. We said that we were going to balance our budget – we did, we balanced our budget. And we said we were going to end on time and we did that as well. So I think that is a pretty strong record in the last legislative session.

“I’ve been strong on education, I think I’ve been strong for business,” Oceguera said. “I don’t know that that’s all I will run on, but I think my legislative record is solid.”

Audio clips:

Congressional candidate John Oceguera says the Legislature fulfilled its promises in the 2011 session to balance the budget, cut spending and make reforms:

081711Oceguera1 :25 last legislative session.”

Oceguera says he is strong on education and for business:

081711Oceguera2 :09 record is solid.”

State Officials, Lawmakers Reject Claim That Transfer Of Funds To Scholarship Program Was Improper

By Sean Whaley | 4:21 pm July 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State officials and lawmakers are rejecting the suggestion that they acted improperly last year when fees generated from several college savings programs were shifted to shore up the cash-strapped Gov. Guinn Millennium Scholarship for academically eligible Nevada high school graduates.

But one former lawmaker, who voted for the transfer, acknowledges he remains concerned about the decision.

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee voted in July 2010 to transfer $4.2 million in fees from the college savings programs to the Millennium Scholarship to ensure eligible college students would get full reimbursement for classes they took last year.

The College Savings Board had previously voted to use the money for other purposes, including support for the Nevada Prepaid Tuition program, a separate fund managed by the Treasurer’s Office for Nevada families to save for college within the Nevada System of Higher Education.

The transfer was unanimously approved by the 21 members of the IFC after lawmakers were told the fees to be used to shore up the scholarship fund would not affect participants or their investments in the separately managed college savings programs. The fees are paid by families investing in the various college savings plans to brokers, who in turn remit a portion of those fees to the state Treasurer’s Office.

Just over 471,000 college savings accounts, most of them from out-of-state residents, have been opened in the four programs offered through the state Treasurer’s Office as of March 31, 2011. Just over 7,000 Nevadans are enrolled in the programs and they do not pay any fees for participating.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative Nevada think tank, on Wednesday published an article by Steve Miller suggesting that the shift of funds was illegal and that Nevadans participating in the Prepaid Tuition program may now have grounds to sue the College Savings Board because of the IFC vote.

Miller, vice president for policy at NPRI, cited a “nationally experienced securities attorney,” who was consulted on a confidential basis for the conclusions in his article.

“Because the Prepaid Tuition program was damaged by the IFC action — made financially weaker than it otherwise would have been — investors in the program would have legal standing against the program, said the attorney, who was consulted on a confidential basis,” he said in his article.

The Treasurer’s Office rejected the notion that the Prepaid Tuition program was harmed by the IFC action.

In a press release issued Thursday, state Treasurer Kate Marshall said the Prepaid Tuition program is funded at 108 percent.

“The program is solid, as demonstrated by the dramatic increase in the funded status and a 15 percent increase in new contracts totaling 594 in 2011,” she said.

Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall

Steve George, chief of staff for Marshall, said the article did not indicate that the IFC vote to transfer the funds was unanimous. The College Savings Board did not object to the transfer at its August meeting following the IFC vote either, he said.

“Treasurer Marshall and this office had worked for months to try and come up with some solution that might work to keep the Millennium going forward to the next legislative session,” he said. “That was accomplished by that move, and that’s why I made the comment that this is something that works for the Millennium, and it also does not harm college savings and prepaid.”

Even with the $4.2 million transfer to the Millennium Scholarship, the College Savings Board has transferred nearly $1.56 million over the two past fiscal years to the Prepaid Tuition Program, George said.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said he believes the article unfairly singled out Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, for criticism. Horsford was co-chairman of the IFC at the time. The IFC is composed of the Legislature’s two money committees.

“I believe that we were making the best decision based on the information that was available to us and our legal counsel,” he said. “And so I think we all did it together and we did something that we thought was appropriate that we could do and legal counsel said we could do it.”

The transfer was needed to ensure kids received their Millennium Scholarships, Denis said.

Minutes of the July 21 special IFC meeting show that lawmakers were told the shift of funds was legal by Chief Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes.

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said he believes the transfer was both lawful and appropriate.

“I think that not only was it legal, but it kept students, who anticipated getting tuition money, in college,” he said.

But Hardy said he does not take issue with a watchdog group keeping an eye on the activities of the Legislature.

The allegation that lawmakers may have acted improperly has political implications.

Horsford is rumored to be considering a run for Congress in a seat as yet undefined due to a legal dispute over the required redistricting process.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.

Horsford declined to comment on the NPRI article.

Marshall, a Democrat, is also running for congress in a special election in the vacant 2nd Congressional District against former state Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City.

Miller also quotes former long-time state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, as questioning the appropriateness of the transfer, but does not point out that Raggio “reluctantly” voted for the shift.

Raggio said the article accurately describe his concerns, which remain even with the advice from legal counsel. Funds held in trust should be used for the purposes specified, he said.

“Lawyers can differ, and even though Brenda said so at the time, there is always a question,” Raggio said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did challenge it.”

Miller said today he focused on Horsford in the article because the lawmaker was the point man pushing for the transfer. The unanimous IFC vote wasn’t included because lawmakers often rubber stamp such requests, he said.

Miller said he decided to run the story based on the one attorney’s comments because of the individual’s credibility. As a result of the article Miller said he has received a comment from one Nevada attorney about the potential for challenging the shift of funds.

The Millennium Scholarship is named for the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, who created the program in 1999 with legislative approval.

Gov. Brian Sandoval recommended adding $10 million in general funds to the scholarship in the 2011 legislative session, which was approved. The scholarship is now believed to be financially whole through at least 2015. It was originally intended to be fully supported by money from a tobacco company settlement, but those funds have declined annually due to lower smoking rates.

Audio clips:

Treasurer’s Office Chief of Staff Steve George says the vote by the IFC kept the scholarship program whole without harming the college savings or prepaid tuition programs:

072811George1 :23 savings and prepaid.”

George says the Prepaid Tuition Program is financially sound:

072811George2 :27 to go forward.”

Sen. Mo Denis says lawmakers made a unanimous decision based on the best information available:

072811Denis1 :20 could do it.”

Sen. Joe Hardy says the vote was legal and kept kids in college:

072811Hardy1 :19 stay in college.”

Hardy says he has no problem with watchdog groups keeping an eye on lawmaker activities, however:

072811Hardy2 :17 doing what’s right.”

Former Sen. Bill Raggio says he would not be surprised if someone does challenge the transfer:

072811Raggio1 :12 did challenge it.”

NPRI’s Steve Miller says he focused on Horsford in the article because the lawmaker was the point man pushing for the transfer:

072811Miller1 :32 some political power.”

 

 

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.”

Major Campaign Finance Reform Bills Pass Senate, Move Closer To Final Approval

By Sean Whaley | 11:12 pm May 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Two major bills seeking reforms to and transparency in Nevada’s campaign finance laws won approval in the Senate today and now must await review in the Assembly before they can go to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his consideration.

The Senate approved amended versions of Assembly Bills 81 and 452 on the final day for action on policy bills in the Legislature. Lawmakers have a week remaining to finish their business.

The third major reform measure sought by Secretary of State Ross Miller, Assembly Bill 82, has already passed both houses of the Legislature but also awaits final legislative action.

The Assembly must still act on amendments to all three of the measures added by the Senate before the bills can go to the governor.

The vote on AB81 could spell trouble for its future, however. It passed on a party-line, 11-10 vote with Republicans opposed.

The vote on AB452 was 14-7, but was brought back for reconsideration on a second vote where it picked up unanimous support in the Senate.

There was no debate on the measures before the votes, which occurred during two different floor sessions during a long day at the Legislature.

Miller said he was pleased with the progress of the legislation, and that chances are good for major campaign finance reform this session.

“All three bills that deal with campaign finance transparency and election reform have passed both houses, so we just need to have them reconciled in the Assembly and then eventually have the governor sign them, so, very, very promising,” he said. “We won’t count our chickens before they are hatched, but a very good sign.

“I think collectively taken together this will take a substantial step forward in terms of campaign finance and election reform,” Miller said. “It has been clear for a long time that Nevadans deserve better. This will dramatically improve Nevada’s elections statutes.”

AB81 contains a provision restricting the creation of political action committees to circumvent limits on how much money can be contributed to a campaign as is now being reviewed in Rory Reid’s failed gubernatorial bid.

Miller’s office is investigating Reid’s use of 90 shell political action committees his campaign established to funnel $750,000 into his failed race for Nevada governor. Reid has said the use of the multiple PACs was legal.

Another section of the bill would allow for bigger financial penalties if a third-party group spends money in a Nevada campaign without filing the required disclosure information.

AB452 would require on-line filing of campaign contribution and expense reports by most candidates and require earlier reporting of the information so voters could review the data before casting their ballots.

Reports would be filed four days before early voting and would be updated to reflect any additional contributions and expenses four days prior to the primary and general elections.

It would also make the Secretary of State’s office the central repository for the campaign reports for all elections, as well as for financial disclosure statements required of candidates and elected officials. These reports would also be filed electronically.

The information would be maintained in a searchable database so the public could review the reports in a simple and comprehensive way.

In testimony before the panel earlier this session, Miller said: “A big part of the transparency we want to provide is letting voters know who is funding the campaigns. The reasons of course are obvious, and the need is equally obvious, even to those outside of Nevada.”

A provision in the bill requiring a two-year cooling-off period for former lawmakers to lobby the Legislature was deleted by the Senate Operations and Elections Committee. The provision, which also applied to other public officers, was seen as problematic for the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.

The prohibition had been sought by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Assembly Legislative Affairs and Operations Committee, supported the deletion in the Senate committee hearing, saying other sections of the measure were too important to lose.

AB82, which would allow a county to establish an electronic voter registration system, was amended to include a provision prohibiting candidates from accepting campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

The amendment was sought by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in response to a controversy over a separate bill seeking to legalize Internet poker in Nevada. Several lawmakers received contributions from PokerStars, the foreign-based company seeking the measure. Most lawmakers receiving the contributions said they were unaware the company, based in the Isle of Man, was foreign.

Federal law prohibits contributions from foreign nationals, but Nevada’s law was not clear on the issue.

Audio clips:

Ross Miller says opportunity for campaign finance reform looks good in 2011 legislative session:

053011Miller1 :24 very good sign.”

Miller says three measures are a major step forward for transparency in Nevada’s election processes:

053011Miller2 :16 Nevada’s elections statutes.”

 

Lawmakers Show Another Party-Line Split On Sandoval’s Urban County Property Tax Shift For Higher Education

By Sean Whaley | 2:17 pm May 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Members of the Legislature’s two money committees reviewed Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget for higher education today in preparation for making final decisions on how to fund the state’s public university system for the next two years.

Members of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees reviewed a 20-page document setting out alternatives to Sandoval’s budget, which would reduce state support to the Nevada System of Higher Education by $162 million.

The document was initially made public, then withdrawn when legislative staff said the information was not intended to be released. The information was later provided by a lobbyist electronically and posted by political commentator Jon Ralston.

It shows various options that will likely generate partisan votes by the money committees when they do take final action on the higher education budget. But one element of a funding plan, implementing higher student fees, may see broader support.

Students could see a 13 percent  per credit hour “surcharge” as part of the funding plan, raising the nearly $157 charged for university undergraduate courses now to $200 by 2013, a 27 percent increase. Fees for other levels of courses would rise by the same percentages.

But it was a proposal by Sandoval to divert nine cents of property tax from Clark and Washoe counties to help support the state’s two universities that produced the most spirited debate of the session. The transfer would put $120 million in local revenue into the two institutions. The rationale from Sandoval is that Clark and Washoe counties derive an economic benefit in having the institutions house in their communities.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said it should be all or none. Either all 17 counties should be asked to contribute local property tax to higher education or none should, he said.

Asking for a motion, Democrats on the two committees voted to oppose Sandoval’s recommendation of shifting money only from Clark and Washoe. Republicans supported the governor.

The vote created another hole in the Sandoval budget following votes earlier this week to add nearly $700 million in funding to public education by the same two panels. Those votes were party line as well with Republicans opposed.

Horsford said it is an issue of fairness.

“I for the life of me don’t understand how only two counties are responsible for having to fill the budget hole of the higher education system which is a benefit of all Nevadans and all counties,” he said.

“It’s either all in or none,” Horsford said.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said he does see the logic of the Sandoval plan because of the economic benefit to Clark and Washoe counties from the presence of the two universities, but added he would be willing to consider applying the tax shift to all counties.

That proposal did not get much support from rural lawmakers, however.

“I guess the problem I have; in several of the rural counties that I represent are just really close to going bankrupt,” said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora. “And if that happens the state is going to have to take them over of course. White Pine County and some of those other counties are really hurting.”

Horsford replied that some other rural counties have huge reserves.

“Clark and Washoe counties are not doing all that great either,” he said.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, said some rural counties are at the maximum property tax levy allowed by law and could not afford the shift.

“Where do the counties get the money to not only pay this but the other things that we’re looking at pushing down to them when they can’t raise their tax if they wanted to because of the cap,” he asked.

Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, said Washoe County is at the tax cap as well.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, said the property tax shift is being proposed because Nevada is “cheap.”

“We’ve been stuck in a paradigm for years in this state and the paradigm is we’re cheap,” he said. “That’ right. We don’t want to pay. And the reality is, that we think that because we’re cheap, people will come. I’ve got to tell you, people don’t come to places that are cheap, they come to places of value.”

Democrats earlier this week released details of a tax plan they will pursue to restore $920 million in cuts to education and health and human services programs, including $120 million to higher education.

But Sandoval and GOP lawmakers have already rejected the plan. Democrats cannot raise taxes without Republican support.

Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the property tax shift to higher education should come from all counties or none:

050711Horsford :13 counties, or none.”

Sen. Dean Rhoads says some rural counties are on the verge of bankruptcy:

050711Rhoads :21 are really hurting.”

Assemblyman Tom Grady says some counties cannot raise their property taxes to compensate for the shift:

050711Grady :15 of the cap.”

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin says the property tax plan is being proposed because Nevada is cheap:

050711Conklin :23 places of value.”

 

 

Democrats Unveil Tax Plan, Republicans Remain Opposed To Revenue Hikes To Restore Cuts To Sandoval Budget

By Sean Whaley | 4:36 pm May 5th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Legislative Democrats unveiled the elements of their highly anticipated tax plan today, saying they will work every day until the end of the session to craft a proposal that restores many of the cuts in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget without choking off a nascent economic recovery.

“What we do this legislative session will decide the course of our state, not for the next two years, but for a generation,” Assembly Speaker John Oceguera said in his introductory remarks at a town hall event at Western Nevada College. “Everyone here I think agrees that there has to be cuts to our budget, and major reforms, but there has to be a careful balance.”

Democrats still do not have Republican support for their tax proposal, however. GOP lawmaker support is critical to raising any tax or overriding a veto by Sandoval of a tax or fee increase.

Democrats said they briefed Sandoval and Republican lawmakers on their plan today, but received no commitment for support. Sandoval has been unwavering in his opposition to any tax increases to fund the budget, saying the state economy could stagnate with such an added financial burden.

Oceguera and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, both D-Las Vegas, held a town hall on their tax plan, saying the state needs to restore $920 million in cuts to education and health and human services to keep important programs and services funded in the coming two years.

They said another $615 million in new revenue is needed to address “structural” problems with Sandoval’s two-year, $6.1 billion general fund budget, bringing the total new revenue required to $1.5 billion. The structural problems identified by Democrats are the use of one-time funds to balance the current budget, such as the proposal to use $247 million in school district bond reserve funds for school operating costs, which will not be available in the next budget cycle in 2013.

The plan is to extend the sunset on several tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature to fund the current budget to generate $626 million of the total. This would include an extension of the higher modified business tax on payroll in excess of $250,000.

It also calls for a tax on services of 1 percent to 4 percent. The new tax would exclude some areas such as non-elective medical care, and would allow for the reduction of the sales tax rate by at least 1 percent over four years. It would generate an estimated $300 million.

Finally, Democrats are calling for a “margin tax” on business revenue not to exceed 1 percent and exempting the first $1 million in revenue. As part of this proposal, the current modified business tax on payroll would be phased out over a three-year period. The new tax would generate an estimated $315 million.

The balance of the $1.5 billion would come primarily from the increased revenues projected by the Economic Forum on Monday of about $303 million.

Oceguera said as part of the tax discussion, Democrats are also pushing reforms to public education to generate improved student performance, to the public employees’ retirement system, to collective bargaining and on other issues. If Republicans want to go further on these issues they need to offer specifics, and not call for complete elimination of such long-standing policies as public employee collective bargaining, he said.

Democrats are standing alone with their ambitious tax proposal so far, however.

Describing the meetings with Republican lawmakers, Oceguera said: “There was a lot of questions, it was very civil, there wasn’t any commitments made, but I thought we had a good open dialogue.”

In a formal response to the plan, Republican members of the state Senate said today: “Republican members remain gravely concerned that the proposed taxes, including a brand new tax specifically targeting business, will have a chilling effect on Nevada’s ability to emerge from the ongoing economic recession.”

Sandoval also provide a response to the plan: “We had a frank discussion about our differences of opinion concerning the impact of raising taxes, and I restated my belief that raising taxes in this economy would be a mistake. Nevada is just beginning to demonstrate signs of economic recovery and this proposal would bring job growth to a halt, at a time when we have proven that growing our way out of this crisis can address our budgetary needs. In the last three months, we have been able to restore nearly half a billion dollars to the state budget, including millions for public education.”

Horsford said the Democrat tax plan would help most small businesses by eliminating the payroll tax, which he said is a disincentive on employment and job creation.

“It may have been a good tax when we had an unemployment rate of 4 percent . . . but it is not a viable tax when we have unemployment at the rates that we have today,” he said. “The margin tax is fair, it is equitable, it is broad, it is stable, it is less volatile.”

The tax discussion has ramped up with only four weeks remaining in the 2011 session.

Audio clips:

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera says the state budget must be cut, and reforms are needed, but there has to be a balance:

050511Oceguera1 :22 a careful balance.”

Oceguera says GOP was briefed on plan but no commitments were offered:

050511IOceguera2 :16 information up front.”

Oceguera says Republicans need to offer specific policy reforms:

050511Oceguera3 :17 but no substance.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says eliminating payroll tax would help most small businesses:

050511Horsford1 :21 jobs on line.”

Horsford says the margin tax is superior to payroll tax:

050511Horsford2 :22 is less volatile.”

 

Nevada Budget Gets Funding Boost From Economic Forum, Democrats Say It Isn’t Enough

By Sean Whaley | 8:21 pm May 2nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Work on closing Nevada’s two-year $6 billion general fund budget will begin in earnest tomorrow after the Economic Forum today finalized its tax revenue projections for the coming two years.

But legislative Democrats and Gov. Brian Sandoval remain far apart on an acceptable spending plan even with a $218 million general fund revenue increase.

The Senate and Assembly money committees have scheduled a joint meeting Tuesday to consider the contentious public education budget now that the tax revenue picture is clear.

At a briefing after the Economic Forum completed its work, legislative Democrats said they will finalize their funding recommendations for public schools at the joint hearing at levels beyond the new forum estimates and beyond what Sandoval has proposed, setting up a showdown over the budget.

Identifying new revenues to fill any resulting funding gap remains a work in progress for Democrats, however.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, welcomed the news of the enhanced revenue that totals about $274 million, but said it is not enough to fill all the gaps that remain in the budget.

“It is our responsibility as elected officials to lead, and our responsibility to pass a budget that meets our obligations to our students, seniors and to all Nevadans,” he said. “The governor’s budged did not do that yesterday and it does not do that today.”

Other Democrats agreed.

“That’s simply not acceptable,” Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said of the level of funding in the public schools budget. “So tomorrow, we will move to close those budgets at an acceptable level.”

Sandoval said in a statement the state economy is too fragile to consider higher taxes: “We must, however, realize that while today’s news is welcome, our state’s economy is still fragile. As the Legislature continues to close budgets, it is of the utmost importance to maintain our business-friendly climate to help foster job growth and put our fellow Nevadans back to work.”

The Economic Forum, a panel of private-sector fiscal experts, raised the outlook for most of the state’s tax revenues after an all-day hearing, with the notable exception of gaming. When all was said and done, the general fund will see just under $218 million in new revenue for the next two years.

Because the panel upped the projection for the state share of the sales tax, the schools share of the tax will also benefit by about $113 million. With a reduction due to property tax calculations, the total new funding is $274 million available to Sandoval and lawmakers as they work to finalize a budget for the two fiscal years beginning July 1.

Sandoval said he wants all of the new funding to go to the public education budget.

Democrats in the Legislature say that the additional revenue is inadequate to fund necessary services for the next two years, leaving Sandoval and Republican lawmakers at odds with their Democrat counterparts.

Democrats do not have the votes, however, to raise taxes without support from Republican lawmakers. It requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes and to override a veto from the governor.

Sandoval will address the state on television at 6 p.m. tomorrow to make the case for support of his budget with the enhanced revenues. Sandoval has vowed to veto any funding plan that requires new taxes or fees.

Complicating the budget dispute is the time element. The Legislature must adjourn its 120-day session by June 6.

Democrats will soon have to introduce a tax plan in order to fully fund the K-12 budget they will propose tomorrow.

Even with today’s revised projections, the gap between what Democrats want and what the governor proposes is about $1 billion just for the K-12 budget.

Horsford said the first order of business is to finalize the budget and determine what level of new spending is required, but the clock is ticking on a revenue plan. If Democrats can muster support for a tax increase, any such measure would have to be passed by the end of the month in order to have time to override a Sandoval veto.

 Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the public education budget will be finalized at an acceptable level:

050211Smith :07 acceptable level, thank-you.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says Sandoval budget remains inadequate even with additional tax revenues:

050211Horsford :15 do that today.”