Posts Tagged ‘Interim Finance Committee’

Gov. Sandoval Says He Has Complied With Budget Disclosure Requirements

By Sean Whaley | 1:11 pm October 26th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today his administration has fully complied with a requirement in state law to provide preliminary state budget data to lawmakers and their staff.

“The agency requests have been presented to the Legislature in accordance with the law,” he said. “I don’t see any problems.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Lawmakers on Thursday questioned state Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp on why some components of the initial agency request budget, known as “items for special consideration,” were not supplied to their fiscal staff as has been past practice. The items are funding requests beyond the agency base-budget requests for the 2013-15 spending plan. Expanding Medicaid to a new population of eligible Nevadans as allowed for under the Affordable Care Act is one such request.

Mohlenkamp said his office does not believe the special consideration items are part of the budget information required to be provided under Nevada Revised Statutes 353.211.

Sandoval said today the issue should not be characterized as one involving the transparency of his office.

“We are still gathering information on the Medicaid question,” he said. “We have not gotten all the instructions that we need from the federal government in order to completely prepare that. So anything that would be presented would not be complete at this time.”

Sandoval said his recommended budget will be made public in a “matter of weeks” and that release should satisfy lawmakers.

The budget is typically presented following the governor’s State of the State address in mid-January.

Sandoval said today it is unfair for anyone to suggest his administration failed to follow state law in the release of the budget data without providing any specifics about the alleged violation.

“There is no violation of law,” he said. “We’re perfectly consistent and in accordance with Nevada state law.”

Lawmakers expressed their concerns at a meeting of the Interim Finance Committee.

Rick Combs, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said the additional budget information has been provided to legislative staff historically as specified in state law. It has also been made available to the public after being transmitted  to fiscal staff electronically by the state budget office on Oct. 15.

“The part that is of concern to us there is twofold,” Combs told the committee. “Your staff doesn’t have access to the information. The other concern is that information that is provided to us on Oct. 15 is supposed to be open for public dissemination at that point.”

Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said Nevada statues, both 353.205 and 353.211, require the information to be provided to legislative fiscal staff. NRS 353.211 says in part that the information to be provided must include: “Each agency’s requested budget for the next 2 fiscal years.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said at the meeting it is an ongoing issue that needs to be resolved.

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Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says his administration has complied with state law:

102612Sandoval2 :05 see any problems.”

Sandoval says the Medicaid expansion issue is still not finalized:

102612Sandoval :13 at this time.”

 

Legislative Panel OKs Budget Changes So $3 Million Tourism Contract Can Be Finalized

By Sean Whaley | 4:04 pm August 23rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – A legislative panel today quickly approved budget changes sought by a state agency so it can finalize a $3 million contract with an out-of-state firm to spearhead tourism efforts in Nevada.

Burson-Marsteller, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, was the unanimous selection of an evaluation committee made up of Nevada tourism professionals. The company will be working with Red Rock Strategies of Las Vegas.

The vote by the Interim Finance Committee came after the changes sought by the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs were delayed by the panel in a first go-round in June. The panel delayed action on the request after Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, questioned if the firm had any knowledge of Nevada.

Tourism agency Director Claudia Vecchio said in previous testimony the firm will work with Nevada officials to market Nevada’s many attractions and is bringing national and international contacts that will benefit the state.

The budget changes were delayed in June at the request of Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.

Today Carlton said her questions have been answered and her concerns resolved.

The state Board of Examiners, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, approved the $3 million contract with the firm in July after hearing that the selection process was thorough and followed all state rules.

Nineteen firms, eight from in-state and 11 from outside Nevada, submitted proposals to secure the contract. None of the four finalists were from Nevada, a fact which generated some critical comment from at least one Nevada public relations firm.

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Audio clip:

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton says her questions about the firm have been resolved:

082312Carlton :28 what’s going on.”

 

 

Lawmakers Approve $11.7 Million Plan From Attorney General To Help Homeowners In Foreclosure Crisis

By Sean Whaley | 2:55 pm August 23rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Several lawmakers raised questions today about a proposal put forth by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to spend $33 million over three years on outreach, counseling and legal assistance to homeowners who are facing foreclosure.

The program outlined for the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (IFC) by Masto is proposed to be the first phase of a plan to use $57 million Nevada received from the country’s five largest banks as part of a national settlement over the mortgage crisis. Nevada received another $30 million in a separate settlement with Bank of America.

Despite the concerns expressed during a lengthy discussion, the vote to approve the program was unanimous.

Photo posted by Gruntzooki via Wikimedia Commons.

The program is expected to provide a one-stop shop for homeowners to get free access to certified counselors and legal assistance if needed so they can access the many programs available to those who qualify.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, expressed concerns that the IFC, made up of the members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, was being asked to approve a program before it could be evaluated by the full Legislature in 2013.

He also questioned whether the $33 million in expenditures for the services outlined by Masto was the best use for the money rather than getting it directly into the hands of homeowners in need.

Concerns were also expressed by a number of other Republican members of the IFC about aspects of the proposal.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, questioned if the IFC even had the legal authority to implement such a major policy decision.

“I mean, if this was a proposal that came to the Legislature, we would have days of hearings on it in multiple chambers,” he said. “This is a, I think, major policy decision about how we’re addressing one of the most significant problems facing the people of this state and it’s being made by a small subset of the legislative body and there are voters in this state who are disenfranchised from making this decision.”

But the Legislative Counsel said it was appropriate and similar actions have been taken in the past by the committee.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the program outlined by Masto will help distressed Nevada homeowners access $25 billion available nationwide that will be doled out on a first-come, first-served, basis. Failing to get the program started now could mean that Nevada homeowners, among those hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, will not get their share of those funds, he said.

The debate over the $33 million is missing the big picture, Horsford said.

The approval today was only for the first year’s worth of funding of $11.7 million. The $10.8 million in years two and three will be part of the Attorney General’s proposed budget for the 2013-15 biennium that will be reviewed by lawmakers in 2013.

The first year budget includes $9.4 million for public outreach and access to HUD-certified counselors. Another nearly $1.2 million will go to Nevada Legal Services and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to provide assistance to homeowners. Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley is executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

Nearly $570,000 will be spent on expanding an existing call center operated by the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corporation (NAHAC), a non-profit arm of the Nevada Housing Division. Just under $500,000 will go to the Attorney General’s office for staff and expenses to investigate mortgage fraud and administer the entire program.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, expressed concerns about the funding for the legal aid, questioning if the money would be used to commence new legal actions against the banks on behalf of specific distressed homeowners. Her concerns were echoed by Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.

Masto assured lawmakers the spending on legal aid will be used to assist homeowners, not initiate lawsuits.

“This is not about giving legal aid so they can go out and start suing,” she said. “This is actually about providing relief to the homeowners who are distressed. There’s a lot of legal issues they may deal with beyond just suing the banks. And that’s what legal aid provides.”

Despite the concerns lawmakers agreed the urgency of the situation required their action.

“We do need to get the ball rolling,” Goicoechea said. “It isn’t doing us any good in this state to have people living in homes, not making any type of mortgage payment on it, destroying that home, and the bank doesn’t have the ability to foreclose it, can’t get the certification in place, and it isn’t doing our state or our economy any good.”

The funds to be used for the program were paid by the banks to settle state and federal investigations into robo-signing allegations.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says the major policy decision should be made by the entire Legislature:

082312Kieckhefer :26 making this decision.”

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea says that while he has concerns, the state needs to take action:

082312Goicoechea :17 economy any good.”

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto says the legal aid funds won’t be used to sue the banks:

082312Masto :13 legal aid provides.”

 

State Lawmaker Says Action To Delay Tourism Contract Exceeds Legislative Authority

By Sean Whaley | 1:12 pm June 22nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – State lawmakers have put a new tourism contract to promote Nevada on hold despite the concerns of one lawmaker that the move exceeds legislative authority.

Concerns have been raised by Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, about the intent to award the two-year, $3.2 million contract to an out-of-state firm.

Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest public relations firms in the country, was selected by a state agency to handle the promotion of Nevada for the next two years.

“We haven’t had a bad tourism plan in the past, so I have some real reservations,” Horsford said during Thursday’s Interim Finance Committee meeting. “And to bring in a national firm, that I think is based out of New York, to come in here in our state and promote rural communities, that they don’t even know where they are, let alone what they do; I have some real questions and reservations about that.”

Horsford is running for the 4th Congressional seat, which includes a large swath of rural Nevada in addition to parts of Clark County.

Ultimately lawmakers decided to hold off on approving budgetary changes sought by Claudia Vecchio, director of the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, that would allow the contract to go forward, citing several questions they wanted answered first.

Tourism Director Claudia Vecchio. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

That decision was opposed by Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said lawmakers are exceeding their constitutional authority by intervening in an Executive Branch function.

“The fact of the matter is that some people didn’t like the contract so now they’re not going to appropriate the funding,” he said. “That’s going backwards and that’s not our job.”

The Legislature appropriates revenue and authorizes expenditures, but it is up to the Executive Branch to implement those decisions, Kieckhefer said. The decision was an attempt to do a de facto denial of the contract and it overstepped legislative authority, he said.

“I totally understand the concern that we’re spending a significant amount of money on a big contract with an out-of-state vendor,” Kieckhefer said. “But the simple fact of the matter is that no Nevada company was in the top five in this (Request for Proposals).

“I wish we would spend money in Nevada and we do as much as we can,” he said. “But this bid process followed every law that we have in statute, followed every policy set by the Legislature in terms of bidder preference and things like that, and the simple fact of the matter is that this was the best company to do the job. And their job is to drive more traffic to Nevada to enhance our economy, to enhance our biggest industry, which is still hospitality and tourism and gaming.”

Delaying a contract that will help the state’s economy grow is ludicrous, Kieckhefer said.

Vecchio defended the contract and selection process at the meeting. Nineteen companies submitted proposals, but none of the four finalists were from Nevada, a fact which generated comment from at least one Nevada public relations firm.

Burson-Marsteller, which is actually based in Los Angeles, was the unanimous selection of an evaluation committee made up of Nevada tourism professionals, Vecchio said. The company will be working with Red Rock Strategies out of Las Vegas, she said.

The contract has been drawn up and signed by both parties, but it remains contingent upon approval of state officials.

Vecchio said the firm will provide national and international contacts that will benefit the state.

“The value that you get back, and the value that comes back to a destination by working with the best in the business, is tenfold, twentyfold over what it is with somebody who just has that local perspective,” she said.

Burson-Marsteller has proposed an idea for a smart phone application that will provide a way for visitors to craft itineraries and access to services in both cellular telephone service and non-service areas, Vecchio said. Much of rural Nevada does not have cellular phone service, but the information will be downloaded to the phone and so will be available to visitors, she said.

“That’s a game changer for this state,” Vecchio said. “So it is the understanding of our visitor needs that is so important to our success.”

Vecchio, appointed in October 2011 by Gov. Brian Sandoval to the tourism job,has previously worked for Burson-Marsteller in Dallas as well as for the Edelman public relations firm in Chicago.

Horsford said he is certain that there are firms in Nevada with the regional and national experience that could perform the work although he said he did not know the identities of all 19 applicants.

“The Legislature set a policy that 5 percent preference should be given to Nevada-based businesses,” he said. “So this is a policy that the Legislature and the governor believe was important, particularly at this time when so many business, and advertising and PR is no exception, need the work.”

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Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the company picked for the tourism contract does not know Nevada:

062212Horsford1 :25 reservations about that.”

Horsford says Nevada has a policy to give a preference to state firms:

062212Horsford2 :21 need the work.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says the IFC vote exceeded its authority:

062212Kieckhefer1 :27 implements those things.”

Kieckhefer says the selection process followed all the rules:

062212Kieckhefer2 :23 in this RFP.”:

Tourism Director Claudia Vecchio says a national firm will provide major benefits to the state:

062212Vecchio :17 that local perspective.”

 

 

 

 

Lawmakers Criticize State Agencies For Seeking To Move Funds From Positions To Equipment

By Sean Whaley | 1:02 pm June 21st, 2012

CARSON CITY – Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said today he is disappointed that a number of state agencies are seeking to divert funds intended to fill vacant jobs to other purposes, including the purchase of vehicles, computers and furniture.

He accused them of “gaming the system” by seeking to shift their budget priorities one year after the Legislature adjourned and as the 2012 fiscal year comes to a close June 30.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“Now, a year later from us adjourning, we have agencies here requesting to move money from the personnel category, because you have been unable to fill the vacancies, for whatever reason, and now you want to spend it on furniture, on computers, on vehicles that you did not request or that you did not justify during the budget process,” Horsford said. “And I have to say, I take offense to that.”

Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he would be voting against all of the requests. He made the statement as the meeting of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee began. The committee meets in-between legislative sessions to approve changes in state agency budgets.

Horsford was joined in his concerns by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, a lawmaker who has typically been on the other side of issues with the Democrat during their years together in the state Senate. Horsford is running for the 4th Congressional seat that Cegavske had also sought as a Republican. She lost in the June 12 primary to Danny Tarkanian.

“And I am in whole-hearted agreement with you; will be voting against anything that is reverting those funds from what was positions that were asked for and they are saying they can’t fill,” Cegavske said. “One of the areas I’m really concerned about is whether or not they really tried to fill them.”

Horsford said if agency administrators knew they could not or chose not to fill positions reviewed by the Legislature in the 2011 session, the money could have been put to other critical needs.

“Because had we known that you didn’t need some of these positions, we could have made the decision to eliminate them at that time and then use that money in other priority areas of state government,” he said. “We have teachers being laid off, we have children not being served in developmental programs like early intervention services, we have people being turned away from our mental health hospitals, and we could have used this money.”

The first agency up for a request was the Taxicab Authority, which sought nearly $319,000 to relocate its Las Vegas office and purchase new furnishings and equipment.

Lawmakers asked why, if the agency knew its lease was expiring last fall, the idea of a move was not brought to the 2011 Legislature.

The Taxicab Authority staff testifying at the meeting have only recently joined the agency and had no information on why it was not addressed in the session. Charles Harvey took over as administrator of the agency in May, 2011. The session ended in early June, 2011.

The request was deferred to the next IFC meeting.

Horsford said he hopes that the new performance-based budgeting process being used to develop the next two-year budget for consideration in the 2013 session will address these issues.

“Because you should not automatically get funding for positions that you didn’t even fill in the last biennium as agencies,” he said.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says he is offended at the attempt by agencies to move funds from personnel to equipment purchases:

062112Horsford11 :30 offense to that.”

Horsford says if the positions were not needed the money could have been put to critical state needs:

062112Horsford2 :26 used this money.”

Sen. Barbara Cegavske says she questions if agencies even tried to fill the positions:

062112Cegavske :17 to fill them.”

 

 

Legislative Panel OKs $260K To Tax Department For Audit Team To Track Cigarette Sales

By Sean Whaley | 3:51 pm February 9th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee today approved a request from the Department of Taxation for $260,000 to hire a team of auditors to track cigarette sales to protect a $40 million a year payment to Nevada from the nation’s major tobacco companies.

Photo by Geierunited via Wikimedia Commons.

“The reason for the request is that Nevada is involved in a nationwide arbitration with a group of tobacco companies over the Master Settlement Agreement,” said William Chisel, director of the Tax Department. “The stakes of the arbitration are high. Nevada’s potential liability is up to $40 million for calendar year 2003. Nevada is also potentially liable for each subsequent year to the current totaling about $360 million.”

Chisel said it is important for the state to monitor the sales of cigarettes by the smaller tobacco companies that are not part of the MSA. The MSA has resulted in payments to Nevada and most other states since the agreement was finalized in 1998.

As part of the MSA, there is a requirement that these smaller companies set aside a portion of their tobacco sales in an escrow account in an amount proportionate to the payments made to the state by the major tobacco companies. The MSA provides for a reduction of the required annual payments by the major tobacco companies to any state which fails to adequately enforce these laws in a particular calendar year.

Chisel said the team will work to protect the payments that have already been made to the state.

The tobacco payments help fund the Gov. Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship for eligible Nevada high school graduates, among other programs.

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Audio clip:

William Chisel, director of the Tax Department, says the stakes are high in the arbitration with the tobacco companies:

020912Chisel :25 about $360 million.”

 

 

State Job Creation Efforts Move Forward With Funding Of New Economic Development Office

By Sean Whaley | 6:00 pm December 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Efforts by Gov. Brian Sandoval and state lawmakers to encourage new business creation, relocation and expansion in Nevada took a major step forward today when the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee approved nearly $3.5 million to fund a new economic development office.

The funding will enable Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development, to develop a state economic development plan and hire the staff needed to move forward on private sector job creation efforts.

Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The state plan, relying in part on research performed by the Brookings Institution and SRI International, is expected to be released in early February. The report identified seven economic sectors, some already in existence such as gaming and tourism, and some emerging, such as clean energy, where Nevada should focus its efforts.

Lawmakers peppered Hill with questions ranging from the measures that will be used to determine the success of his agency’s efforts at job creation to the proposed salaries of the eight positions that will be filled with a portion of the funding.

Positions approved for his office include three industry specialists at a maximum salary of $110,000 each, an industry analyst with a maximum salary of $90,000, a communications manager with a maximum salary of $80,000, and a technology commercialization director with a maximum salary of $110,000. There are also two support positions with maximum salaries of $40,000.

The new approach to economic development is the result of Assembly Bill 449, a measure sponsored by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers. The bill also established a $10 million Catalyst Fund to help firms relocated or expand in Nevada. The money will be used to provide grants to local governments for economic development projects.

“I am in the process of finishing my 10th week on the job,” Hill told lawmakers. “And I think I can provide very solid reasons for the request that we’re making today. But we’re also learning as we’re going along. We understand that resources are tight, not only throughout Nevada but through the country, and we want to spend this money in the most effective and efficient way possible.”

In response to lawmaker questions, Hill said the state plan will include ways to measure the success of the new effort.

“There will be a detailed description of how we will measure progress in economic development and in the development of our economy in the state,” he said.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, chairwoman of the IFC, asked Hill if the funding request is premature since the state plan has not yet been published.

“So I think the question is, without the state plan, where is the confidence level in moving forward with all of these positions and this work without the state plan being done, kind of relying solely on the Brookings report?” she asked.

Hill said the budget request will be in alignment with the state plan.

“And finally I think we all sense, the governor and the Legislature, everybody involved in economic development throughout the state, and the citizens of Nevada, an urgency to get started on this,” he said.

Nevada’s unemployment rate is the highest in the nation.

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Audio clips:

Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development says he wants to spend the money as efficiently as possible:

121511Hill1 :27 efficient way possible.”

Hill says the state plan will provide clear ways to measure progress:

121511Hill2 :11 in the state.”

Hill says there is an urgency to get started on the agency’s efforts:

121511Hill3 :16 started on this.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith questions the timing of the funding request without a state plan in place:

121511Smith :23 the Brookings report.”

 

State Lawmakers OK $65K For Ethics Commission To Hire Staff To Reduce Backlog Of Unpublished Opinions

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm December 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee today approved a funding request from the state Ethics Commission to hire a full-time attorney for six months to reduce a two-year backlog of unpublished opinions.

The request for $65,000 from the Legislature’s contingency fund provoked little comment from the panel, which is made up of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.

The funding will allow the commission to catch up on about 60 ethics matters in which decisions have been rendered but the opinions have yet to be published.

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer told lawmakers that the funding is not the complete answer to the workload issues facing the panel.

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer testifies before lawmakers today as commission Executive Director Caren Jenkins looks on. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau

“We also need to provide direction for our staff to be more efficient in putting out opinions,” he said. “We have discussed this in our commission meetings on several occasions and we have a subcommittee that has reviewed various ways in which we can efficiently get our opinions out to the public.”

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said the panel is facing many more requests for opinions than in past years. Because the emphasis has been on hearing and ruling on cases, the publishing of the opinions has fallen behind, she said.

The cases are also becoming increasingly complex, and attorneys now are frequently brought into the process by those facing hearings, Jenkins said.

Without some assistance, the backlog will not likely be addressed anytime soon, potentially creating due process delays that could become a liability for the state, she said.

“The backlog is not getting caught up, it is simply being added to with the current load,” Jenkins said. “We have a 300 percent increase in our caseload since the number of employees of the commission was increased in 2005.

“I don’t think it’s good business, and no court would be allowed to be two years behind in issuing its opinions without a huge outcry,” she said. “And the Commission on Ethics, I hope, never finds itself in this circumstance again.”

While not mentioning him by name, Jenkins referred to the case of former Lyon County Manger Dennis Stark, who appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, and who is still waiting for a published order in his case. Stark was found to have committed one ethics violation.

In a Nevada News Bureau story highlighting his case, Stark said he wants to appeal the Ethics Commission decision but cannot do so without the published opinion. Not having a resolution to his case has made it difficult for him to find a new job, he said.

Jenkins said that while the temporary staff is needed, the commission is looking at ways to streamline its processes to improve efficiencies without additional funding. The commission is not required to issue published opinions in all cases, and it may be time to change that practice, she said.

Opinions are only required in decisions that go against the individual appearing before the commission, Jenkins said.

Even so the commission may still seek an additional staff attorney when it comes to the Legislature in 2013, she said.

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Audio clips:

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer says the panel is looking at ways to become more efficient:

121511Beyer :28 to the public.”

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the Ethics Commission says the backlog is not getting caught up:

121511Jenkins1 :15 increased in 2005.”

Jenkins says the cases that come to the commission are increasingly complex:

121511Jenkins2 :09 they’re lawyering up.”

Jenkins says it’s not good business to be so far behind in issuing its opinions:

121511Jenkins3 :14 this circumstance again.”

 

State Ethics Commission Seeks $65K To Hire Staff To Reduce Backlog Of Unpublished Opinions

By Sean Whaley | 5:34 pm December 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Faced with a two-year backlog of unpublished opinions, the state Ethics Commission is seeking $65,000 from a contingency fund to hire an attorney to help deal with the situation.

Photo by Tom Ventura via Flickr.

The request for funding from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Contingency Fund would allow the commission to contract with a temporary full-time attorney for six months beginning in January 2012 to help in getting the backlog of opinions written and published.

The funding request will first go to the state Board of Examiners on Tuesday. If approved by the board, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, the request will be considered by the Interim Finance Committee at its Dec. 15 meeting.

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, reported the backlog at an Ethics Commission meeting earlier this year. In an interview with the Nevada News Bureau in November, Jenkins said the agency has fallen behind in issuing written opinions because of a major increase in public officials seeking guidance.

There were 67 requests for opinions in 2004, and she expects 172 this year. Jenkins said she has one investigator for the entire state who must review each case.

“The demands on our staff have become almost laughable,” she said in the interview. “We have three-times the workload for when they thought we needed five full-time staffers.”

As a result, the publishing of its formal opinions in the cases has fallen about two years behind with 50 opinions yet to be written, Jenkins said.

The agency sought two new positions in the 2011 session to help address the backlog, but the Legislature did not approve them, given all the other critical demands on the budget, she said.

The opinions, when written, are published on the agency’s website to provide guidance for others, Jenkins said.

The inability of the commission staff to get the opinions written has had real word consequences.

Former Lyon County Manger Dennis Stark, who appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, was still waiting for a published order in his case when interviewed by the NNB last month.

Without it, Stark said he has been unable to pursue a court appeal on the one charge for which he was found to have violated state ethics laws. With no final record of the hearing, Stark, who called the one infraction minor and the result of fabricated testimony, said he cannot successfully seek employment either.

Lawmakers, State Agencies Argue Over Budget Compliance

By Anne Knowles | 7:04 pm August 31st, 2011

Nevada lawmakers today approved money to cover the costs of the upcoming special election, received an update on the progress of the state’s health care insurance exchange and complained repeatedly that state agencies were thumbing their noses at the legislative process.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, saw passage of her bill regulating the use of leg hold traps./Nevada News Bureau file photo

The Interim Finance Committee approved more than 100 requests for funds from nearly every state agency, but reprimanded a handful who legislators said were not adhering to budgets passed during the last legislative session.

“This is some of the most blatant disregard of legislative intent that I’ve ever seen,” said Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. “I hope this doesn’t continue this interim. I know these are tough times, but we must follow the law.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, the committee chair, also voiced concern several times that issues before the committee should have been resolved during the budgeting process.

When about $33,000 was requested to hire a consultant to help the Nevada Department of Transportation track the state’s inventory of vacant lands in compliance with Assembly Bill 404, Smith asked Paul Saucedo, NDOT chief right-of-way agent, why NDOT had not submitted a fiscal note delineating the need for that money with the bill.

Smith then almost tabled a request from the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs (DTCA) because it was found that the department is now using a contract worker to do the work of a job eliminated when the budgets were approved by the legislature.

“This is a budget discussion and should have taken place then,” said Smith.

In the end, the DTCA request for $84,616 in federal National Endowment for the Arts money was approved because the agency would miss a deadline to request the federal grant money if the request was pushed to the committee’s next meeting.

“Let’s move it ahead so as not to lose the federal money,” said Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. “In the meantime, staff can work with them on this contract employee. We may pay $8,000 for a few months of the employee, but that’s better than losing $84,000.”

The committee was also concerned about a request to transfer about $4.5 million from the budget for the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) to the University of Nevada School of Medicine budget. The university’s goal was to keep the school of medicine budget cuts to a minimum in order to expand the school’s class sizes from 62 medical students to 100 and expand its nursing class from 98 students to 196, said Mark Johnson, UNR president.

Johnson said higher education had made certain programs a higher priority and was trying to maintain them while eliminating some and making others self supporting.

“We wanted a more fair and equitable approach,” said Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas referring to the legislative intent of higher education cuts. “I feel we are going backward by protecting one program at the expense of others.”

Secretary of State Ross Miller / Photo: Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The IFC also approved $539,137 to reimburse counties for costs incurred for the special election in the 2nd congressional district. Secretary of State Ross Miller said counties requested the money since none had budgeted for the special election. He said the money would cover fixed costs and would not be reduced by lower than anticipated turnout.

“This is the minimum amount needed to run it without jeopardizing the integrity of the election,” Miller told the committee.

Miller’s office requested the money from the state’s contingency fund, adding that $6 million the state has in reserve from the federal Help America Vote Act is not intended for special elections.

Lawmakers asked if the some of the money could come from an approximate $340,000 surplus in the Secretary’s office budget. Miller said his office is projecting a deficit, not a surplus and agreed to work with the Legislative Counsel Bureau staff to resolve the discrepancy in the budget projections of his office and the LCB.

The committee also received an update on the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange Nevada is building to meet requirements mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted by Congress.

The Department of Health and Human Services has received $1 million from the federal government for planning the exchange. HHS spent $320,000 in fiscal year 2011 and is rolling over the remainder into the next fiscal year. The department requested about $2.6 million of a $4 million establishment grant from the federal government to create a new agency and to fund four new positions – an executive director, operational officer, grants manager and executive assistant.

During the 2013 legislative session, the state will need to decide how to fund the exchange once federal support for it ends in 2015, said Michael Willden, HHS director.

Willden also said he was meeting with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office later in the day about possible appointments to the board that will oversee the exchange.  The board will consist of five members appointed by the governor, one member appointed by the state Senate majority leader, and one member chosen by the Assembly speaker.

The IFC also approved a subcommittee’s recommendations yesterday to cut or delay several building and maintenance projects due to budget constraints.

 

Budget Constraints Cut Into Public Works Projects

By Anne Knowles | 7:07 am August 31st, 2011

A legislative subcommittee decided yesterday to cut or delay several building and maintenance projects due to budget constraints. The Interim Finance Committee (IFC) today will vote whether to approve the recommendations made by the subcommittee.

A plan to retrofit part of High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs to create the Southern Regional Medical Facility was canceled, although Nevada Department of Corrections Director Greg Cox said he may request funding for the facility as well as a long-term care facility in the northern part of the state at the next legislative session.

“We can manage for now,” said Cox. “The long-term care facility would reduce overall medical costs, but we are managing our population quite well through our ‘True Grit’ program, which is a model for other states.”

Parking lots in the state’s capitol complex in Carson City as well as the Bradley Building and the Buildings and Grounds building in Las Vegas will be minimally maintained until they can be replaced because the pavement has deteriorated significantly.

“The idea right now is to make them last through minimal maintenance and come back for removal and replacement,” said Gus Nunez, administrator of the Public Works Division. “We could see those pavements last another five years.”

Nunez explained that pavement deteriorates more quickly as it ages, and the cost of maintaining it then skyrockets unless it is maintained regularly from the start.

“Three or four years ago it looked like we could go in and save it,” said Nunez. “We didn’t catch it in time. Unfortunately, by the time we looked at it and got it into the CIP (capital improvement projects) it was too late.”

Nunez said the lots can be kept safe through patching when needed until they are replaced. He also said that was the first time in his 10 years with the department that parking lots had decayed beyond repair.

The problem may recur, however, as the paving program was not funded when the department’s current budget was approved this legislative session.

“My concern is we try to save money and put off three projects one year and three projects the next and suddenly we have five projects that have to be done for safety reasons and we still don’t have the money,” said Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, a member of the subcommittee. “I don’t want this to crash down on us all at once.”

Six completed projects came in more than $993,000 under budget and another eight projects have been bid a total of $11.8 million under their projected budgets. But most of those savings were in money not yet borrowed through bonding. And they came at the expense of contractors.

“We like good news,” said Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, the subcommittee chair. “But was it due to over-projecting or more favorable bids?”

Nunez said the state received 10 to 20 bids per project when as recently as 2007 only three to four contractors would bid a project.

“It dropped prices considerably,” he said.

But Nunez said the number of bidders per project is dropping again, a reflection of more contractors going out of business. This means a likely a return to costlier projects for the state.

“The price of materials and labor keep going up, so the only thing going down is the margins for these businesses,” said Nunez on the subject of contractors being forced to close their doors.

An earlier cancellation of a portion of one project, the installation of a panic alarm system at the Dini-Townsend Hospital in Sparks, allowed almost $84,000 to be transferred to other 2009 projects. That means all those projects, save one, will be fully funded before Nevada issues more bonds this fall.

The IFC will take up these measures and others tomorrow during a 9 a.m. meeting held in the Grant Sawyer building in Las Vegas and the Nevada Legislature in Carson City.