Posts Tagged ‘lawmakers’

Legislative Audit Finds Welfare Benefits Paid To Deceased Clients, Some Funds Spent After Death

By Sean Whaley | 1:16 pm September 19th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A legislative audit released today says that the state Welfare Division needs to do a better job of identifying when clients receiving benefits have passed away.

The audit, reviewed today by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee, found 189 instances of people listed by a separate state agency as having passed away between July 1, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2009 that were listed by the division as still living.

Legislative auditors tested Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards used to provide benefits in 50 of the cases. They found that the division paid more than $11,500 in benefits to 27 of the 50 clients after their dates of death.

Benefits were paid by the agency up to 10 months after the clients died. The state’s vendor for the EBT program later removed $7,225 of unused benefits from the accounts.

Benefits provided to Nevadans include food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and a cash grant program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Auditors also found that EBT cards in some cases were used after the dates of death of the clients.

Of the 50 cases tested, 13 were found where SNAP transactions using the cards had occurred after the clients’ dates of death. The transactions totaled $6,502 and took place from 13 to 247 days after the clients’ dates of death.

The audit made five recommendations to correct the issues found in the review, and all were accepted by the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.

Lawmakers serving on the subcommittee noted that the amounts involved in such cases were small compared to the nearly $500 million in SNAP benefits provided to Nevadans in federal fiscal year 2011. The SNAP program is entirely federally funded.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said no one should take money that is not due to them, but the incidents of potential abuse found in the audit appear to be few.

“If we’re talking $497 million in SNAP monies in the year 2011, and we’re looking at the possibility of it might be $6,000 worth of problems, it just seems like such a small amount and such a small problem compared to all the benefits that are being paid out here,” she said.

Legislative Auditor Paul Townsend said auditors also identified potential fraudulent activity during the review.

“It does point out there is a problem there,” he said. “It’s not a huge problem but the problem does exist. And along the way we also found some instances where there’s possibly some fraudulent activity taking place where someone is actually getting a card issued after their date of death.”

Steve Fisher, acting administrator of the division, said the flaws found in the review are serious and need to be addressed. He noted, however, that the benefits are available to an entire household, so even if a client passes away, other family members might use the EBT cards to access the benefits.

The agency is actively working on implementing all five of the recommendations, Fisher said.

The agency has an investigative unit to look for instances of fraud to recover benefits paid inappropriately, and criminal prosecutions can occur as well.


Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton says the incidents of potential abuse are few compared to the amount of benefits provided:

091912Carlton :26 paid out here.”

Legislative Auditor Paul Townsend says some evidence of fraudulent activity was uncovered during the review:

091912Townsend :16 date of death.”


Nevada Lawmakers Hear Ideas For Revising Local Government Tax Distribution Formula

By Sean Whaley | 3:08 pm April 30th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A consultant hired by the cities of Henderson and Las Vegas to analyze the process used to distribute taxes to the counties and cities told lawmakers today the formula now used to make the allocations has weaknesses.

Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst with the consulting firm Applied Analysis, updated the members of the Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Study the Allocation of Money Distributed From the Local Government Tax Distribution Account on efforts now under way to improve the formula.

“What I’m going to try and show you is a couple of areas where I think we believe there is some weakness in that formula and then some ideas that are being discussed relative to how to address some of those weaknesses,” he said. “I don’t want to leave you with the impression that anything here is definitive or perfect or a final answer to anything. It is a work in progress.”

C-Tax formula has generated controversy

The Consolidated Tax, or C-Tax as it is referred to, has generated controversy over how the local government tax revenues are distributed. It affects 175 local government entities statewide. It was established by the Legislature in 1997. It is composed of sales tax, liquor tax, cigarette tax, real estate property transfer tax and government services tax.

Graphic from Free Software Foundation via Wikimedia Commons.

The city of Fernley 30 miles east of Reno, the last city in Nevada to incorporate in 2001, has filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Taxation and state Treasurer Kate Marshall alleging it has been shortchanged in the formula. As reported by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston earlier this month, the city has seen population growth of 250 percent since the C-Tax system was established but has not seen significant growth in tax distributions.

Aguero said the expanded working group that is reviewing the C-Tax issues considered several alternatives, including a straight per capita distribution and reverting back to the old formula.

“What if we just threw it all out and started with another formula,” he said. “What if we went back to everybody just gets to keep whatever they collected.”

Each of these ideas presented their own set of problems, Aguero said.

Ultimately the working group decided to proceed by proposing modifications to the existing formula, Aguero said.

“We thought about reverting back to the original C-Tax structure, and there is some merit associated with that,” he said. “But we ultimately landed on this idea of modification to the current formula; that it has strengths, that it has weaknesses; and that we should build on those strengths and minimize those weaknesses as we go forward.”

But Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, the chairwoman of the panel, asked why the issues raised in the report cannot be resolved by the local governments themselves using a memorandum of understanding.

“I’m not sure why we’re spending tax dollars to have the study if they can already do this and it doesn’t change currently where we’re at,” she said.

Fernley mayor says the city wants equity

Fernley Mayor LeRoy Goodman testified before the panel, saying the city decided to sue after requests for an additional tax distribution were rejected by Lyon County. Other attempts to get relief have also been unsuccessful, he said.

“Our fundamental thing on this is simply equity,” Goodman said. “We’re simply asking for an equitable base amount of money, to be treated just like the other entities in the state of Nevada, whether they be cities, unincorporated towns or counties.”

But a Lyon County official told lawmakers Fernley’s share of the consolidated tax appears low because it does not provide all services. Lyon County, for example, provides law enforcement coverage to Fernley, said Lyon County Comptroller Josh Foli.

If Fernley opted to take over law enforcement or other services, the city could negotiate with the county to receive more consolidated tax, he said.

The report provided to lawmakers by Aguero identifies four major issues with potential solutions that would take into account such issues as rapid growth by some cities and counties.

The preliminary proposals would allow slower-growing jurisdictions to have base adjustments that reflect inflation and share modestly in incremental, growth revenues. They would also allow for faster-growing jurisdictions to benefit from a greater share of incremental growth revenues which are added to their base each year. It would also protect against disproportionate declines when revenues fall.

Issues that are still outstanding include determining what happens if a local government enters into a long-run period of decline and what happens if a new local government is formed.

A new city in Nevada is a possibility. Residents of Laughlin will vote in June on whether to incorporate.


Audio clips:

Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst with the consulting firm Applied Analysis, says the current tax distribution formula has weaknesses:

043012Aguero1 :30 as a whole”

Aguero says the formula has strengths as well:

043012Aguero2 :22 we go forward.”

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick says she does not know why the local governments cannot modify the formula on their own:

043012Kirkpatrick :10 where we’re at.”

Fernley Mayor LeRoy Goodman says all the city wants is equity:

043012Goodman :18 towns or counties.”


Gov. Sandoval Calls For Reassessment Of Homeland Security Funding Priorities

By Sean Whaley | 5:23 pm November 2nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today called for a reassessment of Nevada’s homeland security priorities given the news that federal funding for the ongoing fight against terrorism could be as much as 47 percent less in the 2012 federal fiscal year compared to last year.

Sandoval, who serves as the chairman of the Homeland Security Commission, noted that the panel’s priorities were last established in October 2010, before he was elected governor, and before many members of the current panel had been appointed to serve.

“It would helpful to me for us to go through that exercise again with the permission of the other members of the commission,” Sandoval said. “And also to have somewhat, of what I guess for lack of a better term is, a ‘state of homeland security’ both within Nevada and federally and where we may be, where we need to be, where we’re deficient.

A review of priorities would give the commission and Chris Smith, the new chief of the Nevada Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, an opportunity to have, “a reset for all of us to ensure that we’re all on the same page,” he said.

The commission agreed and set a special meeting for Jan. 7 in Las Vegas that will include a tour of the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center, also known as a fusion center.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said the federal funding cuts being contemplated to states and local governments for homeland security would be on top of cuts this past 2011 fiscal year from 2010. The 2012 federal fiscal year began Oct. 1.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

“If you take all of the state homeland security money that comes to the local programs to include UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative) dollars, at the federal level right now at the Senate you are looking at close to a 47 percent reduction coming to state and local than that which you saw in 2011,” he said.

“So it’s even more important that we’re very specific and judicious with this money that is coming forth to the states because that funding stream is becoming significantly smaller than that which we’ve been used to in the past,” Gillespie said.

The commission also has to be flexible when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issues guidelines on where the spending priorities should be, he said. Submitting grants that don’t focus on those priorities won’t get funded, Gillespie said.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Nevada was eligible for $21 million in grants in 2010, but only $14.5 million in 2011.

Funding could have been even lower but members of the House of Representatives, including Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Joe Heck, R-Nev., rejected a proposal to make UASI funding available only to the nation’s 10 largest cities, which would have excluded Las Vegas.

Washoe County Sheriff Michael Haley said the reassessment should also evaluate which projects are achievable given current funding levels, and how close Nevada is to accomplishing those objectives.

The Homeland Security Commission has seen major changes since Sandoval took over as chairman of the panel. Several long-time members have left and new members are learning about the operation of the commission.

There are 14 voting members of the commission, all appointed by Sandoval. There are also non-voting members, including two representatives of the Legislature. There was some concern expressed at the August meeting that lawmaker representatives were not attending the meetings.

Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, the new Senate representative and a candidate for the new Congressional 4 seat, attended his first meeting. But Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, the new representative replacing Speaker John Oceguera, did not attend the meeting.


Audio clips

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the state’s homeland security priorities need to be revisited:

110211Sandoval1 :21 where we’re deficient.”

Sandoval says the members of the Homeland Security Commission need to make sure they are in agreement on those priorities:

110211Sandoval2 :10 the same page.”

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie says federal homeland security funding could face major cutbacks in 2012:

110211Gillespie1 :21 saw in 2011.”

Gillespie says Nevada has to be even more judicious in how it spends its limited federal homeland security funding:

110211Gillespie2 :18 in the past.”


Nevada Legislative Representatives Are No Shows At Homeland Security Commission Meetings

By Sean Whaley | 4:20 pm August 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Legislature’s representatives at the state Homeland Security Commission meetings have been no shows this year, and the lack of participation is being cited as a concern by members of the panel, including Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The commission met Wednesday and Bob Fisher, president and CEO of the Nevada Broadcasters Association and a member of the commission, said the failure of legislative leaders to either attend or send alternates to the meeting is a concern.

His concern was echoed by Sandoval, who is now serving as the chairman of the commission.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, is listed as a nonvoting member of the panel but he did not attend the meeting.

Fisher said the Senate majority leadership has not yet selected a representative to serve on the commission.

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

Sandoval appoints the 14 voting members of the commission.

The previous representative from the Senate was former Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, who attended many of the commission meetings during his tenure.

According to minutes of the commission meetings and workshops, Oceguera attended one of 14 meetings since Jan. 2009, in June of 2009. No member of the Senate has attended a meeting this year.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, could not be reached for comment.

In response to the concerns, Oceguera said that as a non-voting member, his presence is not required at every meeting of the commission.

“That being said, I am in constant contact with members of the committee and I’m fully briefed on the committee’s important work,” he said. “Further, as an assistant fire chief, my job entails dealing with homeland security issues on a daily basis.”

Oceguera said that with his time in the Legislature coming to an end, he is in the process of appointing a new Assembly representative to the commission.

Fisher said that if legislative leaders cannot attend, then maybe they could designate alternates to represent the Legislature at the meetings.

Bob Fisher, president and CEO of the Nevada Broadcasters Association and member of the Nevada Homeland Security Commission.

Fisher said the failure of lawmakers to attend the meetings has been raised as a concern at previous meetings as well.

“I think it is a concern because look at the meeting today,” he said. “There is so much that has been covered.”

Earlier in the meeting on a separate agenda item, Fisher said a majority of the Legislature does not know what the Nevada Homeland Security Commission does. The comment came during a discussion about the need to get increased federal funding for Nevada’s anti-terrorism efforts.

Fisher said the commission will approach the Legislature in 2013 on various issues, and having members who attend the meetings and who are up to speed on those issues would be beneficial.

Sandoval agreed that legislative participation is important.

If legislative leaders cannot attend, possibly they could designate alternates, he said.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Sandoval said.

In an interview today, Fisher put the blame for the failure to educate the Legislature on the activities of the commission on the panel itself, not lawmakers.

“I think over the years we’ve done a very, very poor job, or we haven’t done a good enough job, in helping to educate the public, let alone the legislators, on: This is the Homeland Security Commission, this is what we do, this is what we’re trying to achieve, this is what we’re working (on) to make all of Nevada safer,” he said.

This is why it is important to have legislators attend the meetings, Fisher said.

The effort to get changes to state law on behalf of the commission in the 2011 session was a challenge, but it was the fault of the commission, not the Legislature, he said.

“It is a failure of the commission to communicate adequately,” Fisher said.

This will likely change with Sandoval deciding to serve personally as chairman of the commission, he said.

“Having Gov. Sandoval as the chairman of the Homeland Security Commission is the best thing to happen to homeland security in the state of Nevada,” Fisher said.

Past governors have designated others to serve on the panel on their behalf.

The meeting was the last for the panel before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Kevin Favreau, special agent in charge, FBI Las Vegas, and a non-voting member of the panel, said that as the somber anniversary approaches, the commission has over the years created a system to keep Nevada safe.

He acknowledged the country is going into a period of heightened concern with the approach of the anniversary, but gave an optimistic assessment of Nevada’s readiness.

“Our director and others in our national security structure are very concerned about it because of the tape that was taken from when Osama bin Laden was killed, as it being a significant date, and also because of the potential for copycats or lone offenders, as we heard from Mr. Fisher; Mumbai-style attacks,” he said.

“But should anything happen, I’m confident that Metro and others in the northern part of the state are very ready to be able to respond, and of course we hope that doesn’t happen,” Favreau said. “But from a preventative aspect this commission has helped this state to be as ready as we can be to try to prevent it.”

Audio clips:

Commission member Bob Fisher says most members of the Legislature doesn’t know what the commission does:

081811Fisher1 :28 is responsible for.”

Fisher says the Wednesday meeting covered a range of important topics:

081811Fisher2 :05 has been covered.”

Fisher says the commission bears the responsibility for failing to educate lawmakers on what the panel does:

081811Fisher3 :28 of Nevada safer.”

Kevin Favreau, special agent in charge, FBI Las Vegas, says the upcoming anniversary of 9-11 is cause for concern:

081811Favreau1 :24 Mumbai-style attacks.”

Favreau says the work of the commission has ensured Nevada is ready to respond if need be:

081811Favreau2 :18 to prevent it.”


Nevada Officials Moving Quickly To Address Concerns With State Employee Contracting

By Sean Whaley | 5:39 pm December 14th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Secretary of State Ross Miller said today an audit released last week examining current and former state employees winning contracts with state agencies contained “alarming findings.”

Miller asked for a response from Department of Administration Director Andrew Clinger on how the findings are going to be addressed. He made his comments at the Board of Examiners meeting, which is the panel that approves contracts entered into by the state. The board is made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

Miller said he wants to make sure the issues raised in the audit, including some contracts with current and former state employees that appear to involve excessively high rates of pay, are adequately addressed.

Clinger said a working group is being assembled to review current policies and procedures and will meet for the first time tomorrow. Representatives from the Attorney General’s office, the state Purchasing Division, the executive branch Internal Audit Division and others, will meet to develop recommendations to curb any further abuses, he said.

Clinger said he would like to bring some changes to the Board of Examiners by February for its approval, “to help prevent these sorts of violations from happening in the future.”

After the meeting, Clinger said the contracts are reviewed either by his agency or other state agencies that contract directly for the work, but there are no rules in place to deal with the issues raised in the Legislative Counsel Bureau audit reviewed by lawmakers.

A lot of the employees are hired under employment contracts approved by the Board of Examiners, he said. Once these “master service” agreements are approved by the board, the agencies can then contract with people individually and so the details of the employment agreements with current or former state employees do not come back to the board for review, Clinger said.

Clinger said he believes that the issue of excessive hours and pay identified in the audit involves a very small number of current and former state employees, but said he was disappointed by the findings.

“I was disappointed from the standpoint of given where we’re at with the budget crisis, and given where we’re at with public perception, I think it hurts our credibility going into session,” he said.

There may be justification for some of the rates of pay identified in the audit, but Clinger said at first look, the $350 an hour being paid to one former employee seems excessive.

The audit of Nevada state agencies using current and former employees as contractors identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a former state worker is now earning $350 an hour as a contractor versus $65 an hour in his state job.

The audit also found an example of a current state employee earning $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

At least eight examples were identified where state employees working as contractors either did the contract work during regular state work hours or could not provide documentation to show they did the work on their own time.

The Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee voted to turn the audit over to Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto for a review of possible criminal violations.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

Audio clips:

Secretary of State Ross Miller says state agencies must correct issues found in audit:

121410Miller :12 the cracks again.”

Administration Director Andrew Clinger says he is working to put safeguards in place:

121410Clinger1 :15 deal with those.”

Clinger says the audit has hurt the state’s credibility going into the 2011 legislative session:

121410Clinger2 :13 going into session.”

Bill Requests For 2011 Nevada Legislative Session Include Ban On Texting While Driving, Property Tax Protection, Castle Doctrine

By Sean Whaley | 2:17 pm July 1st, 2010

CARSON CITY – If a list of bills requested for drafting for the 2011 legislative session released today is any indication, a lot of lawmakers are concerned about people who use cell phones while driving.

Of the 152 bill draft requests submitted so far, mostly by lawmakers, three deal with cell phone use in vehicles: two to prohibit texting and a third to “restrict cell phone use” while driving.

The one-line descriptions of the bills being sought by lawmakers, interim legislative committees, state constitutional officers and others are made public on July 1 before each legislative session. The list will now be updated weekly through the session that begins in February.

The proposed bills to ban texting while driving were requested by Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, with three co-sponsors, and Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson. The bill to restrict cell phone use was requested by Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas.

A bill to ban texting while driving was introduced in the 2009 session by Breeden. It passed the Senate but did not get a vote in the Assembly.

Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, has requested a measure to amend the state constitution to create a uniform and fair method of assessing property taxes. Gustavson, who is running for a seat in the state Senate, said the proposal is similar to previous measures he has supported to cap property tax increases at 2 percent per year or the consumer price index, whichever is lower.

Gustavson and Sharron Angle, a former state lawmaker now running for the U.S. Senate, have sought such a change for years, usually trying to get the proposal on the ballot through the initiative petition process rather than the Legislature. It is modeled on the Proposition 13 tax cap approved in California. Gustavson said his proposal may get more attention in the Legislature if Republicans pick up some seats in the November election.

Right now people can’t budget for their property taxes because they don’t know what the valuation will be from year to year, he said.

The measure would help property owners in the Incline Village area of Washoe County who have seen their properties valued improperly, Gustavson said. Despite winning court cases to get refunds of excess property taxes, Washoe County has so far failed to return the money, he said.

The current property tax cap approved by the Legislature in 2005 is not constitutional because it treats residential property differently than commercial property, Gustavson said.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, is seeking a bill to adopt the “Castle Doctrine” in Nevada to provide legal protections for homeowners who defend themselves against criminals.

A similar measure was introduced in 2009 by Assembly Democrat Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas, but did not even get a hearing in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Hambrick said.

“It had bipartisan support; many people were in favor of it, but for whatever reason it never saw the light of day,” he said.

Hambrick said the principle is “your home is your castle” and you have the right in common law to protect your property. This would put the concept in state law as many other states have done to provide legal protections from either civil or criminal liability, he said.

Hambrick said he would like to see the measure get a hearing in the 2011 session.

Some bill draft requests are unlikely to see any consideration in the upcoming session because they have been requested by lawmakers who will not return in 2011. One example is a proposal by Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, to make the failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense. Right now drivers cannot be pulled over in Nevada for failing to wear a seat belt.

Unless another lawmaker picks up the proposal and submits a bill in the session, the issue may not see any action next year. Nolan lost re-election in the June GOP primary.

State Treasurer’s Office Tells Lawmakers Millennium Scholarship Will Be Short $4.2 Million by End of Fiscal Year 2011

By Sean Whaley | 6:21 pm May 3rd, 2010

CARSON CITY – In a letter sent today to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, the state Treasurer’s Office said the Millennium Scholarship will run out of money in 2011 unless action is taken to preserve the program.

The letter, sent on behalf of Treasurer Kate Marshall by Chief of Staff Steve George, says the scholarship program needs $4.2 million to remain whole through Fiscal Year 2011 and $11.7 million to survive through Fiscal Year 2013.

The shortfall estimate comes just a few days after it was believed the program would remain financially healthy through fiscal 2011.

The letter was in response to questions from lawmakers on Thursday about why a College Savings Trust Fund was not tapped for a $2 million transfer into the scholarship program as the Legislature had intended when it adjourned its special session on March 1.

Two lawmakers said they believed the proposal to transfer $2 million this year and next from the trust fund was agreed upon by the treasurer as a way to keep the program whole through 2014.

But in the letter, George said it was made clear to lawmakers that transfer request would have to be approved by the five-member College Savings Plans board. The board rejected the idea at a meeting in March, opting instead to transfer $200,000 to the program believing it would be enough to keep the program solvent through June 30, 2011.

George said the Treasurer’s Office will work with lawmakers to find solutions to preserve the scholarship, which provides funding to Nevada high school graduates with a high enough GPA who go on to college in state.

The office, “stands ready to assist the Legislature in any way economically feasible to prolong the life of the Gov. Guinn Millennium Scholarship Program, to the benefit of thousands of Nevada students,” he wrote.

George said tough budget decisions faced by lawmakers in the special session to close a more than $800 million shortfall led to the financial difficulties for the scholarship, which was created in 1999 using the proceeds from a national settlement among the states and tobacco companies.

Those decisions included eliminating a $7.6 million a year cash infusion into the program from the Unclaimed Property Fund for 2009, 2010 and 2011. The Legislature also decided to make a $5 million cash withdrawal from the scholarship fund itself in 2009 and in 2011.

These current and impending transfers, along with declining revenues from the tobacco fund to support the scholarship program, have created the shortfall, George said.

One recommendation to lawmakers to keep the scholarship program going through 2011 is to not take $5 million from the program next year.

Another option would be to transfer $10 million in unanticipated revenues coming into the Unclaimed Property Fund to the scholarship program. George said the proposal will be submitted to the Interim Finance Committee for consideration at its June meeting.

A third option would be to change the eligibility criteria to reduce the number of students eligible for the scholarship.

Steve Martin, the GOP candidate for treasurer, last week criticized Marshall for not being forthcoming about the true health of the scholarship fund, an allegation rejected by her campaign team as false.

Martin said in his release he believed the scholarship fund would have a shortfall of $3.4 million by June 30, 2011.

When told of the new estimate, Martin said the purpose of his criticism was to get information about the health of the program to lawmakers so they can take appropriate action.

“My whole intent was to get the issue out there,” he said. “We need to make sure we don’t have a shortfall if the intent is to continue with the program.”

Martin said he believes the scholarship could be continued using the tobacco funds if means testing was implemented so only students in financial need could get the funding.

“It should be based on need,” he said.

George said the program costs about $25 million per fiscal year, with that amount projected to rise to $26 million in fiscal year 2012. About 21,000 students are using the scholarship, with 60,000 students participating since its inception in 2000.

The scholarship ranges from $40 to $80 per college credit hour depending on the college attended. The scholarship limit is $10,000. Students must qualify by earning a high enough grade point average in high school. Students must also maintain a minimum GPA while in college to continue receiving the scholarship.

Gibbons, Lawmakers Meet to Discuss Budget in First “Open Door” Session

By Sean Whaley | 2:40 pm December 21st, 2009

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons and nine state lawmakers from both political parties spent about an hour today informally discussing potential solutions to the state’s budget shortfall, including a discussion of state employee furloughs versus pay reductions.

The first “open door” meeting proposed by Gibbons to discuss solutions to a current $67 million shortfall in the state general fund budget was productive, according to two of the lawmakers who attended.

The meeting was not open to the general public, and it disbanded before an invitation to the media to attend the last 15 minutes of the get-together could be accommodated.

Gibbons left to attend another engagement after about an hour of discussion.

Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said the governor appreciated the open dialogue with the five Democrats and four Republicans and said there was agreement to continue the meetings on a regular basis.

“The important thing was to have a starting point for a dialogue, which seemed to go very well today,” he said. “The second thing is, make sure your dialogue includes the exchange of ideas. Everyone got a chance to speak.”

Burns said the furlough and pay reduction discussion came up because not all state employees are now being required to take a furlough day as required by the 2009 Legislature to help balance the budget. Key correctional positions are exempted, for example, creating an inequity with other state employees, he said.

Gibbons had proposed a straight pay cut for all employees instead.

“It is not fair to have a certain segment that doesn’t have to take a furlough or some sort of pay reduction, and a certain segment that does,” Burns said.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, who attended the meeting via videoconference from Las Vegas, said he welcomed the chance to talk directly with Gibbons.

“I needed the opportunity to lobby him to have a special session in order to clear the decks so we can get the Race to the Top money,” he said.

Some lawmakers have called on Gibbons to quickly call a special session so a Nevada law prohibiting the state from receiving the federal stimulus funds to improve student achievement can be repealed and an application can be submitted next month.

Gibbons has so far rejected the call for an early special session, saying Nevada is better off applying for the second round of funding in June.

Coffin said he also pushed for a legislative change at a special session to allow the state to use $160 million in borrowed funds to help get through this fiscal year rather than next year. Only $30 million in the loan from a local government investment pool can be used this year without the change.

Some lawmakers have proposed accessing the borrowed funds now rather than making immediate budget cuts to balance the budget.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said the meeting provided good interaction.

“It opened a line of communication which is good to see,” he said. “There have been times when the Legislature and the executive branch have not talked that much.”

Settelmeyer said he agrees that it is better to wait to call a special session so that the Race to the Top issue and the budget problems can all be addressed at the same time.

Settelmeyer said he is concerned about the inequities in the application of the one-day-a-month furlough requirement. The fact that the furloughs do not apply to all employees equally was an unintended consequence the legislation failed to recognize, he said.

Settelmeyer said he would rather see staff prepare a list of all the new programs approved by the Legislature over the past 10 years so they can be evaluated as to whether they are necessary.

“Are they all necessary or are there some programs we could do without?” he asked. “I don’t want to see any more cuts to state employee salaries across-the-board.”

Other lawmakers attending the meeting included Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas; Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington; Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka; Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas; Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson; Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson.

Gibbons Invites Lawmakers to Discuss Budget Crisis in Series of ‘Open Door’ Meetings

By Sean Whaley | 4:58 pm December 17th, 2009

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons today said he wants to meet regularly with lawmakers over the next several weeks to discuss the status of the state budget deficit as he continues to evaluate how to balance a spending plan that is short more than $50 million.

“I am concerned that legislators may become alarmed at Nevada’s unprecedented budget challenges,” Gibbons said. “But now is the time to show leadership and be prudent with public funds, so I believe the more discussion we have with legislators, the more opportunities we will have for ideas and understanding.”

Gibbons’ staff has calendared several “open door” meetings where legislators are welcome to come to the office and share their thoughts and ideas.

“The budget issues facing the state will require us all to work together,” Gibbons said. “And I will make sure all legislators have a chance to represent their constituents as we seek solutions to get Nevada working and back on track.”

The first “office hours” are from 10 am to noon on Monday, December 21 and will be scheduled every two weeks through February.

Gibbons has directed his cabinet to come up with several different budget-cutting plans equating to as much as 10 percent for the last four months of this fiscal year and all of fiscal year 2010-11. He has also asked the Economic Forum, a panel of private financial experts, to weigh in on the state tax revenue picture by Jan .19.

He has also emailed all state employees asking for their ideas on how to cut spending.

A special session of the Legislature may be needed to balance the two-year budget early next year.