Posts Tagged ‘Legislature’

Gov. Sandoval Releases Expanded Budget Data

By Sean Whaley | 5:11 pm December 14th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today released budget data that had been sought by state lawmakers after a weeks-long disagreement over whether the information was public.

The state Budget Office posted the “items for special consideration” data on its website at noon. The items are requests made to Sandoval by state agencies for spending over and above their base-budget submissions. The base budget data was released by the Sandoval administration in October.

Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Included in the requests is a proposal to expand the Medicaid program to a new group of Nevada residents as provided for under the Affordable Care Act. As first reported by The Associated Press, Sandoval announced on Tuesday that he will propose expanding the program to provide health care coverage to 87,000 Nevadans, the cost of which will initially be paid for by the federal government. The 2013 Legislature will consider the recommendation.

Sandoval initially did not provide the additional budget information to the Legislature when it was expected on Oct. 15.

The decision prompted members of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee in late October to question state Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp about the decision.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs told lawmakers that the information has been provided to lawmakers by past governors.

Mohlenkamp said the base budget data provided to the Legislature met the requirement of the state law on budget disclosure and Sandoval also defended the decision.

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

The budget dispute was first reported by the Nevada News Bureau. The Las Vegas Sun also reported on the impasse earlier this month, which led to several calls in the media and by others for Sandoval to release the data.

Sandoval then announced last week he would release the budget data this week, which happened today.

Given the limited amount of state tax revenues, many of the special consideration items are not likely to see funding in Sandoval’s 2013-15 budget, which will be released next month ahead of the start of the Feb. 4 legislative session.

Many of the requests are for new positions. A total of just over 518 positions are in the agency wish lists for the first fiscal year, with about another 100 proposed to be added in the second year.

But there are other types of requests, such as the $20 million being sought from the general fund by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to provide more money for the Catalyst Fund, which will be used to attract new businesses to the state. The Legislature created the fund in 2011 and appropriated $10 million for its operation in the current budget.

The total requests from the general fund by the various agencies total $419 million.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute congratulated Sandoval on releasing the budget information, but said the requests should be ignored because they are meaningless.

“That’s because they assume that every government agency should be given a substantial funding increase through costs – including pay increases – that automatically roll up,” said NPRI Deputy Policy Director Geoffrey Lawrence. “This outdated and broken budgeting process, commonly referred to as ‘baseline budgeting,’ failed to exact any accountability over the use of public resources.”

The adoption by the 2011 Legislature of a new process, called performance-based budgeting, which was advocated by NPRI, among others, will ensure the state’s highest priorities are funded, he said.

 

Campus Carry Bill Back On Tap For 2013 Session

By Sean Whaley | 10:38 am December 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A newly elected Republican state lawmaker plans to push forward with a bill next session to allow students and others with permits to carry concealed weapons on the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R- Las Vegas, elected to Assembly District 4 in November, has submitted a bill draft request to prepare a measure for consideration in the 2013 legislative session.

The one-line description for the request says: “Authorizes the possession of a concealed firearm on property of the Nevada System of Higher Education under certain circumstances.”

Fiore, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, made 2nd Amendment rights a key part of her campaign for the Assembly.

Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas.

The “campus carry” issue was a controversial topic in the 2011 session, when former state Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, brought a similar bill to the Legislature. The bill passed the Senate but did not get a vote in the Assembly Judiciary Committee late in the session.

Lee sponsored the bill on behalf of Amanda Collins, a concealed weapons permit holder who was unarmed when she was raped by James Biela in a University of Nevada, Reno parking garage in 2007. Collins gave emotional and candid testimony on behalf of the measure at the 2011 session.

Fiore cites the Collins case in requesting the bill, saying in an email there is no reason to prohibit concealed weapons permit holders from being able to protect themselves while on a campus of Nevada’s higher education system.

“In our communities today the bad guys have guns and the good guys obey the law and sometimes because of our firearm laws us good guys are put in a compromising position,” she said. “That is not OK. I will not hesitate to protect myself with my handguns. If I have to make a choice between saving my children’s lives or my own life or letting a scum bag take our lives, I’ll choose to take the culprit out.”

Collins said in her 2011 testimony that she could have defended herself if she had been allowed to carry her weapon on campus.

Biela was sentenced to death in 2010 for the murder of another Reno woman, Brianna Denison, in 2008.

Lee said at a hearing on his bill in 2011 that the decision to make Nevada college campuses “gun-free zones” actually created “defenseless-victim zones.”

CCW permit holders must be at least 21 years of age and take an eight-hour training class.

The Nevada System of Higher Education and several law enforcement groups opposed the measure, however, arguing in part that the discretion to deal with weapons on campus belonged to the Board of Regents, not lawmakers.

Concerns were also cited with how to deal with campus athletic events where alcohol is served, and how to ensure weapons would be safely stored in student dormitories.

Mining Industry Big Nevada Job Creator

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 10:15 am November 8th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A report released today shows that Nevada’s mining industry has accounted for 14 percent of jobs added statewide in the past year and 33 percent of jobs added statewide since the recession ended in June 2009.

Courtesy of Barrick Gold Corp.

The Nevada Mining Association announced the findings, which come from a recent study completed by Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis.

“While accounting for just 1 percent of Nevada employment and 5 percent of Nevada GDP, the mining industry was responsible for 33 percent of the jobs added in Nevada since the end of the recession,” said Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst for Applied Analysis.

“Furthermore, these were not jobs recovered that had been lost; rather, they represented real growth,” he said. “Industry representatives have indicated that there is unfulfilled demand for even more employees to join the industry.”

The report comes out ahead of the 2013 legislative session, where any discussion of raising tax revenues will likely include the mining industry. The industry was the subject of extensive hearings in 2011. Mining was also the focus this year of an initiative petition that would have allowed higher taxes to be imposed on the industry, but the proposal was withdrawn.

The Nevada Mining Association, in announcing the study, said in a news release that mining has helped foster low unemployment rates in many rural counties, including 4.9 percent in Esmeralda County, 5.4 percent in Lander County, 5.5 percent in Elko County, 5.9 percent in Humboldt County and 5.9 percent in Eureka County.

Nevada’s statewide jobless rate was 11.8 percent in September, the highest in the nation.

The association said the industry has added 1,200 jobs over the past 12 months, which represents an 11 percent increase in mining’s total workforce, and the number of Nevadans now directly employed in mining is more than 12,000, the association said.

The association in February 2012 estimated the industry would add 1,200 jobs this year, both in precious metal and industrial mineral production, after conducting an informal survey of members.

“These numbers support what the industry has known for some time,” said Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association. “We have been adding jobs throughout the industry, and the Nevada Mining Association is seeing a record number of outside suppliers joining our membership ranks. The industry’s direct and indirect reach will only continue to grow and help Nevada recover in the coming years with several new projects set to begin operations.”

Nevada’s gold mines produced 5.3 million ounces of gold in 2010. Nevada is ranked as the fourth largest producer in the world.

Dispute Emerges Between Sandoval, Lawmakers Over Access To Budget Data

By Sean Whaley | 5:23 pm October 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A dispute has emerged between Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Legislature over what information in the initial state agency request budget should be made available to legislative staff and the public.

At a meeting of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee today, state Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp was asked about what is considered by legislative staff to be a departure from past practice regarding the budget information provided to legislative fiscal staff and the public.

The 2013-15 budget information conveyed to the Legislature on Oct. 15 does not include “items for special consideration” requested by state agencies. These items are budget requests from agencies that Sandoval will consider including in his final spending plan, but that have not yet been approved for inclusion by Sandoval.

Sandoval’s budget won’t be made public until mid-January.

Rick Combs, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said this information has been provided to legislative staff historically as specified in state law. It has also been made available to the public.

LCB Director Rick Combs.

An example of an item of special consideration is the expansion of the Medicaid program to a new group of Nevadans as provided for in the federal Affordable Care Act. Sandoval has not made a decision on whether to expand Medicaid to this new group of Nevada residents.

Because of this apparently new interpretation by Sandoval, the Medicaid expansion information has not been provided to the Legislature’s fiscal staff and so is not available to the public either.

“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.

“Now if you, or a member of the public, asks us for anything that was in an item for special consideration, we don’t have it,” he said. “Even though we feel the statute requires that that to be available to you or a member of the public that ask for it.”

Combs said his staff  has asked for the information but has not received a response from Mohlenkamp.

IFC Chairwoman and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, asked Mohlenkamp for an explanation.

Mohlenkamp said a decision has not been made yet on whether to provide the information to legislative staff, and that the budget information transmitted to lawmakers has fulfilled the statutory obligation to lawmakers.

“We’re still considering whether we will be able to provide access to LCB fiscal,” he said. “That decision hasn’t been made. I’ve been in coordination with the governor’s office on this and I’m hopeful that we will be able to give a firm and final response in the near future. But right now that decision hasn’t been made.”

Mohlenkamp said there are all kinds of agency requests beyond Sandoval’s flat-budget guidelines that may not end up as part of the budget, and so should not be subject to speculation.

The change is significant enough that Geoff Dornan, the long-time capital bureau reporter for the Nevada Appeal, made a rare public comment at the meeting.

“We have always gotten the items for special consideration,” he said. “This change completely changes how the law has been interpreted, for longer than Mr. Mohlenkamp, no offense, has been working for the state.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, also expressed concern, saying that if Sandoval decides not to propose expanding Medicaid to the new eligible population, then the budget data collected to provide background on this item of special consideration might never be provided to lawmakers or the public.

Kieckhefer said he would have a problem if that information was never made public.

Mohlenkamp said the Sandoval administration has not yet decided whether that information would be made public at some point.

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Audio clips:

LCB Director Rick Combs says the lack of budget data creates two concerns:

102512Combs1 :13 at that point.”

Combs says the LCB fiscal staff cannot provide information to lawmakers about the special budget requests because it does not have the information:

102512Combs2 :16 asks for it.”

Nevada Appeal reporter Geoff Dornan says the budget information should be made public:

102512Dornan :33 capital press corps.”

State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp says  a decision has not been made on whether to provide the information to legislative staff:

102512Mohlenkamp :21 hasn’t been made.”

 

 

 

Latin Chamber Commends Lawmaker For Proposing Funding For English Language Learners

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:22 pm October 4th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce today commended Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, for his commitment to seek $20 million a year in funding for English language learner programs in the Clark County School District.

“We applaud Sen. Roberson for standing up for the needs of Hispanic students in Clark County,” said Latin Chamber Chairman Javier Trujillo. “They are the true future of our community and our state. Their education is what is going to make the state of Nevada strong economically in the next decade. We look forward to working with Sen. Roberson on this initiative.”

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

Roberson on Monday announced his intention to seek funding for ELL, saying there are currently 52,000 students in the Clark County School District who are not proficient in the English language. These children, many of whom are Hispanic, face an almost insurmountable battle to succeed, he said in a news release.

There is currently no state funding for ELL programs in Clark County, Roberson said.

“This much needed investment in the education of Nevada’s Hispanic children is definitely a step in the right direction,” Trujillo said. “We need to make sure every level of education in Nevada – from elementary school through college – takes the necessary steps now to address the future needs of our Hispanic children.”

A panel of state lawmakers earlier this year agreed to consider changes in the state public education funding formula to take into account such factors as the number of English language learners in a school district.

The New Method for Funding Public Schools interim study was authorized by the 2011 Legislature to look at the “Nevada Plan” the current funding formula adopted in 1967. The Clark County School District sought the review to look at whether the state’s education funding plan needs to include additional funding for educating specific groups of students.

Roberson’s proposed “Every Child Learns Initiative” would provide funding for ELL programs at each of the 217 elementary schools in Clark County, which will initially serve 6,400 pre-kindergarten English language learner students and will include the creation of 200 new teacher positions, as well as 200 new instructional aide positions.

Finding money for the proposal will be a challenge in the 2013 session. While Nevada’s economy is improving, there will also be a lot of demands on the state’s limited general fund revenues.

“Of the 311,000 students in CCSD, one-sixth cannot speak proficient English,” Roberson said. “A large portion of these students are Hispanic. No rational person can think that this situation is acceptable. Latino students make up almost a majority of students in CCSD. For CCSD to succeed, Hispanic students must succeed. Likewise, for Nevada to prosper, the Hispanic community must prosper.”

CCSD Superintendent Dwight Jones is supporting the Every Child Learns Initiative.

“Providing support to our English language learners is one of the top priorities for the Clark County School District,” Jones said. “Other states with a large number of English language learners, such as Florida, have seen real academic gains by employing strategies such as early childhood education. This is an investment in our students that will pay off with big increases in our overall academic achievement as we prepare our students to be ‘Ready by Exit.’ ”

“The Every Child Learns Initiative will provide more Nevada children with a real opportunity to succeed,” Roberson said. “Nothing we do in Carson City is more important. While the initial focus of this initiative will be in Clark County (where the largest number of English language learners reside), it is anticipated that the Every Child Learns Initiative will become a statewide program. I look forward to working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to make Every Child Learns a reality in 2013.”

 

Poll Finds Nevadans Divided On New Tax Proposal But Strongly Favor Education Reform Efforts

By Sean Whaley | 11:08 am September 26th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The results of a poll of Nevada residents conducted on behalf of the Retail Association of Nevada (RAN) show that 45 percent of those queried believe a 2 percent margins tax on business proposed by teachers will generate the revenues necessary to support public education.

But 49 percent say the new levy, if approved, would raise prices, increase the state’s already high jobless rate and hurt business, according to the poll by Public Opinion Strategies of 500 likely voters taken Sept. 19-20. It has a margin of error of 4.38 percentage points.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

And when asked if money alone will improve Nevada’s public education system, only 22 percent agreed, with 73 percent saying the system also needs significant reforms.

The Nevada State Education Association is currently circulating petitions to take the proposed new tax to the Legislature in 2013, but a legal challenge to the proposal remains alive in Carson City District Court.

The poll found that 59 percent of those surveyed said the amount of taxes they pay is about right, with 22 percent saying taxes are too high.

And 58 percent said the governor and Legislature should raises taxes if necessary to avoid cuts to education and health care, while 32 percent said spending should be cut instead.

RAN began conducting the semi-annual poll in 2009, and many of the questions have been asked each time. In this way, the poll can give not only a snapshot of current conditions, but it can also identify trends by comparing results from earlier polls.

Poll information is then shared with RAN members, the public and state legislators so that the concerns of our state will be considered when policies are shaped in Carson City.

Among the other findings in the latest survey:

- Gov. Brian Sandoval is popular, with 62 percent approving of his job performance. But only 45 percent say the governor understands their problems, and only 33 percent say the Legislature does.

- A majority of those surveyed, 52 percent, say the state should not freeze the defined benefits offered to public employees through the state retirement system, while 41 percent say a freeze should be implemented to save money.

- The survey found that 48 percent of respondents believe that Nevada should opt into the Medicaid expansion provided for under the Affordable Care Act, while 44 percent say the state should opt out because of the cost and because the neediest residents are already covered.

- Asked about the conservative Tea Party Movement, 26 percent of respondents said they had a strongly or somewhat favorable view of the movement, with 35 percent saying they have strongly or somewhat unfavorable views.

Public Opinion Strategies (POS) is a national political and public affairs research firm. Founded in 1991, POS has conducted more than five million interviews with voters and consumers in all fifty states and over two dozen foreign countries.

Prevailing Wage, Taxes Focus Of State Senate 18 Debate

By Sean Whaley | 8:27 pm September 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Democratic state Senate candidate Kelli Ross said today that she is the “union” candidate in the District 18 race in Las Vegas, while Republican Scott Hammond said he will listen to but not vote in lockstep with labor in the Legislature.

The two candidates in the newly created Senate seat in northwest Las Vegas debated on Jon Ralston’s Face to Face television program. The Senate contest is one of five viewed by both parties as critical to controlling the 21-member house in the 2013 legislative session.

Democrats now have an 11-10 edge in the Senate.

Kelli Ross.

During the debate, Hammond, currently a member of the Assembly, said he would seek to reform Nevada’s prevailing wage law so that public construction projects could be built more cost effectively and generate more jobs. Paying less would stretch public construction dollars further, he said.

He pointed to the Phoenix, Ariz., area, where prevailing wage rates are $14 an hour compared to $42 an hour in Nevada.

“I think we need to reform that, look at putting it back on to something that is the standard market, and I think we’re going to see significant savings there,” Hammond said.

Ross said she would oppose any move to reduce the prevailing wage, a wage set for construction workers hired for state and local government projects. The prevailing wage guarantees a qualified workforce, she said.

“Not only would it not save money it would even hurt the middle class that much more,” Ross said. “When you’re paying a prevailing wage you’re guaranteeing that you’re going to get a job done, get a job done on time and get the job done right.”

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

Scott Hammond.

Ross acknowledged that most of her endorsements are labor groups, and she said there is not a labor position she is aware of that she would oppose in the Legislature.

“Yeah, I am the union candidate,” she said. “But I’m also the candidate that is there for the people. I am born and raised in Nevada. These people know that I’m going to do what is right for them, and what is going to bring our middle class up to the standards that it should be.”

Hammond said he will listen and try to respond to union concerns.

“But I’m not going to be beholden to the union organizations,” he said.

The debate also delved into the issue of taxes, and Hammond’s support for extending a package of sunsetting taxes supported by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval in the 2011 session. Hammond said he has not yet decided whether to support extending the sunsets in the next two-year budget as proposed by Sandoval to avoid further cuts to education.

Hammond said the tax extension in 2011 also resulted in the complete elimination of the state business tax for small Nevada employers.

“The reason why I haven’t made up my mind is because I still want to see what the Economic Forum is going to tell us in the next couple of months,” he said.

The forum estimates the tax revenues that will be collected by the state for the next two-year budget.

Ross said she supports the tax extension, but called it just another Band-Aid that does not solve the state’s long term revenue issues.

In a discussion of education concerns, Ross said the current public funding formula shortchanges Clark County at the expense of rural and Northern Nevada. It needs to be changed so Clark County taxpayer money stays in the south, she said.

An interim legislative committee recently endorsed revisions to the public education funding formula to compensate for such issues as poverty and non-English speaking students, factors found more often in Clark County than elsewhere in the state.

Hammond said the formula can be reviewed, but giving parents more choice in where their children attend school, including expanding charter schools, will improve student achievement.

Senate District 18 has a Republican advantage, with 39.9 percent of the voters registered GOP compared to 37.6 percent for Democrats as of the end of August.

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Audio clips:

Senate 18 candidate Scott Hammond says Nevada’s prevailing wage law needs to be reformed:

092512Hammond1 :10 significant savings there.”

Senate 18 candidate Kelli Ross says the state’s prevailing wage law helps the middle class:

092512Ross1 :10 job done right.”

Ross says she is the union candidate but also the candidate of the people:

092512Ross2 :13 it should be.”

Hammond said he will listen to but not automatically support labor concerns:

092512Hammond2 :16 the union organizations.”

 

 

Nevada Voters To Weigh In On One Controversial State Ballot Measure In November

By Sean Whaley | 7:43 am September 19th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada voters will determine the fate of only one statewide measure in the Nov. 6 general election, but the proposal put on the ballot by the Legislature is somewhat controversial.

Question 1 on the ballot asks Nevada voters if the state constitution should be amended to allow the Legislature, on extraordinary occasions and only with two-thirds support of lawmakers in each house, to call itself into special session. Sessions would be limited to 20 days, but could be convened on a continuous basis if the extraordinary occasion requirement was met and with two-thirds support from lawmakers.

The term “extraordinary occasions” is not defined in the proposed constitutional amendment.

The Nevada state Senate in session, 2011. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The constitution now says that only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature.

Currently, legislatures in 34 states are authorized to call a special session.

Nevada voters have rejected this concept once before, in 2006, by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

The measure is on the ballot after Assembly Joint Resolution 5 was approved by the Legislature in both 2009 and 2011. In 2011, the proposal passed both houses only by a party line vote with all Republicans opposed.

Opponents of the proposal are concerned the change could move the Legislature away from its tradition of meeting on a part-time basis.

In a discussion of the ballot language for the question by the Legislative Commission in June, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the ability of lawmakers to continue special sessions indefinitely was a concern.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said at the commission meeting that giving lawmakers the authority to call themselves into special session could be important if a situation like that in Illinois arose with impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It is unlikely that a governor facing impeachment would call a special session to allow for his removal from office, he said.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said in an interview this week that with the state getting bigger and issues sometimes requiring immediate attention, there are times the Legislature may need to convene itself into special session.

“I think it is closer to the people if the Legislature has the ability to do that,” he said.

But Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said this week he likes the way the system works now.

“I like the fact that we have a strong chief executive state,” he said. “That the Legislature can’t call itself into session for whatever purpose it chooses. I think the system that we have is functional for our state.

“And the idea that the Legislature can start calling itself into session whenever it wants just doesn’t really fly with me,” Kieckhefer said.

Special sessions of the Nevada Legislature have become more frequent in recent years, in part because of the state’s ongoing budget problems. But they have all been called by the sitting governor at the time. Gov. Brian Sandoval has not yet called for a special session in his 21 months in office.

The last special session was called in February 2010 by then Gov. Jim Gibbons to deal with a shortfall in the state budget. It lasted seven days.

There have been 10 special sessions of the Legislature since 2001. They were called for a variety of reasons, including tort reform for the medical industry and the impeachment of the late state Controller Kathy Augustine. Many were called because the Legislature could not finish its work by the constitutionally-mandated 120 days, a limit approved by voters in 1998 and taking effect for the first time in 1999.

Previously there had not been a special session since 1989.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Mo Denis says there are times when the Legislature may need to call itself into special session:

091812Denis :22 into special session.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says he likes the system as it works now:

091812Kieckhefer :28 fly with me.”

 

 

Board Recommends $100 Million Capital Construction Plan, Now State Has To Find Funding

By Sean Whaley | 11:27 am September 18th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A state panel today recommended a $100 million capital construction plan to Gov. Brian Sandoval for the next two years, but finding funding for the many desperately needed maintenance projects is still a work in progress.

Sandoval will review the list and potentially make some revisions before submitting it to the 2013 Legislature as part of his overall budget.

Of the total construction budget, about $80 million will require some form of state funding.

The state Public Works Board approved the list of 83 projects, most of which are maintenance and health and safety related, from asbestos removal at the Henderson Armory to boiler improvements at Lake’s Crossing Center for the Mentally Disordered Offender in Sparks.

But Jeff Mohlenkamp, state budget director and member of the board, said he is still researching funding alternatives to pay for the projects. Property tax revenue that has typically been used to pay for such projects in the past is not expected to generate enough funding because of Nevada’s economic difficulties.

State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Mohlenkamp said he is still reviewing possible alternative funding options.

“We’re hoping to be able to come up with close to the amount being requested, but that’s not a done deal yet,” he said.

“I’m not sure that we’ll be able to come up with the full $80 million at this point,” Mohlenkamp said. “That’s something that I will be researching and going forward working with the governor’s office on. But certainly we’re going to try. The vast majority of these projects are really critical infrastructure projects and we’re going to try to fund as many as possible,”

The capital construction program for the current budget totals only $53 million, with $27 million in bonding from property taxes.

In past sessions when the economy was strong, the Legislature would appropriate tens of millions of dollars for new buildings, from prisons to museums, relying on property tax revenue growth to sell bonds to pay for them

But the ongoing recession in Nevada has eliminated the revenue as a significant funding source for at least the near term.

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Audio clip:

State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp says he is still working on alternatives to funding the much-needed state construction projects:

091812Mohlenkamp :17 many as possible.”

 

State Medical Association Supports Expansion Of Medicaid Eligibility Under Affordable Care Act

By Sean Whaley | 1:35 pm September 13th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Nevada State Medical Association has announced it supports expanding Nevada’s Medicaid caseload as permitted under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The association’s board of directors met on Sept. 8 and adopted the policy statement, which was based on the information currently available about the expansion of the Medicaid program.

Photo by Debora Cartagena/CDC.

“We believe that this is necessary to assure that there is not a new class of uninsured Nevadans created by a gap in the PPACA coverage plan,” said the statement by the association, released Wednesday.

“Nevada physicians are concerned that this does not improve the current Medicaid program, which is significantly underfunded,” the statement said. “Current payment levels have made it increasingly difficult for physicians and hospitals to maintain their availability for Medicaid patients. This has become particularly true for children with disabling conditions or chronic illnesses and for women facing high-risk births.”

As a result, the association said it is urging Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Legislature to “address the access to care needs of the patients who are, and will continue to be, covered by the current Medicaid program.”

The Nevada State Medical Association is Nevada’s oldest and largest physician advocacy organization.

The authorized Medicaid expansion is still under review by the Sandoval Administration. If recommended by Sandoval and approved by the Legislature in 2013, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014 for Nevadans up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The potential caseload expected under such an expansion is still being analyzed.

Federal funding would pay for 100 percent of any Medicaid expansion for the first three calendar years beginning in 2014, with the state required to pick up a percentage of the cost beginning in 2017. The first year state cost is 5 percent, in 2018 the state cost is 6 percent, in 2019 the state cost is 7 percent, and in 2020, the state cost is 10 percent.

The expansion in Nevada would mostly cover childless adults who are not covered by the state program now.

Nevada is already moving forward with its Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, which will offer eligible residents the opportunity to purchase health insurance beginning on Oct. 1, 2013.

Meanwhile, data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Nevada’s uninsured population continues to increase. While the rate nationally declined by 0.5 percent to 16 percent between 2008-09 and 2010-11, Nevada’s rate increased 2.7 percent in that same time period, to 22 percent.

Proposed Legislative Discussion On Assault Weapons Derailed By Committee Vote

By Sean Whaley | 10:52 am August 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – If there was any question about whether the gun debate is a controversial topic in Nevada as well as nationally, a clear answer was provided today at a meeting of the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice.

A proposed discussion on assault weapons was removed from the agenda by a vote of the panel before it could even begin.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the 17-member panel, which includes judicial representatives, police and others in the law enforcement and legal communities as well as lawmakers, had placed an item on the agenda titled “Presentation on Assault Weapons Laws.”

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

Horne said he did so after a number of violent incidents occurred around the country involving the use of assault weapons. The item was informational only and was not intended to be an avenue to propose a ban on assault weapons, he said.

The presentation was to be made by Robert Roshak, executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association; Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and Steve Helsley, a consultant with the National Rifle Association.

“The commission does not enact, nor does it have statutory authority, to request bill drafts,” Horne said in preliminary comments. “Rather the purpose of the commission is to look at pertinent issues of the criminal justice system. In light of several recent high profile assaults on the public, including one less than a mile from this very building, the commission thought it was important to at least have an informational discussion on the issue of assault weapons.”

But the agenda item was pulled before the discussion could begin, with Clark County District Judge David Barker, a member of the commission, questioning whether the panel had the authority to hold such a discussion.

“It is not a criminal offense to possess an assault weapon,” he said. “And I think it is outside the four corners of this commission’s responsibility to have this on our agenda. So frankly, I would move to strike it from the agenda.”

The motion was seconded by Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn, who said a discussion on assault weapons, a Constitutional issue involving the 2nd Amendment, was too complex for a brief overview by the panel. The Legislature is the place for such a discussion, he said.

Horne said Legislative Counsel advised him that the discussion was within the purview of the panel, but Barker made a motion to remove the item from the agenda. The vote was 8 to 5 to remove the item.

Some of the dozens of members of the public attending in Elko, Carson City and Las Vegas clapped after the vote and then left the meeting.

The discussion got off to a tense start when Horne called Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, “extremely unprofessional” for suggesting in a newspaper opinion piece that Horne intended to seek a ban on assault weapons.

Ellison said later in public testimony that he meant no disrespect to Horne or his position as chairman.

Horne said he was also upset with the misinformation presented on the agenda item, and that the members of the commission would not be bullied.

Horne is chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which in 2011 took no vote on the controversial “campus carry bill” that would have allowed those with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education. The bill had passed the Senate.

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Audio Clips:

Assemblyman William Horne says the purpose of the assault weapons discussion was informational only:

082812Horne1 :24 of assault weapons.”

Horne says colleague John Ellison was unprofessional:

082812Horne2 :17 at the least.”

Clark County District Judge David Barker says the issue is outside the jurisdiction of the panel:

082812Barker :13 from the agenda.”

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.”

 

 

Democrats Outdo GOP In Voter Registration In July, Gain Ground In Five Critical State Senate Races

By Sean Whaley | 12:35 pm August 3rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Democrats continued to outpace their Republican counterparts in voter registration efforts in July, the Secretary of State’s office reported this week.

Democrats registered 8,121 active voters, while Republicans registered 3,705 active voters. Active registered nonpartisans increased by 4,946 during the same time period.

Of the 1,096,782 active registered voters statewide, 41.1 percent, or 451,066, are Democrats, 36.7 percent, or 402,471, are Republicans, and 16.5 percent, or 180,366, are nonpartisans. The remainder belong to minor parties.

Photo by Tom Arthur via Wikimedia Commons.

The new numbers come as the Nevada Republican Party announced last week it is getting $166,000 from the Republican National Committee to intensify the party’s registration efforts ahead of the November general election.

The latest voter registration totals, released Thursday, also show that five critical state Senate Districts up for grabs in November remain split, with three continuing to favor Democrats and two continuing to favor Republicans.

But Democrats have gained some ground in terms of actual active voter totals in all five when compared to the numbers as of the close or registration for the June primary. The same trend is seen when the July numbers are compared to voter totals as of the end of March.

Nonpartisan voter registrations have also been on the increase in the five districts, however, both in terms of raw numbers and as a percentage of total voters from the primary through July. Nonpartisan voters, who will play a significant role in each of the races, range from a high of 19.4 percent in Senate 9 to a low of 15.8 percent in Senate 6.

Democrats now have an 11-10 edge in the state Senate, and Republicans are trying to take control for the 2013 session. Republicans need to win four of the five seats to take an 11-10 majority. Four of the five seats in play are in Southern Nevada and the fifth is in Reno.

In Senate District 5, where Republican and former Henderson city councilman Steve Kirk is facing Democrat and former state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, Democrats have added to their registration edge. Democrats had a 1,680 voter advantage as the close of registration for the June primary, and a 1,944 advantage as of the end of July. Democrats represent 40.3 percent of active voters in the district compared to 36.9 percent for Republicans.

In Senate District 6, where GOP attorney Mark Hutchison faces Democrat Benny Yerushalmi, Democrats had a 1,890 voter advantage at the primary, and now lead by 2,386. Democrats have 41.6 percent of active voters in the district compared to 37.5 percent for Republicans.

In Senate District 9, where Republican Mari Nakashima St. Martin faces Democrat Justin Jones, Democrats have improved their advantage from 1,917 voters at the primary to 2,354 at the end of July. Democrats have 39.8 percent of voters compared to 34.7 percent for the GOP.

In Senate District 18, where Republican Assemblyman Scott Hammond faces Democrat Kelli Ross, Republicans have seen their 1,653 voter edge as of the primary decline to 1,438 as of the end of July. Republicans have 40.2 percent of the voters compared to 37.7 percent for Democrats.

In the Reno race in Senate District 15 between Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, Democrats have gained some modest ground as well, from a 1,404 GOP edge as of the primary to 1,349 as of the end of July. Republicans have 39.8 percent of voters to 37.9 percent for Democrats.

Secretary of State Ross Miller also announced that online voter registration is now available in all but two counties, Carson City and Douglas.

 

State Public Employee Pension Plan Sees 2.9 Percent Return In Fiscal Year 2012

By Sean Whaley | 5:07 pm July 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s Public Employees’ Retirement System earned an estimated 2.9 percent return on its investments in the fiscal year ending June 30, and is now valued at $25.8 billion, an official with the plan said today.

The 2012 return is below the 8 percent anticipated annual return for the system’s investments over the long term.

While well below the record 21 percent return in Fiscal Year 2011, and the 10.8 percent return in Fiscal Year 2010, the 2012 gain will be in the top 20 percent of performers for large public pension plans for the year when adjusted for risk, said Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS.

“So as far as looking at all of the big institutional investors across the country, we’re quite competitive with that kind of return,” she said. “In fact I think it’s going to be one of the top performing funds in the nation. You can only get what these markets are going to give you.”

Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of the Public Employees' Retirement System

The three years of positive returns follow a 15.8 percent loss in 2009.

A final report on the year’s performance will be presented to the board overseeing the plan in August.

The estimated returns are after fees are paid to the investment managers overseeing the retirement funds on behalf of the nearly 100,000 state and local government employees and 41,000 retirees participating in the public pension plan as of June 30, 2011.

“When you talk to the investment professionals, I think most of them would say that what we’ve sort of taken here is a pause in what has been a very large increase in the overall equity markets over the last couple of years,” Bilyeu said. “So maintaining a positive return, maintaining the corpus of the trust, and really just pausing I think is what you see happening here. And that’s what I sort of think this particular fiscal year was.”

The uncertainty over the presidential election is partly responsible for the lackluster equity market, she said.

Over 28 years, the average return for the plan is 9.2 percent after fees have been paid, above the 8 percent assumed return. Some critics of the state’s defined-benefit public pension plan say the expectation of an 8 percent long-term return is overly optimistic given the volatile markets of the past decade.

The plan was only 70.2 percent fully funded at the end of fiscal year 2011, a level below the minimum 80 percent some experts say is the best measure for a healthy plan. The long-term unfunded liability equated to $11 billion as of June 30, 2011. The funding ratio through 2012 will be reported to the board in November.

Some estimates put the unfunded liability at much higher levels based on a different type of analysis.

The Pew Center on the States said in June the financial health of Nevada’s public employee pension plan is cause for serious concern because it is below the 80 percent benchmark that fiscal experts recommend for a sustainable program.

Bilyeu argues that a better measure of the health of a pension plan is whether it is being funded each year at the levels recommended by an independent actuary, which is the case for the PERS plan. Not all public pension plans across the country are funded annually to the recommended levels, she said.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is advocating for a change to the pension plan for future workers from a defined benefit to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. Defined contribution plans eliminate any future unfunded fiscal liability for states. The 2011 Legislature took no action on the issue but it is expected to resurface in 2013.

The PERS fund is currently invested 35 percent in bonds and 65 percent in equities and other “risk exposed” investments.

“Over the long haul we remain very, very committed to the investment strategies we have,” Bilyeu said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

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Audio clips:

Dana Bilyeu of PERS says equities took a pause in Fiscal year 2012:

071112Bilyeu1 :33 fiscal year was.”

Bilyeu says the 2.9 percent return will be among the best performing large institutional funds for 2012 after being adjusted for risk:

071112Bilyeu2 :10 in the nation.”

 

Proposal Seeking A Texas-Style Business Margins Tax To Support Public Education To Be Filed Wednesday

By Sean Whaley | 1:19 pm June 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A proposal seeking to implement a Texas-style business margins tax in Nevada to support public education will be filed with the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday.

Supported by the state teachers union and the AFL-CIO, if the groups can collect 72,352 signatures by November 13, the issue of taxes will be dumped squarely in the laps of state lawmakers in 2013.

Graphic from Free Software Foundation via Wikimedia Commons.

News that the groups were finally ready to file the initiative petition was first tweeted by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

“Basically it is a 2 percent tax on a business entity’s taxable margin for that year,” said Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association.

The threshold for paying the tax is a business making more than $1 million in gross revenue. This threshold is expected to protect small businesses from having to pay the tax, she said.

The proposed tax is expected to bring in about $800 million a year, Warne said.

If enough signatures are collected from Nevada registered voters by the deadline, the 2013 Legislature would have 40 days to approve the proposal or it would go to the voters in 2014. Lawmakers could also offer a competing tax proposal to appear on the ballot, but a two-thirds vote would be required to move any competing tax measure forward in the Legislature.

Warne said she does not foresee any difficulty in gathering the necessary signatures.

“We’re confident that we will not only collect the necessary signatures, which is 73,000, but we will collect significantly more than that and have those ready to be filed with the state by the beginning of November,” she said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval today reiterated his opposition to such a tax proposal. Sandoval earlier this year said he will extend a collection of taxes set to expire on June 30, 2013, into the new budget to ensure there are no further cuts to education.

Supporters of the margins tax say that move doesn’t go far enough, however.

“That’s fine; it’s not adequate though for funding schools and other essential services in the state,” Warne said. “You’ve seen the tremendous battles that have gone on in school districts with regards to funding and how to make ends meet. We just can’t continue to cut funds to education and expect the quality to improve.”

The proposal will provide consistent and predictable funds for education, eliminating the need for layoffs or program cuts, she said.

The association would also work to eliminating the current payroll-based business tax, called the Modified Business Tax, Warne said. But there would need to be a transition period so as not to create a hole in the budget, she said.

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said in a statement that a margins tax would be a “disaster” for Nevadans.

“Despite misleading rhetoric from the Left disparaging ‘corporate greed,’ all taxes are ultimately paid by individuals and families,” he said. “A business margin tax will only further squeeze struggling private firms, dampening their ability to hire and suppressing growth in wages. The pain will be felt by families across Nevada.”

Lawrence said economists from across the political spectrum consider a margins tax to be one of the most economically destructive tax instruments available.

“With Nevada’s adult unemployment at 12 percent and youth unemployment rate at 28.8 percent, a margins tax is a recipe for prolonged economic depression in the Silver State,” he said.

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Audio clips:

Lynn Warne says there will be no difficulty in collecting the needed signatures:

060512Warne111 :16 beginning of November.”

Warne says Gov. Sandoval’s plan to extend a package of sunsetting taxes into the next budget is inadequate:

060512Warne22 :20 quality to improve.”