Posts Tagged ‘McGinness’

Thirteen Nevada GOP State Lawmakers Get High Ratings In First Report Card From Conservative Group

By Sean Whaley | 10:38 am November 3rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – The national conservative organization American Conservative Union ranked Nevada lawmakers for the first time in a report card released today, handing out top scores to five GOP state Senators.

Sens. Greg Brower, R-Reno; Don Gustavson, R-Sparks; Elizabeth Halseth and Michael Roberson, both R-Las Vegas; and James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville; all were named as “Conservative All-Stars of the Nevada Legislature” for scoring 100 percent in the ratings.

Another eight Republican lawmakers, two in the Senate and six in the Assembly, were identified as ACU Conservatives for scoring 80 percent or higher in the ratings.

State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

They are Sens. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas; Mike McGinness, R-Fallon; and Assembly members John Ellison, R-Elko; Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley; John Hambrick and Richard McArthur, both R-Las Vegas; Ira Hansen, R-Sparks; and Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson.

One lawmaker, Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, scored a zero on the report card and was identified as “A True Liberal of the Silver State.”

ACU Chairman Al Cardenas announced the rankings at a press event in Las Vegas.

“Just as we hold every member of Congress accountable for his or her voting record on the most important issues facing our nation, the ACU will ensure voters in Nevada have access to the latest information on their state representatives’ conservative credentials,” he said.

The ACU, which describes itself as the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization, recently announced a new initiative to expand the ACU Congressional Ratings program to state legislatures for the first time ever, grading members on their votes on key conservative issues.

State Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

The ACU said in its report that it tracks a wide range of issues before state legislatures to determine which issues and votes, “serve as a clear litmus test separating those representatives who defend liberty and liberal members who have turned their backs on our founding principles – constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, free markets, a strong national defense and traditional values.”

The votes selected for the inaugural State Legislative Ratings in each of five targeted states – Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and the Commonwealth of Virginia – are not always considered the “most important” votes as defined by others, the ACU said in its report. Instead, the votes selected are chosen to create a clear ideological distinction among those casting them.

The group selected 31 legislative measures to score the 63 Nevada lawmakers, including Assembly Bill 299, which would have imposed a 50-cent surcharge on auto insurance policies to subsidize car insurance for low income residents, which the ACU opposed. The bill did not pass.

Another measure was Assembly Bill 321, which implemented the “Castle Doctrine” in Nevada, giving citizens the right to defend themselves in their own homes. The ACU supported the bill, which was approved by both houses of the Legislature.

The ACU also used the vote on extending a collection of taxes set to expire on June 30 in its report card. Assembly Bill 561 passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval as part of a budget deal between Democrats and Republicans.

“As pleased as we are to recognize a total of 13 members of the Legislature as true conservative patriots, we are disappointed there were not more members who adhered to conservative principles,” Cardenas said. “Thankfully, Gov, Brian Sandoval, a rising star of the conservative movement, has championed limited government and pro-growth policies by vetoing several ill-conceived pieces of legislation passed by the Nevada Legislature.”

“I am honored to be named the most conservative legislator in the Nevada Assembly,” McArthur said. “This rating will reinforce the ratings I have previously received from the Nevada Policy Research Institute and Citizen Outreach.”

McArthur scored 94 percent in the ACU ratings, ranking him as the most conservative member of the Nevada Assembly.

Gustavson said he was pleased to rank so highly in the survey.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise because I have been living up to my conservative values that got me elected and keep getting me elected,” he said. “So I’m very honored to have received the award.”


Audio clips:

Sen. Don Gustavson said he has been living up to his conservative values:

110311Gustavson :09 received the award.”


Governor, Legislative Leaders, Make Appointments To Economic Development Board

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

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

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

Rob Roy, CEO of Switch in Las Vegas.

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

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

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

William Weidner with Gaming Asset Management.

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

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

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

Reaction Mixed To Education, Policy Reforms Achieved As Part Of Deal To End Legislative Session

By Sean Whaley | 7:21 pm June 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – While some critics may never be convinced that Gov. Brian Sandoval should have agreed to support new tax revenue to balance the budget, the collection of reforms approved as part of the deal finalized this morning cannot be ignored.

From changes to Nevada’s collective bargain law allowing the reopening of labor agreements in emergencies to limiting teacher tenure to eliminating health insurance for newly hired state employees upon retirement – the changes approved in the 120-day legislative session by Democrats and Republicans could have far reaching impacts.

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association and a long-time advocate for reform to Nevada’s public education system, said it will take time to see the effects of the changes, which also include making the state superintendent of public instruction answerable to the governor rather than an elected board.

“It’s going to take a while to see real change in this thing but I believe we’re going to see real change in K-12 performance,” he said. “Could we have done more on improving the education reform and improving the public employee benefit changes, sure. But given the makeup of the two houses, quite frankly I’m pretty well stunned with what we did get.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, made note of the reforms in announcing his support of the tax extension bill on the Senate floor on Monday: “We’ll pass performance-based budgeting, collective bargaining and employee benefit reforms that will put our state on a path to fiscal sustainability.

“We also stressed this session the need for education system reforms that really does put our children first, education reforms that represent a shift in the right direction,” he said. “I’m not saying these reforms are the end all. They are a good start and I’m confident in the next session I leave behind some capable colleagues that will continue in these efforts.”

Not everybody is convinced that the reforms will result in real change.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, said on the Senate floor during the tax bill debate: “I don’t believe the concessions my colleagues made on the other side of the aisle will improve public education.”

Victor Joecks, communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, called the education reforms minor and said they will have minimal impact on increasing student achievement in Nevada.

“This differs from the governor’s original reform package, which included one-year contracts for teachers, vouchers and ending social promotion,” he said in a commentary.

There are those who wish more could have been done. Sandoval wanted to make a fundamental change to the public employees’ retirement system, but instead won only a study of the issue. While strongly supporting a change to the state constitution to allow a school voucher program, no progress was made on the issue in the 2011 session.

An effort to make some reforms to the state’s home construction defect laws failed when a bill failed to win passage in the Senate in the waning hours of the session. Supporters of reform in this area hailed the failure as a victory, however, calling Assembly Bill 401 no reform at all.

And in what could be called tax reform, the extension of business taxes and other levies that will bring in over $600 million in the next two years included the complete elimination of payroll taxes on Nevada’s 115,281 small businesses. Small businesses pay a 0.5 percent tax rate on their payrolls currently.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and other groups had sought reforms to education and public employee benefits this session in exchange for consideration of any additional revenues to fund the budget.

Democrats also sought reforms. Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, sponsored the bill seeking to restrict attorneys’ fees and reduce filing times for lawsuits in residential construction defects law. The construction industry dismissed the measure as inadequate, however, and argued for its defeat.

Oceguera took issue with the characterization of his bill, saying at a committee hearing that he worked with the construction industry to draft his bill.

“I asked for a list of the five most important things,” Oceguera said. “The three that are in this bill are the top three that you gave to me. So to say these aren’t important issues is disingenuous at least. These are the issues you told me you wanted to work on, and we worked on.”

But the Senate on Monday, sent the measure to defeat on a 12-9 vote.

The performance based budgeting bill, which has been signed into law by Sandoval, was sought by Oceguera and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The decision to support extending taxes came after a Nevada Supreme Court decision put into question a number of funding mechanisms proposed by Sandoval to balance the two-year budget that will begin July 1. While the ramifications of the decision were not entirely clear, Sandoval reluctantly opted to replace some local revenues proposed for his budget with the business and sales tax extensions.

The reforms were a requirement for his and Republican lawmaker support of the added revenues.

The reforms passed by the Nevada Legislature will:

  • End the seniority system in school district lay-offs. Other factors, including performance and effectiveness, must now be included.
  • Change collective bargaining for local government employees. Agreements will be re-opened during times of fiscal emergency and supervisory employees will not be allowed to collectively bargain.
  • Allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent of public instruction. A new state board will also have members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, as well as four members elected by the people of Nevada.
  • Save an estimated $275 million over the next 30 years by removing eligibility of newly hired state employees for health insurance benefits during retirement under the Public Employee Benefit Plan, effective January 1, 2012.
  • Conduct a complete analysis of PERS in order to give the 2013 Legislature and the governor information they need to address unfunded liability. The study must include recommendations with actuarially-sound alternatives.

Audio clips:

Manufacturers Association Executive Director Ray Bacon says it will take time to assess the effects of the education reforms:

060711Bacon1 :09 “in K-12 performance.”

Bacon says he is surprised at the number of reforms approved in the session:

060711Bacon2 :18 we did get.”

Sen. Mike McGinness says the reforms are significant:

060711McGinness1 :26 the right direction.”

McGinness says more gains can be made in 2013:

060711McGinness2 :11 continue these efforts.”

Sen. Barbara Cegavske says the education reforms approved by lawmakers aren’t sufficient:

060711Cegavske :07 improve public education.”


Former Sen. Bill Raggio Inducted Into Senate Hall of Fame

By Sean Whaley | 1:47 pm April 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Lawmakers took time some away from the budget and other pressing issues today to honor former Sen. Bill Raggio, a fourth-generation Nevadan and the longest-serving member of the state Senate who retired earlier this year.

Raggio was surrounded by current and former colleagues as the Senate approved Senate Resolution 4 commemorating the Reno native’s 38-year service in the Legislature and inducting him into the Senate Hall of Fame.

Former Sen. Bill Raggio speaking at Hall of Fame Induction today/Photo: Nevada News Bureau

Raggio, 84, was first elected to the state Senate in November 1972, serving in 19 regular and 13 special sessions. He resigned in mid-term in January of this year citing health issues.

The Republican and former Washoe County District Attorney established the Senate Hall of Fame in 1989. The first inductee was the late Senate Majority Leader James Gibson of Clark County. Raggio is the 37th member of the Senate to be so honored.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, recalled that while serving as an intern in the Nevada Legislature he was afraid of Raggio.

“I literally was so afraid of Sen. Bill Raggio that I avoided coming to the Senate chamber, because in many ways I was awestruck by his presence, his knowledge and command of the process, and his ability to get $20 out of everybody that he met,” Horsford said.

Raggio was known for “borrowing” $20 from colleagues and anyone else he could convince to hand over the cash.

“Sen. Bill Raggio is a true statesman,” Horsford said. “He loves his party, but he puts the state of Nevada before his party. He is a true statesman in that he has always looked out for the future of our state, providing great vision and leadership during difficult times.”

Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, who was selected to take over as minority leader from Raggio, said the former lawmaker also spent 18 years of public service in the Washoe County District Attorney’s office.

McGinness noted that Raggio had a “burning passion” for the job, a reference to Raggio’s burning of an illegal brothel east of Reno in 1960 while district attorney.

“Sen. Raggio’s unique knowledge of the state budget and the legislative process here in Carson City will never again be realized,” he said.

Raggio said he never imagined that he would serve 10 terms in the state Senate, but that in retrospect, he realized he spent nearly half of his life in the Legislature.

“As I said we’ve had tough times, and we’ve had some serious issues that we’ve had to deal with,” he said. “And obviously we’ve often disagreed. But in the end I always felt that the final result was in the best interest of the state of Nevada and I was privileged to be a part of that process.”

Raggio said his highest honor was earning his Eagle badge as a Boy Scout, but that his induction in the Senate Hall of Fame, “ranks right up there.”

Attending the ceremony were a number of former state senators, including Dina Titus, a Democrat who left the Legislature to run for and win a term in Congress in 2008. She lost re-election in 2010. Also on hand were Democrat Spike Wilson, a Reno attorney, Bernice Mathews, a Reno Democrat who was forced out in 2010 by term limits, and former GOP Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren.

Former state Sen. Dina Titus listens at Raggio Hall of Fame induction ceremony today/ Photo: Nevada News Bureau

Raggio decided to step down in January citing difficulty in walking due to a severed Achilles tendon. But late in 2010, Raggio had been replaced as minority leader of the Senate Republicans following the November general election.

Raggio, who always worked across the aisle with Democrats, voted for tax increases to balance the budget on more than one occasion, including in the 2009 session, voting to override a veto from former GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons.

But what led to his ouster from leadership was his support of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in his successful re-election bid against Republican Sharron Angle.

Today was also “Old Timer’s Day” at the Legislature, with a number of former lawmakers visiting the Senate and Assembly chambers.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says he was “afraid” of Raggio while serving as an intern at the Legislature:

041911Horsford1 :25 that he met.”

Horsford says Raggio is a true statesman:

041911Horsford2 :20 during difficult times.”

Former Sen. Bill Raggio says while he often disagreed with his colleagues, Nevada’s interests were always foremost in his mind:

041911Raggio :24 of that process.”

Sen. Mike McGinness says Raggio’s knowledge of the budget and legislative process will never be duplicated:

041911McGinness :14 state of Nevada.”

Freshman State Senator Shakes Up Mining Industry As Legislative Session Begins

By Sean Whaley | 9:21 am February 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Freshman Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson got a lot of people’s attention last week when he engaged in a brief but spirited line of questioning at a Judiciary Committee hearing with mining industry lobbyists.

On the job just one week, Roberson, R-Las Vegas, was trying to get information from the mining industry about their profits in Nevada. He was not satisfied with the answers, and said afterward the mining industry might be able to pay more in taxes, firing a shot across the bow of one the state’s most powerful industries.

Sen. Michael Roberson

Roberson, the only attorney on the Judiciary Committee and one of only two in the 21-member Senate, did not mince words with the industry lobbyists during a discussion of a measure to take away mining’s right to use eminent domain.

In an interview in his legislative office last week, Roberson said it is his job to get the answers, and he won’t stop until he does.

“What I wanted to know from mining, and I didn’t get a straight answer – how much money are the mining companies making here in Nevada,” Roberson said. “What’s their profit? I think that’s important for the people to know. And it was clear to me, the lobbyists for mining didn’t want to give me those numbers.”

Roberson says he is in complete agreement with GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval on the need to balance the next two-year state budget without a tax increase. But restructuring Nevada’s tax system to generate more income from mining while reducing the burden on small businesses, for example, is worth considering if taxes don’t increase overall, he said.

Watching Roberson take on one of the biggest players in the Nevada Legislature was an eye-opener for some observers, but should not come as a surprise. Roberson ran a tough campaign to unseat the better funded Democrat incumbent Joyce Woodhouse in the November election in District 5, paring the Democratic majority in the Senate to a single vote.

Bob Fulkerson, director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), which has been pushing for a tax increase on the mining industry, said Roberson’s comments at the hearing, “broke the sense of entitlement the mining lobbyists swagger around with.”

“It was very refreshing to see a legislator from Nevada have the guts to expose mining’s sweetheart tax loopholes in such a forceful way,” he said. “It shows we make mistakes – me and PLAN, or anybody – it shows we can’t pigeon-hole lawmakers based on party and ideology.”

Roberson knows a bit about the mining industry, or at least its sometimes less appealing aftermath. Raised in Galena, Kansas, a small mining town with a population of 3,300, he saw the effects of mining on the community in the 1960s after the minerals had been extracted and the companies had left.

“It can’t help but color how I see things because in my formative years that’s what I grew up with,” he said. “And again, I’m not against mining. I’m not anti-mining. I think it is an important industry to our state, especially to the rurals, and I want mining to thrive here in Nevada.

“But it took many years before the EPA came in and finally cleaned up Galena. In fact I had already moved away by the 1990s.”

Galena is the name of a lead-based mineral that was also found here in Northern Nevada. Galena Creek in south Reno and nearby Galena High School share the same name.

Roberson said Galena itself was the poorest area of the state. On his campaign website Roberson describes himself as coming from “modest beginnings.”

After graduating from high school, Roberson attended the University of Kansas where he graduated in 1993 with a political science degree. He then attended the University of Kansas School of Law on an academic scholarship, earning his degree in 1996.

Roberson said he was inspired to get involved in politics with by the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. He worked on the U.S. Senate campaign for Sam Brownback in 1996 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1997, where he worked on Capitol Hill for then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. He then worked for a political fund-raising company named CAPTEL.

Roberson moved to Nevada in 2000 and is currently an attorney with the law firm of Kolesar & Leatham, Chtd.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said he first met Roberson at the GOP caucus meeting after the election and was impressed with his demeanor.

“He was not overly gabby but when he did talk, he was very thoughtful,” he said.

McGinness said Roberson’s line of questioning at the Judiciary hearing was appropriate, given the state’s budget situation.

“He went into the deep end of the pool right away,” he said. “He’ll do OK.”

Roberson, 40, said he enjoys serving in the Judiciary Committee and that the legislative process thus far is about what was expected. Roberson is also serving on the Natural Resources and Commerce, Labor and Energy committees.

“You never really know what it is going to be like but I guess this is generally how people described it to me before I got into this,” he said. “But I’m enjoying it. I really am.”

Being away from his wife, Liberty Leavitt-Roberson, a Clark County school teacher, and their two dogs, is one of the more difficult aspects of the job so far, but time away from family is part of the job description for a Southern Nevadan to serve in the Legislature in Carson City, he said.

“That’s the toughest part about this, I miss my wife, I miss my two little dogs, it’s tough being away from my family,” Roberson said. “It was tough not being with my wife on Valentine’s Day. But those are the sacrifices we make. We’ll be fine.”

While his comments on mining profits have garnered the most attention early in the session, Roberson said his legislative agenda includes reforms to public education and the collective bargaining process to try to drive down public employee salaries to make them comparable to the private sector.

Roberson said he wants a school choice program where parents can get a rebate for half the per pupil support to pick a private or public school or use the money for home schooling. It would require testing to show student achievement, he said. Roberson also wants a study of Florida’s school reforms to see which might work for Nevada.

Changes to collective bargaining are needed because the pay differential is 30 percent higher for public sector workers, he said.

“We’re never going to get control of this beast until we do something about narrowing that gap,” Roberson said.

His bills have not yet been introduced.

He would also support a change sought by Sandoval to change the public employee retirement system to a defined contribution plan for future hires.

But for now, mining is the hot topic for Roberson.

Richard Perkins, a lobbyist for the Newmont Mining Corp. and former speaker of the Assembly, said Roberson is thoughtful and asks good questions.

“But like any freshman legislator, Senate or Assembly, (he) is still trying to find his sea legs,” he said. “And the questions he asked this last week were a part of that process.”

The mining industry now needs to educate Roberson about the business and satisfy his concerns, Perkins said.

“His profile will more fully develop itself to all of us after that education occurs and we look at how he handles this specific issue,” he said.

Roberson said he does not yet know if the mining industry can afford to pay more, although he is inclined to believe the companies are doing OK.

“My general sense is mining is doing exceptionally well right now,” he said. “And I know for a fact small business in this state is on life-support.”

If that proves not to be the case, Roberson said he would not pursue a tax increase on the industry. But he wants the answers to the mining industry’s profitability in Nevada first and said he will get them.

Based on the exchange at the Feb. 14 judiciary hearing, the mining industry probably believes he won’t take no for an answer either.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says toughest part of job is being away from family:

022111Roberson1 :07 from my family.”

Roberson says it took long time for EPA to clean up his home town:

022111Roberson2 :17 by the 1990s.”

Roberson says he is not opposed to mining industry:

022111Roberson3 :16 here in Nevada.”

Roberson says he did not get a straight answer from mining on profits in Nevada:

022111Roberson4 :10 people to know.”

Roberson says mining lobbyists did not want to provide information:

022111Roberson5 :17 become more suspicious.”

Roberson says if restructuring of Nevada’s tax system makes sense and is revenue neutral, that is OK:

022111Roberson6 :08 open to discussing.”

Mining lobbyist Richard Perkins says Roberson’s questioning was part of his learning process as a freshman:

022111Perkins1 :10 of that process.”

Perkins says Roberson’s profile will become more clear after seeing how he handles the mining issue:

022111Perkins2 :08 this specific issue.”

Republican State Legislative Leaders Ask For End To Rhetoric From Democrats On Budget

By Sean Whaley | 12:04 pm February 2nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Republican minority leadership in the Senate and the Assembly has called on critics of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget to trade their “rhetoric for a plan.”

The comments in a letter from Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, and Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, are in response to criticisms from Democrat lawmakers on various elements of Sandoval’s proposed budget released Jan. 24.

Democrats have not yet offered an alternative to Sandoval’s $5.8 billion general fund budget that includes many program cuts and also shifts the cost of some programs to the counties. Democratic leaders last week said they first have to assess the depth of the cuts in Sandoval’s budget before offering an alternative.

In the letter released Tuesday, the two lawmakers said: “We ask them to join us in supporting the governor’s vision of service before self – a vision that reins in spending, makes government more responsive and calls for shared sacrifice over individual gain.

“We hope they will join us, but should they oppose our efforts to reform government they owe it to you to provide a plan of their own,” McGinness and Goicoechea said. “They owe it to every Nevadan to begin providing specific details of not just their plan, but also how they propose to fund it.

“Nevadans deserve an honest and open debate. We call on Nevada leaders regardless of ideology or party affiliation to spend a little less time on rhetoric and a little more time working together toward real solutions.”

The lawmakers also suggested that Democrats are attempting to mislead the public about Sandoval’s budget.

“Unfortunately some have chosen to dust off an old political strategy designed to confuse the public,” they said. “By presenting a barrage of numbers from a variety of sources, they seek not to advance an agenda of their own but, to confuse the issue.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, last week called some of Sandoval’s budget numbers on public education funding misleading and understating the magnitude of his proposed cuts. He called the use of the numbers “trickery.”

Horsford said Sandoval should use the legislatively approved budget as of the 2009 session, not the budget that was changed as a result of further cuts made in the February 2010 special session, for comparison purposes. Sandoval’s budget cuts don’t appear as severe when compared to the further reduced budget as a result of the special session.

Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert said during the hearing last week there was no intent to mislead, only to use the most current budget numbers.

Republican lawmakers are not unified, however, in support of Sandoval’s budget. Long-time state Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, told the Las Vegas Sun on Tuesday that tax increases may be necessary to balance the spending plan.

He made his comments after hearing the effect of Sandoval’s proposed cuts and program shifts on a variety of critical programs, from mental health courts to child welfare.

Democrats in the Senate would need support from three Republicans to get the 14 votes needed to raise taxes. Assembly Democrats would need the support of two Republicans to get the 28 votes they would need. A two-thirds vote would be required to raise taxes and override a governor’s veto.

Newly elected state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, has said Horsford does not have the votes in the Senate needed to raise taxes.

His comment came after Horsford in early January sent a letter to supporters and constituents suggesting the next two-year state budget is facing an attack from “extreme right-wing” interests who will use the current economic crisis to “dismantle our state.”

All this has come before the 2011 legislative session even begins. The session gets under way on Monday.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says Sandoval administration not being clear about the depth of his budget cuts:

020211Horsford1 :25 bad this is.”

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert says there is no intent to mislead:

020211Gansert :12 in the future.”

Horsford says Sandoval’s budget must be thoroughly reviewed before Democrats can offer any alternatives:

022111Horsford2 :06 do anything else.”

Public Pension Reform Will Be Issue in 2011 Legislative Session

By Sean Whaley | 3:11 pm November 12th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Newly named state Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness is adding his name to the list of Nevada policy makers who believe the state retirement system needs major change to head off a growing unfunded liability.

McGinness, R-Fallon, said he agrees with GOP Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval that the retirement plan now covering 103,000 active public employees across the state needs to switch to a “defined contribution” plan for future hires.

McGinness said the switch would at least keep the long-term unfunded liability of the retirement system from growing larger.

“I pretty much agree with that idea,” he said. “Otherwise we will continue to build on the problem we have now.”

McGinness said his views are his own. The possibility of reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System in the upcoming legislative session have not yet been discussed by the Republican Senate Caucus as a whole, he said.

State Sen.-elect Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the unfunded liability is clearly an issue that needs to be discussed in the upcoming session, but that it is more of a long-term policy question than one requiring immediate action.

There is no suggestion that the retirement plan be changed for people already in the system, she said.

“We’re not going to take away benefits that have been promised to people,” Leslie said. ‘It’s more of a conversation we need to have as we hire new employees, whenever that’s going to happen. It is a topic that needs to be considered for the long-term fiscal stability of the state.”

Senate Democrats have not yet discussed the issue as a caucus either, she said.

At a meeting of the PERS board on Wednesday, it was announced that the system’s long-term unfunded liability hit $10 billion as of June 30, 2010, up from $9.1 billion as of June 30, 2009. The plan was 70.5 percent fully funded on June 30, 2010, down from 72.5 percent in the previous year. At its high point in 2000 the plan was 85 percent funded.

The PERS board recommended increases in the contribution rates paid by public employers and their employees to maintain adequate funding for the retirement system

While there is interest in considering a major change to PERS, no bill drafts calling for reforms have yet been requested by lawmakers.

The PERS board did authorize an analysis of what a conversion to a defined contribution would mean in terms of cost and required regulatory changes because of the interest in the issue. The report is expected to be discussed by the board next month.

There are court rulings saying that public employees already in the retirement plan have a legal right to the benefit that cannot be taken away, so any changes would have to be applied to future employees.

Some changes were made to the retirement system by the 2009 Legislature, including raising the retirement age to 62 from 60 for an employee with 10 years of service. An employee can still retire at any age with 30 years of service.

It is expected to be a topic of discussion, however, given Sandoval’s views on the need for more fundamental change. The existing “defined benefit” retirement plan provides a guaranteed pension to a retiree based on salary and years of service. A defined contribution plan would provide no such guarantee, and would not create an unfunded long-term liability.

Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President Matt Crosson said in an interview in August that the organization wants retirement system reforms to be part of a package of changes to be considered by the 2011 Legislature. He did not specify what changes are needed to the retirement system.

“We have to take advantage of the crisis that we are in right now to set the state on the right course into the future,” Crosson said. “And in part that requires reform.”

The SAGE Commission, a panel created by outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons to look for efficiencies in state government, also recommended changes to the retirement system but did not advocate a change to a defined contribution plan.

Recommendations from the Spending and Government Efficiency panel include setting a minimum retirement age of 60 before benefits can be paid out. Other recommendations include calculating the retirement benefit over five years of pay, not the current three highest pay years, and imposing a moratorium on any benefit enhancements until the plan is fully funded.

Veteran GOP Leader Raggio Out In State Senate Leadership Shakeup

By Sean Whaley | 3:23 pm November 4th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Veteran Republican state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, won’t be minority leader in the upcoming 2011 session, withdrawing his name from consideration for the leadership post today after getting GOP criticism for backing Sen. Harry Reid in the Tuesday general election.

The 10-member GOP Senate caucus instead unanimously supported Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, as minority leader. A member of the Senate since 1992, McGinness is in his last legislative session because of term limits.

No other caucus member sought the leadership post.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, who on Tuesday won a hard fought re-election campaign, was named assistant minority leader.

“I withdrew my name,” Raggio said. “If it unifies the party and pacifies some folks who are still agitated, that’s fine. My goal is to unify the party instead of splinter it.”

The Washoe County Republican Party put out a statement congratulating McGinness and thanking the GOP caucus for, “making the leadership change the caucus badly needed.”

“Senator McGinness truly represents the small government, low tax views of Washoe County Republicans and would be a strong unifying leader the party needs at this juncture,” the statement said. “The WCRP looks forward to working with Senator McGinness and the rest of the Republican caucus during the next legislative session and beyond.”

Reid said in a statement: “In this election Nevadans, Republicans, Democrats and independents voted to reject extremism. That some of Senator Raggio’s Republican colleagues even considered punishing him for being on the side of a majority of Nevadans shows that they clearly missed that message and are not listening to their constituents.

“Senator Raggio has served in the state Senate longer than any of his colleagues and he has been long respected by Republicans and Democrats alike,” Reid said. “He has been a true champion of the people of Nevada in his work to represent them in Carson City. I appreciate his support and look forward to working with him to do what is best for Nevadans.”

Raggio, who will also be serving in his last session because of term limits, won’t be in the top Republican leadership post for the first time since 1983. He has served in the Senate since 1973 and is Nevada’s longest serving state legislator.

Some state Republicans sought a replacement for Raggio because of his endorsement of Reid over GOP challenger Sharron Angle. Reid won re-election on Tuesday. Raggio also faced a contentious primary race against Angle in 2008 that created animosity between the two Northern Nevada Republicans.

This is not the first time Raggio has been at odds with the more conservative and libertarian factions of the party. In 2003, he joined Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn in support of a tax increase. Then, in 2009, Raggio and four other GOP senators joined Democrats to override Gov. Jim Gibbons’ veto of a state budget that included tax increases.

Raggio said today he will also voluntarily step down as a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. The newly elected GOP senators are seeking fundamental changes to the way state government is funded and Raggio said he did not want to be an impediment to the process.

“They are all good people,” he said. “They’ve got their job ahead of them. There is no question this is the toughest session we’ll ever face.”

Six of the 10 members of the caucus were newly elected on Tuesday.

The caucus meeting came just two days after Republicans picked up a seat in the 21-member Senate, closing the gap with Democrats to just one. Sen.-elect Michael Roberson defeated Democratic incumbent Joyce Woodhouse in Clark District 5 to reduce the margin from 12-9 in the 2009 session. Republicans also held on to an open Las Vegas seat and Cegavske fended off a challenge from a well-financed Democratic opponent.

Despite the increase in numbers, Raggio said he and his colleagues are concerned that Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, re-elected by his caucus yesterday, has devised a plan for committee assignments that will have 5-2 Democratic majorities on two committees in the 2011 session: Commerce and Labor and Health and Education.

“It is completely inequitable when you have an 11-10 split,” Raggio said. “It is hardly fair representation on a committee.”

Raggio said that when he questioned Horsford about the plan he was told there is precedent for such a move.

“I think this will cause concern and it is not the best way to start a session,” Raggio said.

Horsford could not be reached for comment.