Posts Tagged ‘Mike McGinness’

Democrats Refuse To Hear Republican Redistricting Proposal After Tiff

By Andrew Doughman | 8:50 pm May 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – After Republican legislators declined to reveal exact data for their redistricting proposal, Democrats refused to give the bill a hearing today.

Then, Democratic legislators voted over Republican objections to pass their own redistricting proposal to a vote on the Senate floor.

Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the previous Democratic redistricting plan, which proposed revised boundaries for Congressional districts, as well as state Assembly and Senate districts, as required by the 2010 Census.

The new plan is a second attempt for Nevada’s Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican governor to reach a compromise over appropriate political boundaries. If they cannot agree, the political tug-o-war could be resolved by a judge.

Republicans  contended that Democrats were trying to blitz through hearings and pass their bill without making an effort to compromise.

“If we knew that there was going to be some meaningful working together on these maps and this other one wasn’t going to be pushed out like the last one was, we would be more than happy to,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.

The statement, however, contradicted what Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, told the Las Vegas Sun.

“I’m going to call our guy now and see if we can’t get it released,” he said of the data in a Las Vegas Sun story published last week. “The public needs to be able to compare the maps.”

Yesterday, Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he would discuss releasing the data with GOP attorneys, but he first wanted a hearing on the Republican bill.

Democrats, who control the Legislature’s committees because they are the majority party, first scheduled a hearing for the Republican proposal, but decided not to hear it after Republicans did not release their data.

“We can’t have an open and honest conversation about these maps while the data is being withheld from the public,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “I would move that we move on and not hear the bill as scheduled. There can be no discussion or deliberation without the information provided to the public.”

Although Republicans provided a bill, the 194-page document contains arcane references to Census block tracts, which are nearly impossible for people to visualize.

Cegavske said Republicans have provided maps for people to examine, but Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, contended that the exact data used to construct the maps have not been made public, therefore making the maps impossible to analyze or evaluate.

The Legislature’s information-technology staff has the complex data, but has not been authorized to release it.

“I am happy to come to the table to compromise, but that’s impossible when the other side is not releasing all the data to the public so this can be a fair open and transparent process,” Horsford said.

Cegavske countered that Republicans want an open process.

“It is supposed to be fair and open and that’s all we have ever asked for,” she said.

She said that Democrats had “fast-tracked” Democratic proposals through the Senate and Assembly, which gave no time for true compromise.

After the hearing, Cegavske said nobody but the Democratic Party has requested the data. Holding the 194-page Republican bill, she said the data Democrats want is in her hand.

“All you have to do is work this backwards,” she said. “It’s all here … they can do it in a heartbeat.”

She said it was a “mistake” for Democrats to have released the Democratic data in the first place.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, who was standing nearby, said Democrats “want us to do their homework.”

During the evening hearing in the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, legislators spent little time debating the actual merits or faults of any redistricting proposal.

Legislators briefly discussed the federal Voting Rights Act, with Cegavske asking if the Democratic proposal complies with the federal law and Democrats asserting that it does.

Legislators were chided during opportunity for public comment.

“The ACLU is certainly disappointed in political posturing on both sides of the aisle,” said Rebecca Gasca of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. “We think that the Legislature is doing a disservice to constituents in this state.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senators Sit On Floor In Impromptu Debate With Camping Activists

By Andrew Doughman | 5:18 pm May 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY — Senate Republicans gave new meaning to the legislative jargon “floor debate” today.

Several lawmakers sat on the floor outside their offices today as they talked to activists who have been camping on the Capitol lawn since yesterday night in support of new revenue.

The impromptu, hour-long debate featured a variety of popular budget topics including teacher pay, textbooks in schools, higher education tuition and taxes.

It all started when about two dozen campers requested an audience with Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, who did not have room for them in her office. So she stepped outside, and they sat on the floor together.

Several other Republican senators joined her soon after, and Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, offered shortbread Girl Scout cookies all around.

“I’ve never seen this before,” said Warren Hardy, a former legislator and current lobbyist who watched the debate. “It’s a great dialog. If I were still a senator, I would be right in the middle of it because I think that’s the respect these people deserve.”

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, speaks with Michael Flores, a ProgressNOW organizer, outside her office in the halls of the Legislature. //PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Republicans fielded a variety of questions from tough critics, some of whom are from organizations like Progress NOW Nevada and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Those groups have supported Democratic plans for new taxes and have opposed Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget.

One girl asked about a shortage of textbooks in her Clark County School District high school.

Responding, Roberson said that many Clark County School District employees earn six-figure salaries and he wants more money going into the classroom.

Bob Fulkerson of PLAN called the response a “good sound byte,” but not a solution for poor rural school districts.

Roberson, in a familiar line, said that collective bargaining is “bankrupting the state,” after which several people shouted: “no.”

“If every teacher makes concessions, you will not have one teacher laid off,” Roberson said.

Republicans touted reforms to collective bargaining and advocated for the governor’s recommendation to cut teacher and state employee salaries by 5 percent, saying that it is the same suffering that private sector employees have had to bear during this recession.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, listens to a young girl ask him a question about the K-12 system as he sits outside legislative offices with a group camping outside the Legislature to show support for taxes. //PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau.

The conversation was mostly an exercise in disagreement: over taxes, over the influence of public sector unions, over teacher pay, over tuition.

“If you want taxes to happen immediately, why can’t reforms happen immediately?” asked Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, as Roberson, Cegavske, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, looked on.

McGinness had met with the group of campers earlier.

“They talked to me about taxes and I talked to them about the governor’s budget,” he said. “We agreed to disagree.”

Similar disagreements are happening behind closed doors as McGinness and other legislative leaders from both parties are talking about taxes and the governor’s budget. McGinness said he thinks it is likely legislators will meet almost every night to reach a budget compromise.

Seated on the floor, no Republican had a sudden revelation that taxes will save Nevada and none of the campers disavowed taxes, but both groups seemed pleased with the debate.

“I’m so proud of you for sitting on the floor with us,” Cegavske said. “This is awesome.”

Michael Flores, a Progress NOW organizer, said it was “amazing” to talk to legislators for that long in an open-forum debate.

“This is what Democracy looks like,” he said.

Rural Lawmakers Could Pay High Price For Backing Governor On Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 4:15 pm April 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s rural Republican legislators are struggling to defend the cuts to their communities in the governor’s budget.

Democrats have been showcasing cuts to the rural counties in order to convince rural Republican legislators that a vote for tax increases is a vote to mitigate the harm to their districts.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said that rural counties are already “cut to the bone,” and in many cases could lose all that they have left.

“Are they willing to be so loyal that they hurt the very constituents that elected them?” Horsford asked.

Many of the governor’s budget cuts would affect rural counties. The budget reduces the money going to rural health clinics or shifts that responsibility to county governments. Many clinics and college campuses that have branched out into the countryside are slated to consolidate to more populated areas.

So far, these cuts have not pushed any rural Republicans to voice anything but support for Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed general fund budget.

“There’s nobody blinking, so to speak, from the rural areas about increasing taxes,” said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora.

Rural legislators say they understand they must share in the cuts, but that the cuts should be fair. For some Democrats, though, that means rural counties need to shoulder more of the burden.

 

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, here speaking before the Senate, has highlighted impacts of Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed budget. "I'm particularly concerned about the impact to the rural and underserved communities," he said today./PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

This Monday, Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said that Washoe and Clark counties have to subsidize the rural counties.

“A lot of you come from areas of the state that are taking from the largest counties of the state,” he said to his fellow legislators in the Assembly chambers.

Horsford has argued that it is unfair for the state to divert property tax revenue from Clark and Washoe counties to the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas when counties like Elko and Eureka, beneficiaries of Great Basin College, do not.

The governor’s staff has said that Washoe and Clark counties benefit economically from the state’s two universities and should therefore pay more to support them.

“If you close Great Basin College, which does mining and other training to the mining industry, if you close that campus, that’s going to have a tremendous economic impact to that region,” said Horsford, who earlier urged the Board of Regents to consider closing campuses to save money. “So to suggest that there’s no economic benefit to those rural communities either by underfunding or funding their programs, I’m not understanding their logic.”

The governor’s chief of staff, Heidi Gansert, said that Washoe and Clark counties have more money. The governor is asking all counties to pay for a greater share of health services, but she said the two largest counties can shoulder that burden and rural counties cannot.

Despite this defense, budget cuts in rural counties worried Sandoval enough that he traveled to Elko this past Saturday to listen to concerns from county officials and state legislators.

Rhoads said he had personal chats with the governor during the flights to and from Elko. They discussed cuts to the Wells Honor Camp and the rural bookmobile program. Rhoads said the governor told him he would “add back” funding for these services if the state receives more revenue as the economic recovery inches forward.

“He’s looking at amending this stuff back in now,” said Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, who also met with the governor in Elko this past Saturday. “I think at the end of the day … I’m hoping it’ll be fair.”

From left to right, Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, Senator Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, and Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, watch Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., address the Legislature earlier this week. Gov. Brian Sandoval visited Rhoads and Ellison earlier this week to discuss budget cuts to rural districts. /PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Budget Battle Could Pit Urban Against Rural

Sandoval has said before that the Legislature is free to move money around within his budget. As long as the $5.8 billion arrives at his desk without taxes and fee increases, he will sign it.

“If you don’t want to spend more in this account and move it to that account, that’s the Legislature’s prerogative,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser, at a press briefing earlier this week.

But Erquiaga later suggested that policy decisions “pitting urban against rural” would be bad for the state.

“I don’t think he [Sandoval] has given a carte blanche,” said Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, suggesting the governor would not sign a budget that overtly hammers rural Republican districts.

Given the magnitude of the governor’s proposed cuts, it is unlikely that any one legislator would be spared cuts to his or her district.

“As long as we’re not taking more than their [urban legislators'] share, everyone is willing to do their part,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon.

But what is “fair” is a matter of debate. Just like in Congress, legislators will try to do what they can for their districts. This time, though, that is less a matter of bringing home the bacon than it is of saving the farmhouse.

State entities, however, may have an monetary incentive to favor urban districts. Centralizing services in cities could save money while reaching the majority of Nevadans.

“We’ll offer fewer classes at fewer locations,” said Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich. “In particular, this could impact rural locations that could suffer as our colleges focus on serving the greatest number of students.”

That pressure, however, does not mean rural legislators are pushing to be first in line to vote for a tax increase.

“Most of my constituents have indicated that in these tough times we have to make some cuts,” Settelmeyer said. “Most of them have told me they would prefer to make tough choices [over raising taxes].”

The cuts, though, still could become a bargaining chip. The governor has said he wants “shared sacrifice,” but the Legislature could end up with an Animal Farm scenario in which all cuts are equal, but some cuts are more equal than others.

***UPDATED April 23, 2011 to reflect  that no NSHE entities are fully closing, although some satellite campuses may close.***

In Surprise Vote, Motorcycle Helmet Choice Bill Passes Committee

By Andrew Doughman | 7:37 pm April 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, had written off his bill as dead when he learned this afternoon that Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Las Vegas, was giving it a vote.

The senator was even more tickled when he realized his bill had the votes to pass out of committee.

The bill would let people ride motorcycles without helmets if they are 21 years of age or older, have had a motorcycle license for more than one year and have completed a safety course.

Gustavson has introduced the bill for the past five legislative sessions.

The bill passed out of committee on a 4 to 3 vote with three Democrats voting against, three Republicans voting for and Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, casting the tie-breaking “yes” vote.

Despite being against the bill, Breeden said she wanted to give the bill a chance.

“I believe we vetted all the bills and I thought it should have an opportunity for folks to vote on it,” she said. “…I know how it’s going to come out, but I still thought it was the right thing to do.”

The chair of the committee decides whether to bring up a bill for a vote. In Nevada’s case where the majority of legislators in the Senate and Assembly are Democrats, all committees have a Democratic chairperson.

Often, the bills brought forward to a vote reflect the political hue – red or blue – of the chairperson.

Republicans voiced their support for Gustavson’s bill.

Sen Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, called the bill a “great liberty bill.” She also said the bill could be a way to bring jobs to Nevada, echoing Gustavson’s earlier arguments that motorcycle events and interest in riding will grow if the law is repealed.

Sen. Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas, disagreed.

“This is a great jobs bill for the medical community,” he quipped. “There’s a huge, huge expense in this. I would dispute what Sen. Halseth is saying.”

He said that helmets provide protection from more serious injuries when motorcycle riders are involved in accidents. Removing a requirement to wear one could lead to gruesome injuries and more fatal crashes, he said.

Lee said wearing a helmet or not wearing a helmet was a “personal right.”

Schneider said that society ends up paying for that personal right.

“It costs society so much money that, you know, the cheap way out is that people die,” he said. “They hit their head on the curb and die. That’s cheap.”

Otherwise society pays the medical bills for people in assisted living homes, he said.

In the end, Nevada Sens. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Dean Rhoads, R-Elko, joined Halseth and Lee to pass the bill out of committee.

The bill is now headed for the Senate floor.

 

 

Accessibility or Agenda Setting? Democrats Holding Frequent Press Briefings

By Andrew Doughman | 4:12 pm February 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A coffee shop across the street from the Legislature announces “let the games begin.”

With the Legislature in session for less than two weeks, Democratic legislators seem to be playing the game well.

They have called the press corps to briefings during three of the past four working days to showcase meetings or bills they’d like to advance.

This has helped them steer news coverage to the bills they’d like Nevadans to pay attention to, even though some of the journalists among the capitol press corps have neither attended the briefings nor written stories about the bills.

“We want to highlight a few bills,” said Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas at today’s press briefing where Assembly Democrats announced a school retrofit proposal and a bill related to trade. “We’d like to meet with you every week … We want to get some of our proposals out.”

He said the strategy has been effective so far, citing an example from last week when Democrats held a press conference for a jobs bill that was well-covered in the press.

“It helps to draw attention to the issues that they want to keep raising before the public, so I don’t think it hurts them at all to keep doing that,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association.

Oceguera later said the Senate and Assembly Democrats plan to have weekly press briefings Monday and Tuesday afternoons.

On one hand, the conferences could allow legislators to help steer public debate, thereby setting the agenda for what is, and what is not, important. On the other hand, reporters are free to choose whether or not they should pursue the story offered to them at the press conference. It’s the old debate about what constitutes news and who should decide what news is.

Whether the answer is the politicians, the people or the press, frequent media conferences do allow the journalists easy access to lawmakers. The meetings promote government transparency.

“Speaking in general, I like the idea of the accessibility, and you can always ask a question that’s not related to the subject of the press conference,” said Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. “I’d say the more the merrier.”

The frequent press conferences also allow spin-off conversations between legislators and reporters to continue after the inevitable “last question” announcement signals the end of the formal media briefing.

“I often like press conferences more than press releases because I can’t talk back to press releases,” Ceppos said.

The Democratic strategy mirrors the policy next door at the Capitol building. Gov. Brian Sandoval sends his senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga, to take questions from the press every Monday.

“It’s a good way for the governor to communicate with the press as well as answer all the questions you all might have,” said Mary-Sarah Kinner, Sandoval’s press secretary.

Kinner helped arrange the Monday meeting time to fit reporters’ schedules.

Republicans at the Legislature are using a different strategy.

“We try to hold a press conference when we really have something to say,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, clarifying afterward that he didn’t mean Democrats have nothing to say.

“It’s just early,” he said. “It’s only day seven.”

The Case For Cuts: After Criticism, Many Defend Governor’s Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 4:00 am February 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – They speak of limbs hacked off, death and guts.

In a war of words, critics of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $5.8 billion budget have lambasted his proposed cuts to K-12, higher education and health and human services.

Conservatives have largely stayed silent while the critics lashed out. Now, two weeks after the governor released his budget and on the first day of the 120-day legislative session, they’re ready to defend it.

The “live within our means” crowd has said the governor’s budget, along with any legislative tinkering to iron out compromises, puts Nevada where it needs to be. Advocates for health and education have equated it to a starvation diet. The governor and others say each state dollar can do more.

When you’re at home, and you know you can’t afford something, you just don’t get it,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, one of the few Republican lawmakers to raise her voice during the past two weeks of legislative budget-overview hearings.

The governor has proposed 9 percent and 18 percent budget cuts to K-12 and higher education. But even those who have bemoaned the cost of the governor’s cuts have some concessions to make.

I think we have been guilty of hyperbole in the past where, you know, we get the first dollar of a cut and we would like you to believe that the sky is falling,” said Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which comprises Nevada’s universities and community college. “Here we are a few years later and lo and behold the sky is right where it started out. It has not fallen in.”

Klaich made his comments at a meeting this past week between presidents of universities and community colleges and the Board of Regents, which govern the state’s higher education system. He warned the presidents not to overstate the cost of the cuts.

Later in the session, the extent to which advocates for school, university and human services programs justify their worth could influence how legislators choose what to cut and what to save.

Presenting worst case scenarios doesn’t do any good,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser. “Everyone knows they’re not going to try to fill that [budget] gap entirely with tuition [increases], including them. And so to say that they would is disingenuous.”

No new taxes

The governor has repeatedly said he will veto any bill with a tax increase. Democrats would have to rally their legislators as well as persuade some Republican lawmakers to cross party lines in order to have the two-thirds majority required to override Sandoval’s veto.

The governor’s staff remain confident that this is impossible.

They do not have two-thirds to raise a tax,” Erquiaga said.

Not all Democrats have pledged their support for tax increases either. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, stressed the harmful effects of the cuts during legislative budget overviews during the past two weeks.

His counterpart in the Assembly, Speaker-elect John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, offered more compromising rhetoric.

As the Las Vegas Sun reported this past weekend, the two Democrats are approaching the session with different leadership styles, which could be a contributing factor to how the 120-day session is likely to play out.

Accountability

The admonishments from Horsford and others have not persuaded some legislators. Rather than watch agencies and programs starve, this is the camp that says that the state can get leaner, more efficient and do more with less at the level of spending the governor has proposed.

Freshman Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, said this weekend that people don’t mind some taxes.

They just want to know how is it being spent, are we spending correctly,” he said. “That’s the systemic problem we’re having, the transparency of each of these agencies that we have.”

Although not the single agenda of any one legislator, the no-new-taxes scenario could look like this: Legislators vote to consolidate state agencies, reduce salaries of state employees and revise the state’s pension and benefits plans. They also make it easier to fire bad teachers and reward good ones. That same accountability system and culture, somehow, migrates to state agencies so the state can better track the effectiveness of its spending. Finally, the Legislature decides to shift services downward to county governments, a move that isn’t a burden because the Legislature concurrently gives counties more leeway in how they pay their employees. Counties also add accountability measures at the local level.

If you’ve been watching the firefighters down in Clark County, yeah, somebody should be watching something,” Cegavske said.

County leaders have criticized Clark County firefighters for making liberal use of their sick days, oftentimes when they’re not sick.

Republican leaders Sen. Mike McGinness and Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea have also written a letter in support of the governor’s budget. They argue that taxes are unnecessary because the state can reform “how government should operate.”

Jobs and Business

That philosophy of government harkens back to the Reagan years, when the governor and his senior advisers first entered politics.

Sandoval said that keeping people employed is his “most important” priority in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun. In the same interview, he said a business-friendly, low-tax environment will be the key to economic growth.

It’s a message echoed by conservatives statewide.

The best way to get out of it for those people and everyone is allow people to work,” said Victor Joecks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank.

The governor has, however, used about $1 billion worth of one-time budget shifts to balance his budget. He hasn’t completely relied on cuts. Instead he has proposed to move around local funds and open up accounts that are now locked-in for bond repayment.

But critics have called the governor out more for his cuts than his accounting. Some have suggested a sales tax on services or a business franchise tax as ways to avoid eviscerating the state’s social safety-net and broaden the state’s tax base.

The governor still has strong support going into the session. But, as the Las Vegas Review Journal reports, the record number of freshman legislators and the presence of some key players don’t entirely rule out a tax increase if Horsford and other can advocates are especially persuasive.

The games begin today as the Legislature convenes later this morning.