Posts Tagged ‘Sandoval’

Sandoval Announces Intent To Expand Medicaid

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 6:19 pm December 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today announced he will include 78,000 additional people in Nevada’s Medicaid program as provided for under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Though I have never liked the Affordable Care Act because of the individual mandate it places on citizens, the increased burden on businesses and concerns about access to health care, the law has been upheld by the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement. “As such, I am forced to accept it as today’s reality and I have decided to expand Nevada’s Medicaid coverage.

Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“My fiscal year 2014-2015 budget will provide 78,000 additional Nevadans with health insurance coverage through Medicaid, which is estimated to save the state general fund approximately $17 million dollars in mental health savings,” Sandoval said. “My executive budget will also help Nevada businesses cope with the burden placed on them by decreasing the modified business tax. My decision to opt-in assists the neediest Nevadans and helps some avoid paying a health-care tax penalty. As part of my proposal, I will also call upon the Legislature to pass Medicaid patient responsibility cost-sharing measures.

“I will commit to working with the Legislature if anything changes at the federal level,” he said. “At any point during the Legislative session, if there is any sign of change at the state or federal level, it may alter my support for expansion.”

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid today praised Sandoval for his decision.

“This is wonderful for the people of Nevada and for the thousands of Nevadans who now will have health care,” he said. “I commend Gov. Sandoval for taking this bipartisan step. This is a win-win, it will save the state money, is good for the economy, good for employers and most importantly will help people. I worked hard to pass this legislation and I couldn’t be happier that the governor has made this decision.”

State Senate Candidates Await Fate

By Sean Whaley | 2:46 pm November 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The precincts have been walked, the issues debated and the media campaigns run. Now many Nevada voters will get to weigh in on five critical races to determine whether Republicans or Democrats will control the state Senate after the polls close tomorrow.

The 21-member Senate currently has an 11-10 Democratic edge.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and many of his Republican colleagues are working to change this by winning at least four of five of the races in play between the two parties on Election Day tomorrow.

Sandoval, who is expected to push for further education reforms and other changes in the 2013 session, would love to have the leverage a Republican Senate would provide to help win passage of his agenda.

State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.

Democrats meanwhile, are working hard to hold on to or even increase their majority in the Senate, where they have been in control since 2008. The 42-member Assembly is expected to remain under Democratic control following the election.

Races to watch

Four of the five Senate seats in play are in Southern Nevada and the fifth is in Reno:

Senate 5, where Republican and former Henderson city councilman Steve Kirk is facing Democrat and former state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse;

Senate 6, where GOP attorney Mark Hutchison faces Democrat businessman Benny Yerushalmi;

Senate 9, where Republican Mari Nakashima St. Martin faces Democrat Justin Jones;

Senate 15 in Reno where Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, is running against former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno; and,

Senate 18, where Republican Assemblyman Scott Hammond faces Democrat Kelli Ross.

Republicans have a voter registration edge in Senate 15 and 18, while Democrats lead in the other three. There are a large number of nonpartisan voters in all five districts as well, however. How they vote could determine the outcome of the races.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the top drawer candidates recruited by the Republican Senate caucus are all in a position to win on Tuesday.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

“We’re right where we want to be, we’re right where we expected to be,” he said today. “We’re positioned to win all of these races. Whether we do or not the voters will tell us tomorrow.

“All of our races are very close,” Roberson said. “Some of them could certainly go either way. But we feel like we’ve done everything we can to put us in a position to be successful.”

The Republican candidates have been successful in attracting both Democrat and nonpartisan voters, he said.

“So I think you’re going to see a lot of ticket splitting; I think you’re going to see a lot of people who are registered Democrat or registered nonpartisan that come over and vote for our candidates,” Roberson said.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, was equally optimistic about the outcome for his Democratic candidates.

“Our take has always been that we were going to maintain and expand our majority,” he said today. “We went out and recruited some great folks and we’ve been out working hard on the ground since February, knocking on doors.”

The candidates and the caucus have raised the funds needed to fund competitive campaigns, and polling shows they are doing well with voters, Denis said.

“The registration numbers were great for us, and the early vote has been great for us,” he said. “So I feel real confident about our folks and how they’re going to do tomorrow.”

Early voting results statewide did favor Democrats, with 307,877 votes cast compared to 259,913 for Republicans. Not all of those votes came in the five Senate districts.

Republicans out raising Democrats in all five races

But the campaign funding race has favored Republicans, according to the Campaign Contribution and Expense forms filed with the Secretary of State’s office updated through Nov. 1.

Even so, all of the candidates have brought in and spent large sums since the beginning of the year, showing just out important both parties see the races.

The Brower-Leslie race alone has generated nearly $1.2 million in contributions combined since January.

In Senate 5, Kirk has raised $336,000 since the beginning of the year, but has spent $392,000. This compares to $243,000 for Woodhouse with nearly $267,000 spent.

In Senate 6, Hutchison has brought in just over $572,000 while spending nearly $520,000. Yerushalmi has raised $292,000 while spending $290,000.

In Senate 9, St. Martin has raised over $388,000 and spent $376,000, while Jones has raised nearly $313,000 and spent $297,000.

In Senate 15, Brower has almost $704,000 and spent $718,000, with Leslie bringing in nearly $483,000 and spending $500,000.

In Senate 18, Hammond has raised $214,000 and spent 208,000, while Ross reported just over $201,000 in contributions and $186,000 in expenses.

Roberson said a Republican majority in the Senate will bring more balance to the Legislature.

“And that’s going to encourage more bipartisanship, more cooperation, more collaboration,” he said. “And I think the end result will be better legislation, better public service for the people of Nevada, coming out of Carson City.”

Denis said he has a track record of working across the aisle with Republicans, and that his leadership will ensure bipartisanship and balance with the GOP.

“I think the balance has to come from leadership, and I’ve show that,” he said. “I know Sen. Roberson has said he wants to do that; he’s going to have to prove that with his actions. And so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll want to do that.”

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Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says the Senate GOP candidates are positioned to win on Tuesday:

110512Roberson1 :23 to be successful.”

Roberson says Republicans will draw Democratic and nonpartisan voters:

110512Roberson2 :10 for our candidates.”

Roberson says a GOP Senate will encourage bipartisanship:

110512Roberson3 :18 of Carson City.”

Sen. Mo Denis says Democrats are poised to hold on to and even expand their Senate majority:

110512Denis11 :19 knocking on doors.”

Denis says he is confident the Senate Democratic candidates will do well Tuesday:

110512Denis2 :13 to do tomorrow.”

Denis says he has a track record of working with Republicans:

110512Denis3 :24 to do that.”

 

Sen. Heller, Gov. Sandoval Disagree On Internet Sales Tax

By Sean Whaley | 3:28 pm May 8th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recent agreement with on-line retailing giant Amazon to begin collecting Nevada sales tax on purchases is unlikely to see federal legislation supporting the policy from Nevada’s junior senator.

The deal reached by Sandoval and Amazon is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, or sooner if federal legislation is passed to allow states to collect revenues from internet purchases.

Sandoval said today he has discussed the issue with U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, but that Heller is opposed to such legislation at the federal level.

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“I have spoken with Sen. Heller,” he said. “Sen. Heller is not supportive of the, I think it is called the Main Street Fairness Act.”

Chandler Smith, campaign spokeswoman for Heller, confirmed he does not support such a proposal.

“Sen. Heller does not support imposing a federal internet sales tax mandate,” she said in response to an email inquiry. “The Amazon agreement in Nevada is a state issue.”

Sandoval said he has not had a discussion about such a proposal with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The most recent effort to force on-line retailers to collect sales taxes is being pushed by U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Ten., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

Sandoval said the agreement he reached with Amazon is identical to those established by governors in other states, including South Carolina, Indiana, California, Tennessee and Texas.

“So there are some very conservative governors out there that have taken the identical position that we have,” he said. “I’ll say it again that this is not a new tax. This is something that is required to be collected.”

Sandoval has estimated that the deal with Amazon will bring in between $15 million and $20 million a year. He said the deal is good for the state.

Sandoval jokingly noted that he’s doing his part.

Sandoval said he bought a pair of old City of Reno cufflinks on eBay on Monday, paying a grand total of $3.99. Sandoval said he then filled out a form provided by the state Department of Taxation to remit his 30 cents in sales tax to the state.

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Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is opposed to federal legislation requiring sales tax collections from on-line purchases:

050812Sandoval1 :08 Street Fairness Act.”

Sandoval says Nevada’s agreement is identical to those entered into by several other governors:

050812Sandoval2 :14 to be collected.”

 

 

Washoe Schools Chief Heath Morrison A Finalist For 2012 Superintendent Of The Year

By Sean Whaley | 5:37 pm January 4th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison has been named a finalist for the 2012 National Superintendent of the Year.

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) selected Morrison and three other superintendents as the four finalists in the national program.

“I am exceptionally honored and humbled,” Morrison said. “There are some amazing educational leaders in this country who are doing phenomenal work to improve the lives of the nation’s children.

Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison.

“Being selected as a finalist for this award is truly an acknowledgment of the amazing efforts of the educators in Washoe County and a result of hard work and effort by many people in the district and in our community,” he said. “Our reform efforts have led to improved student achievement and increased opportunities for every child’s future.”

AASA will announce the winner of the 2012 National Superintendent of the Year on Feb. 16 at the National Conference on Education in Houston, Texas. The program, which is sponsored by ARAMARK Education, ING and AASA, celebrates the contributions and leadership of public school superintendents.

“When we called for educational reform several years ago, we were looking for a superintendent who would inspire change and re-energize our community in support of education,” said Washoe County School Board President Barbara McLaury. “Heath is exactly that type of leader. He has stimulated genuine change that is making a difference in the lives of our children.”

Student achievement has continued to make significant improvements under Morrison’s leadership. Between 2009 and 2011, the district’s graduate rate jumped 14 points from 56 percent to 70 percent with increases in every student subgroup.

The Washoe County School District also has witnessed academic gains in test scores and has successfully narrowed the achievement gap in many subject areas.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised Morrison’s leadership and advocacy at a time of budget reductions.

“Despite the budget restrictions, Dr. Morrison has helped institute dramatic educational reforms in the district and has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that Nevada students are able to compete in the global economy,” he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, who also provided a letter of recommendation, said: “Dr. Morrison is a strategic thinker who builds string relationships in his community and policymakers in the state capital. He is respected by his peers in all of Nevada’s school districts and I know he enjoys very close relationships with members of the Nevada Legislature as well.”

 

Nevada Among States With Lowest Spending On Health Care And Least Number Of Insured

By Sean Whaley | 2:35 pm December 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada ranks 46th among states on spending on health care per capita, according to a report released this month by the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services.

Nevada spends $5,735 per person on total personal health care as of 2009, the report says. The national average is $6,815. The highest per capita spending was found in Massachusetts at $9,278.

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, said Nevada’s low spending on health care is a reflection of the large number of residents who don’t have health insurance.

U.S. Census data released in October shows that Nevada is the third most uninsured state per capita in the U.S as of 2009.

“On first blush it’s good news that we’re not on the high end of spending per person,” Matheis said. “But a more balanced look at the data says we have a lot of warning signs in this pool of data. It renders a number that looks like we’ve got costs under control. It actually just means we have a big access problem.”

The report found that eight of the ten top states for total health care spending per capita, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, are also ranked in the top third in the nation for annual personal income per capita.

Photo by James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Income appears to have an important and positive relationship with health spending,” the report said.

Matheis said the study provides much-needed information as the country moves forward with full implementation of the national health care law.

“They need much better baseline information about how much they are spending and on what with every population and in every part of the country, because a big part of the reform proposals are aimed at trying to, if not reduce costs, reduce the things that lead to higher costs,” he said.

Report also looks at Medicare and Medicaid spending

The report shows that Nevada is in the middle of the pack in terms of Medicare spending per enrollee at $9,692, and ranks toward the bottom of the states on Medicaid spending per enrollee at $6,003. The national averages are $10,365 and $6,826, respectively.

But in terms of the percentage of health care dollars spent on Medicaid, Nevada is lowest among all states at only 8.6 percent. Nevada is the only state where spending is in the single-digits. The highest is New York, where 29.2 percent of all personal health care spending is via Medicaid.

Medicaid is the health care program for low income seniors, disabled and families, the cost of which is shared by states and the federal government.

Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which oversees the Medicaid program, said Nevada’s spending is low because of the policy decision to restrict eligibility. The program also doesn’t offer many optional services that can increase costs.

“We’ve made decisions as a state that we’re not going to expand the program from an eligibility perspective,” he said. “And so in other states Medicaid makes up 14, 15, 16 percent of coverage for people in the state. In some states it is as high as 30 percent.

“We don’t cover as many people in our public programs, but our employers are kind of right in the middle there, slightly above the national average,” Duarte said. “And what the means is the uninsured group are those that could be covered by Medicaid if our rules allowed it.”

Federal health care law expected to affect Nevada Medicaid spending

This situation is expected to change as the Medicaid program expands beginning in 2014 as part of the implementation of the federal health care law, he said. As many as 100,000 new residents could be eligible for Medicaid. There are residents eligible for Medicaid now who are not participating in the program who will have to be covered as well, Duarte said.

The cost of the newly eligible residents will be covered almost entirely by the federal government, but the state will share in the cost of those who are eligible now but who have not signed up for the program, he said.

This Medicaid expansion is one reason Nevada joined with many other states in challenging the constitutionality of the health care law. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the law. Former Gov. Jim Gibbons in 2010 estimated the Medicaid mandate will cost Nevada $613 million over six years beginning in 2014. Gibbons initiated Nevada’s participation in the challenge to the law which is being continued by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Matheis said there is a strong feeling in the Nevada medical community that the state is under-spending on this population, which will have to change with the implementation of the health care law.

“Nevada is going to go from where we are now, which is a very low spending per Medicaid patient; we’re going to jump a huge amount because there are going to be so many people that will be identified for the new Medicaid expansion that is coming under the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

This rapid expansion will create budget challenges for state lawmakers, Matheis said.

Policy-makers need to seriously consider the data and build it into the state’s planning efforts, he said.

“At some point we do have to invest in a health care system that we want,” Matheis said. “Right now we’re doing that in Nevada minimally and that’s what this report really shows.”

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Audio clips:

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, says the report provides much needed baseline information:

122011Matheis1 :24 to higher costs.”

Matheis says Nevada will see a big jump in Medicaid spending because of the new health care law:

122011Matheis2 :25 Affordable Care Act.”

Matheis says the news looks good at first, but it suggests there are concerns:

122011Matheis3 :19 pool of data.”

Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, says Nevada’s Medicaid spending is low because eligibility is restricted:

122011Duarte1 :15 high as 30 percent.”

Duarte says the uninsured group in Nevada are those who could be covered by Medicaid if eligibility was expanded:

122011Duarte2 :18 rules allowed it.”

 

Gov. Sandoval Joins In Wreath Laying Ceremony Honoring Veterans, Active Duty Military Personnel

By Sean Whaley | 1:41 pm December 5th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval was joined by the 8th grade class from St. Teresa of Avila School today in a 5th annual wreath laying ceremony on the steps of the Capitol honoring the nation’s veterans and active duty military personnel.

Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell, Gov. Brian Sandoval and St. Teresa School Student Body President Grace Bayliss present the wreath honoring the military. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Also participating in the ceremony was Anita Parker, representing the Battle Born Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, and Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell.

The wreath laying is sponsored by the DAR as part of the “Wreaths Across America” project. Similar ceremonies were held in the nation’s capital and in state capitals across the country.

“Five years ago, the Battle Born chapter and members of our community first gathered here on the steps of Nevada’s Capitol during the busy holiday season to remember the fallen, honor those who served, and teach our children the value of freedom as part of the Reach Across America project,” Parker said. “We come today together even as others gather in other state capitols, and our nation’s capitol, to remember that we are one nation with one flag.”

One of the students, Noah Jennings, read a poem titled “Twas the Night Before Christmas for a Soldier.”

Sandoval said: “As we stand here together on a chilly December morning, the comforts of our homes and offices not far away, it is fitting that we remember the sacrifices of those who have served and sacrificed in the United States Armed Forces.”

Sandoval noted that on Wednesday he and others will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“Today we remember that our troops come from families just like ours,” he said. “We remember those who have fallen, those who have returned, and those who continue to serve during this holiday season, separated from those who love them. We offer them our thanks.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks as members of the 8th grade class from St. Teresa of Avila School look on. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

After his comments, Sandoval, Crowell and Grace Bayliss, student body president at the school, presented the wreath.

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Audio clips:

Anita Parker, representing the Battle Born Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, says the wreath ceremony is to remember those who served and continue to serve:

120511Parker :28 with one flag.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval says it is fitting to remember the sacrifices of the nation’s Armed Forces during the holidays:

120511Sandoval1 :18 States Armed Forces.”

Sandoval says the troops come from families just like ours:

120511Sandoval2 :23 them our thanks.”

Nevada Cites Concerns With Transport Of Hazardous Waste In Response To Draft Plan For Former Test Site

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am December 4th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A draft environmental statement addressing the future of the former Nevada Test Site appears to be setting the stage for the transportation of mixed hazardous and low-level radioactive waste to the site through heavily populated areas of Las Vegas, the state response to the document says.

The response, filed by Nevada Attorney General’s office after consultation with multiple state agencies, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Agency for Nuclear Projects and the Department of Transportation, says the draft document appears to be abandoning a long-standing agreement to use highway routes that avoid urban Las Vegas for the shipping of low-level radioactive waste. The agreement was made between then-Gov. Kenny Guinn and then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson.

The DOE has been using a portion of the site to bury low-level radioactive waste shipped to Nevada from other department sites from around the country for more than a decade.

Nevada officials also express concerns in their response that the discussion of groundwater contamination at what is now called the Nevada National Security Site is not adequate for assessing the loss of the resource due to underground nuclear testing at the site located about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The draft EIS also fails to identify any areas of the site that might be suitable for a return to public use, the state says in its 83-page response filed Friday with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Draft Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement, (SWEIS), presents a 10-year plan with three options: continuing uses as they are now occurring; reducing the uses of the property; and increasing activity at the site formerly used for both above- and below-ground nuclear tests.

Subsidence craters from underground nuclear testing at what is now called the Nevada National Security Site. / Photo: U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday was the deadline to comment on the plan. A final report is expected to be issued by the DOE next year.

Joe Strolin, a consultant with the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said in an interview Friday that a major emphasis from the state in its response is to get the DOE to move away from the use of the site for the disposal of hazardous and low-level radioactive waste.

Alternative energy development and even mineral extraction are potential uses of the site, he said. A new approach could greatly improve relations between the state and the DOE, Strolin said.

“If Yucca Mountain is off the table, it makes it a lot easier for elected officials – the governor, the attorney general, public officials – to approach these kinds of issues much more cooperatively,” he said.

The transportation issue is the major concern identified in the state response.

Under what is called the “unconstrained routing scenario” evaluated in the draft EIS, the Department of Energy is proposing to abdicate this agreement and allow shipments of low-level radioactive waste directly through the Interstate 15-U.S. Hwy. 95 interchange known as the Spaghetti Bowl, the state says. It would also allow the waste to be shipped over the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge and funnel waste into the Las Vegas metro area from the south.

The state “strongly opposes” shipments of waste through the urban Las Vegas area and the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, “and will aggressively contest any decision to undertake such shipments using all means available,” the response says.

Sandoval has also sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu objecting to this change to the 12-year-old agreement.

Strolin said an accident involving low-level radioactive waste, while remote, could cause both economic and public safety consequences for Southern Nevada.

“Even the perception of a radiological incident in that area could cause major problems for everyone,” he said. “That was the motivation in 1999 for moving the waste out of the Las Vegas valley.”

The reason for the proposed change is likely to save money, but the state has never received a clear answer to the question, he said.

Groundwater contamination, and the loss of this resource to the state, is the other major concern expressed in Nevada’s response to the draft EIS. The document does not fully assess the cumulative loss of groundwater due to the testing, the response says.

“Nor does the information contained in the draft EIS provide an adequate basis for evaluating the value of that resource which has been – and will continue to be – lost to present and future generations as a result of past, present and future contamination,” the state says.

The state response notes that the 2011 Legislature passed a resolution asking the attorney general’s office and state agencies to report to lawmakers in 2013 on whether Nevada could potentially receive financial compensation from the federal government for the environmental contamination, including groundwater contamination, at the site.

The EIS needs to provide, “a full and complete picture of the groundwater resource that has been removed from the public domain and rendered unavailable for beneficial use, the level and distribution of contamination of that resource, and the potential, if any, for future beneficial uses of the resource,” the state response says.

Strolin said the state would like to see more research on the issue as part of the final environmental report.

“So we had hoped that the EIS would do a better job of helping us to scope that out and it appears that it did not,” he said.

The groundwater issue is also a major concern of Nye County officials. Gary Hollis, chairman of the Nye County Commission, testified at a September public hearing on the document, saying efforts to tap into the uncontaminated groundwater on the site have consistently been opposed by the DOE. He said there should be some consideration of compensation for the loss of the resource due to the nuclear testing and other uses of the property.

“Not allowing Nye County access to water on the Nevada National Security Site is a big deal to us,” he said at the hearing. “The ongoing impacts of denying access to the county is huge, and no compensation has been made for our loss of the access to that water.”

The state response also says the draft EIS should address the potential for the freeing up of areas of the 1,375-square-mile secured site that are not needed for national security or other purposes.

“The final EIS should contain a section dealing specifically with the potential relinquishment of any areas of NNSS that are potentially reasonable candidates for return to the public domain,” the state says in its response.

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Audio clips:

Joe Strolin with the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, says an incident in urban Las Vegas could cause major economic and public health problems:

120211Strolin1 :13 Las Vegas valley.”

Strolin says the state would like additional research and analysis in a variety of areas:

120211Strolin2 :20 will address them.”

Strolin says Nevada would like to see the DOE move away from the waste disposal mission:

120211Strolin3 :33 development out there.”

Strolin says with Yucca Mountain off the table, cooperation with the DOE will be much easier for Nevada officials:

120211Strolin4 :16 much more cooperatively.”

 

Nevada Seeking New State Public Schools Chief To Implement Education Reforms

By Sean Whaley | 1:31 pm November 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada is looking for a new state public schools chief to push forward with education reforms sought by Gov. Brian Sandoval and approved by lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session.

Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction since 2004, is retiring in early April and Sandoval wants to have a new schools chief to take over the Department of Education by then.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said in a press briefing Monday that the selection of a new leader of the state public school system is a critical initiative for the governor but that he is staying out of the search.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education.

Sandoval has not asked Michelle Rhee, the founder and CEO of the education advocacy group StudentsFirst, to apply for the position, he said. Rhee, the former head of the Washington, DC, school system, was invited and attended Sandoval’s State of the State address in January.

“The governor is asking no one to apply, no one in our office will speak to applicants, the governor has no predetermined outcome,” Erquiaga said. “I will say though the governor recognizes it is potentially the most important appointment he will make during his time in office.

“Superintendent searches around the country at the state level and district level sometimes fail because there are not enough applicants,” he said. “So the better pool of applicants we have the better off all of our kids will be.”

Florida had difficulty recruiting a new state schools chief earlier this year because of a lack of qualified candidates. A new chief was finally selected and took over in July.

The Nevada position is posted and open to qualified applicants through Dec. 30. It pays about $121,785 a year plus benefits.

As a result of the education reform legislation, Sandoval now has the authority to appoint the new schools chief. In the past the 10-member Board of Education, all of whom are elected in districts statewide, had the authority to select the superintendent.

Erquiaga said the governor would like to have at least six candidates for the Board of Education to interview in a public process. Three candidates would then be forwarded to Sandoval for his consideration for an appointment by March.

The new legislation also changes the way the state board is selected but Erquiaga said those changes won’t come until January 2013, which is why the search process is being done now with the current board. Sandoval wants a new superintendent in place well in advance of the 2013 legislative session, he said.

The new board as established in Senate Bill 197 will have four elected members, one from each of the state’s congressional districts, one member appointed by Sandoval and one member each selected by the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker. There will also be four non-voting members appointed by the governor representing different public education interests.

Sandoval and lawmakers agreed to a number of education reforms in the 2011 session, including a new teacher evaluation process to ensure the best educators remain in the classroom.

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Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says superintendent searches sometimes fail because there are not enough qualified applicants:

112211Erquiaga1 :08 not enough applicants.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval recognizes that the selection of a new superintendent is potentially the most important appointment he will make as governor:

112211Erquiaga2 :15 time in office.”

 

Nevada’s Jobless Rate Holds Steady at 13.4 Percent In October

By Sean Whaley | 12:45 pm November 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 13.4 percent in October, the third consecutive month the jobless number has held steady, a state agency reported today.

An estimated 176,400 Nevadans were looking for work, according to the monthly report from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR).

Photo courtesy of Jay from Cudahy via Flickr.

While the statewide rate held steady, the jobless rate in the metropolitan areas declined, from 13.6 percent to 13.1 percent in Las Vegas, from 12.6 percent to 12.1 percent in the Reno-Sparks area, and from 12.4 percent to 12 percent in Carson City. The rates for these areas are not adjusted for seasonality.

The unemployment rate in the Elko micropolitan area, encompassing Elko and Eureka counties, reached its lowest level this year, checking in at 6.7 percent.

The national rate fell to 9 percent from 9.1 percent in September.

“This month’s unemployment numbers demonstrate growth in key industries and certain areas, and the overall stability is a sign that job losses may have come to an end,” said Governor Brian Sandoval. “The numbers prove that we must continue our efforts to fight back from this recession job by job and company by company. There is a role for each one of us to help get Nevada working again.”

While the rate of unemployment held steady in October, employers posted another small increase in employment.  Nevada’s employers added 400 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis.

“Nevada’s employment and unemployment picture continued to show signs of economic stability with some modest improvement in October,” said Bill Anderson, chief economist for DETR. “Overall, there are some positives in this month’s numbers, but for a state looking to bounce back from a deep recession, the numbers leave considerable room for improvement.”

On the positive side, the leisure and hospitality industry added 3,200 jobs. The increase adds to recent improvement in the last year. Since October 2010, leisure and hospitality employers have increased payrolls by 14,700, a 4.7 percent increase. The education and health services sector continues to shine with the addition of 1,400 jobs in October, and employment is up a robust 5.8 percent since the same month last year. The gain pushed total employment in the sector to 106,300 workers, setting a new all time high.  Lastly, the trade, transportation and utilities sector added 1,400 positions in October, most of them in retail and transportation and warehousing, but employment remains slightly below year-ago levels.

Anderson said he would characterize the October report overall as “decent”.

“We continue to see signs of stabilization, and now, more and more, we’re starting to see signs of outright improvement,” he said.

“For the coming year, Nevada can expect employment to see modest growth,” Anderson said. “We can reasonably predict the unemployment rate to experience moderate fluctuations and even make some improvement. As it stands, we do expect 2012 to be better for Nevada’s economy than 2011.”

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Audio clips:

DETR Economist Bill Anderson says the October report overall is decent:

112111Anderson1 :21 the public sector.”

Anderson says Nevada still has a long ways to go, however:

112111Anderson2 :18 out of this.”

 

 

Gov. Sandoval Announces Supply Drive For Troops

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 11:59 am November 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval has announced he is holding a supply drive for Nevada troops this month. Items are being collected at Sandoval’s offices in the capitol in Carson City and at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.

“This summer I was honored and privileged to travel to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and meet with our brave men and women,” Sandoval said. “After learning that supplies are much needed, we decided to hold a drive for our troops.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval met with members of the 442nd Signal Corps. in Bagram, Afghanistan in August.

The drive is looking particularly for donations of DVDs, energy bars, foot powder, razors, calling cards, instant coffee, wipes, chap stick and video games.

“Our fellow Nevadans and Americans are putting themselves in harm’s way every day,” Sandoval said. “Through this drive, we are hoping to send them something to bring home a little closer. I encourage all Nevadans to participate.”

Donations will be accepted through Dec. 2.  The offices are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sandoval’s Las Vegas office is located at 555 E. Washington Ave., Suite 5100.

Blue Star Mothers both north and south will assist in the packing and shipping of collected supplies.

$280,000 NDOT Contract Put On Hold After Concerns Raised By Gov. Sandoval, Transportation Board Members

By Sean Whaley | 2:34 pm November 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A 23-month, $280,000 contract approved by the Nevada Department of Transportation for a private sector individual to work as a liaison between the agency and contractors seeking work has been put on hold because of concerns expressed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and other members of the NDOT Board of Directors.

The contract with William “Buzz” Harris to serve as an ombudsman between the agency and bidders on contracts was approved by the agency in September, but NDOT Director Susan Martinovich said it will be put on hold while concerns raised today at the board meeting are resolved.

The board was told the $280,000 is the amount that can be spent on the services provided by Harris from August through June 2013, but is not guaranteed. Harris, who was selected after a request for proposals was issued by the agency, would be paid $100 an hour under the contract, which would include most of his expenses.

Courtesy of NDOT.

But Sandoval, who serves as chairman of the NDOT Board of Directors, noted the potential contract cost is well in excess of what even he earns as governor.

Other members of the board also raised questions about the contract, including Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who said such positions are usually filled internally by an agency rather that bringing in someone from the outside.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, also a member of the board, asked for information about who submitted proposals for the contract.

“My understanding is historically and traditionally an ombudsman position is contained within the respective department, and that person would have an encyclopedic knowledge of the operation,” Sandoval said. “With an external ombudsman, that person will in turn have to get a hold of somebody who is within the office to perhaps respond to those questions.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be answered in regard to the contract, including the cost, he said.

Harris is a former assistant executive director at the Nevada Associated General Contractors.

Assistant Transportation Director Richard Nelson, said the purpose of the contract is to provide a problem solver and facilitator for contractors seeking to do business with the agency. Harris has a good working knowledge of both the contracting business and NDOT, he said.

Reporting on the success of the program to NDOT is part of the contract as well, Nelson said.

“There is a lot of nuance to dealing with the department,” he said. “And a lot of times these new contractors don’t know what questions they should be asking. And we don’t want to see any contractor go under because they get balled up in the bureaucracy.”

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Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he has concerns with the nature of the contract in addition to the cost:

111411Sandoval :23 to those questions.”

Assistant Transportation Director Richard Nelson, said the purpose of the contract is to provide a problem solver and facilitator for contractors:

111411Nelson :18 should be asking.”

 

 

State Agrees To Pay $25 Million For Seven Acres Needed For Las Vegas Road Project

By Sean Whaley | 4:55 pm November 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A state panel today agreed to pay $25 million to settle an eminent domain lawsuit over seven acres of land in the path of a state Department of Transportation road improvement project in Las Vegas.

The Board of Examiners approved the settlement with Wall Street Nevada LLC to allow Project Neon, a $1.2 billion improvement plan for Interstate 15 from Sahara Avenue to the Spaghetti Bowl, to proceed.

Susan Martinovich, director of the Department of Transportation, said the project will be done in phases because of the cost. Depending on funding, the project could take until 2030 to complete.

The property near Charleston Boulevard was purchased by the company in 2006 for $21.4 million, said Mike Chapman, an attorney in private practice working on the case on behalf of the state. The property owners had sought as much as $35 million, he said.

Attorney Mike Chapman discusses the $25 million settlement at the Board of Examiners today. / Nevada News Bureau.

“If we reach this settlement, does that buy eternal peace in terms of litigation associated with this piece of property?” asked Gov. Brian Sandoval, a member of the board. “Do we have certainty, now, with regard to that property?”

Chapman said every effort has been made to build closure into the settlement agreement, including a full release from the Wall Street owners.

The city of Las Vegas is expected to participate in the settlement, but the amount is not yet known, he said.

Sandoval and Secretary of Ross Miller voted to approve the settlement.

“This is the best settlement that we could negotiate at the time, and weighing all of the risks with the benefits we think it does tilt in favor of recommending a settlement,” Chapman said in response to a question from Miller. “And so that is why we have presented it to the client, this board, and also the folks at NDOT, for their consideration.”

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Audio clip:

Attorney Mike Chapman says the $25 million settlement is the best that could be negotiated:

110811Chapman :22 for their consideration.”

Gov. Sandoval Says He Is Pleased With New Political Maps, Does Not Anticipate An Appeal

By Sean Whaley | 3:12 pm November 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today he is pleased with the political boundaries created by a court-appointed panel of special masters, and does not anticipate a legal challenge to the new lines drawn for the 63 legislative and four congressional districts for the 2012 general election.

“I want to compliment the masters and Judge (James Todd) Russell, I think they did a great job,” he said. “My understanding is none of the parties are going to appeal the decision. And I know there is a certain amount of time that will have to pass before that appellate deadline comes, but no, me personally, I am very happy and satisfied with the result.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau.

Russell, a Carson City District judge who handled the redistricting process when Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature could not reach agreement, signed off on the new boundaries on Oct. 27 after making a few minor adjustments to the maps submitted by the special masters he appointed to draw the new political lines.

Attorneys for both the Democrat and Republican parties have thus far indicated they do not plan to challenge the maps, which had to be redrawn to reflect population shifts identified in the 2010 census.

There is a 30-day window for an appeal to be filed with the Nevada Supreme Court to challenge the maps.

The Supreme Court, in an order issued late Friday, also cancelled an oral argument to consider concerns raised by Secretary of State Ross Miller about Russell’s decisions regarding the redistricting process, saying any issues can be raised in an appeal.

The congressional maps, which include a new fourth seat due to Nevada’s population growth over the past decade compared to other states, has a central urban Las Vegas District 1 that is 42.8 percent Hispanic.

Previously announced candidates for the new congressional districts wasted no time in declaring their intentions to run, and in which districts as approved by Russell.

Sandoval vetoed two Democrat-sponsored redistricting plans passed in the 2011 legislative session. He had previously rejected any call for a special legislative session to handle the redistricting dispute, saying he had confidence in the courts to resolve the impasse.

-

Audio clip:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he is happy with the new redistricting maps:

110811Sandoval :20 with the result.”

Nevada Public Pension Liabilities Vastly Understated, New Report Says

By Sean Whaley | 1:01 am November 3rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s public employee pension system is one of the better funded plans around the country, but its financial health is far poorer than taxpayers may realize because of the way the long-term liabilities are calculated, a new analysis released today says.

The report by Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, was prepared for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank.

Titled “Reforming Nevada’s Public Employees Pension Plan” the analysis says that when the long-term unfunded liabilities of the plan are calculated using a “market-based” valuation, a measure endorsed my most professional economists, the shortfall is actually closer to $41 billion than the $10 billion cited by Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) and its actuary.

The funding ratio of the plan falls from 70.5 percent to about 34 percent, Biggs said in his analysis.

“Nevada PERS is far from the worst-funded or worst-managed public-sector pension system in the country,” Biggs concludes in his report. “However, this merely highlights the worrying state of public-pension financing around the nation. Using market-valuation methods — which are consistent with economic theory, the practice of financial markets and the rules under which private-sector pensions must operate and which have recently been endorsed by the Congressional Budget Office — PERS is very poorly funded.”

In a telephone interview, Biggs said: “Whether you agree or disagree with the angle I took on it, I think it is helpful for people to know how the financial health of their pensions is being calculated. What they don’t know is how much of their plan’s funding rides on market risk.

Illustrating the Market Valuation of Liabilities.

“So there is a lot being staked on winning in the market here,” he said. “And whether you think the government can do that or you think the government can’t do it, it’s good to know exactly what’s at stake.”

Report Could Drive Issue For Policy Makers

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director for NPRI, said the report should encourage Nevada policy makers to take a serious look at making major reforms to the state public pension plan.

“We really felt that his expertise could lend a lot to the debate here in Nevada, where, as in most states, we have kind of a major pension liability,” he said.

The huge differences in the unfunded liability are due to the method used to make the calculation.

Nevada PERS, which covers nearly all state and local government public employees in the state, uses an accepted accounting method based on the actuarial value of its assets, valued at $24.7 billion as of June, 2010, according to Biggs’ analysis. With liabilities of $35.1 billion, the retirement system reports its unfunded liability at about $10 billion. This figure will be updated later this month through June 30, 2011.

This long-term unfunded liability relies on an estimated rate of return on its assets, which are invested mainly in stocks and bonds.

Biggs acknowledges that the valuation under this approach is consistent with rules set out by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), which sets nonbinding disclosure rules for public pensions.

Andrew Biggs, author of a Nevada public pension study for NPRI.

But Biggs argues the actuarial valuation masks the true liabilities that taxpayers could ultimately end up having to cover because it does not factor in the risk of achieving an 8 percent return, a rate PERS officials note has been exceeded over the past 28 years.

Using a market-based valuation, which assesses the liabilities based on the much lower interest rate paid on government bonds, provides a more accurate assessment of the long-term unfunded liability, he said.

Lawrence said the report by Biggs shows what is at stake for public pension plans and taxpayers.

“Because under the actuarial approach you are allowed to understate your liabilities, it allows politicians to make bigger promises than they can afford, and then to underfund the pension account at the same time,” he said. “So in the long run they accrue this unfunded liability, which officially here in Nevada is reported at $10 billion, but of course Andrew is showing that it is really closer to $40 billion. So that is a huge gap.”

Nevada PERS officials say the plan is actuarially sound, and that the unfunded liability will be covered over time. They also note that the contribution rates required to keep the plan healthy are set by an independent actuary and are fully funded by the Legislature.

Biggs said the current housing crisis was a decade in the making and was the result of taking on too much risk. Public pension plans, with trillions of dollars at stake, are also taking on a lot of risk to deliver on their promises, he said.

Biggs published a similar analysis for public pension plans nationwide in 2010, concluding that the shortfalls facing the plans are much larger than most people realize.

In commenting on that report last year, Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS, did not dispute Biggs’ method of calculating the shortfall, but said the actuarial method now being used is the accepted practice for public pension plans.

National Board Considering Changes To Public Pension Reporting

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board has been evaluating some changes to the way public pension liabilities are calculated, but Biggs said he does not expect to see it embrace the market-based approach he and other economists advocate.

“To be honest I think they just don’t get it,” he said. “I don’t think they’re willing to make the kinds of changes that would be needed to bring pension valuation in line with what economists think makes sense and in line with what financial markets think makes sense. It would be such a drastic change I just don’t think they’re capable institutionally of doing it.”

GASB said in July it had approved the proposed standards, dubbed exposure drafts, which would lead to “significant improvements” in the usefulness of pension information. The latest guidance would require governments to report the unfunded portion of their retirement plans as a liability on their balance sheets, among other changes.

There has been a growing call nationally to move public pension plans to a state to a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k)-type plan, from the current defined benefit plan, where retirees are paid a set amount per month based on salary and years of service.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has advocated such a position, although the concept did not see any serious discussion in the 2011 legislative session.

Lawrence said an issue with making such a change is the big upfront cost of fully funding the current defined benefit pension plan in an accelerated fashion. But Utah got around that challenge last year by crafting a modified plan that allows employees to choose whether to participate in a defined benefit or defined contribution plan. It could be a good model for Nevada, he said.

Lawrence said one often overlooked benefit of such a plan is that it is portable, allowing public sector workers to move into the private sector if they wish and not remain trapped in jobs they no longer want.

The PERS board has not endorsed any such major change to the state public pension plan.

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Audio clips:

Andrew Biggs, author of a new study of Nevada’s public pension system, says it is important to know how the financial health of the plan is calculated:

110311Biggs1 :23 on market risk.”

Biggs says there is a lot being staked on the market:

110311Biggs2 :10 what’s at stake.”

Biggs says GASB is unlikely to make major changes:

110311Biggs3 :21 of doing it.”

Geoffrey Lawrence of NPRI says the study by Biggs should fuel the policy debate in Nevada:

110311Lawrence1 :14 major pension liability.”

Lawrence says the study shows a much bigger problem than what is being reported by PERS:

110311Lawrence2 :35 a huge gap.”

 

.

Gov. Sandoval Calls For Reassessment Of Homeland Security Funding Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio clips

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

110211Sandoval1 :21 where we’re deficient.”

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

110211Sandoval2 :10 the same page.”

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

110211Gillespie1 :21 saw in 2011.”

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

110211Gillespie2 :18 in the past.”