Posts Tagged ‘Sandoval’

Nevada Republican Party Opposes Emergency High Court Intervention In Court-Run Redistricting Process

By Sean Whaley | 7:26 pm October 24th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Attorneys for the Nevada Republican Party today filed a brief with the Nevada Supreme Court opposing Secretary of State Ross Miller’s emergency petition seeking to intervene on the question of the authority of the courts to decide the state’s political boundaries instead of the Legislature.

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 14 on questions raised by Miller on whether it is the responsibility of the Legislature to draw the political boundaries, not the courts.

In a brief in opposition to Miller, Republican Party attorney Mark Hutchison called the petition moot since the special masters appointed by Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell worked quickly to submit proposed maps redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts.

Special redistricting masters, from left, Bob Erickson, Thomas Sheets and Alan Glover. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“In short, the District Court action is proceeding apace, and the court will be in a position to issue final plans during, and perhaps even before, the beginning of November 2011,” the filing says. “This timeline provides ample time for any appeal to be heard and decided by this court well in advance of upcoming election deadlines. As such, petitioner’s original grounds for seeking this writ effectively are moot in light of subsequent events and, for this and other reasons set forth more fully below, the emergency petition should be denied.”

Russell will hold a hearing Thursday to consider the maps submitted Oct. 14 by the three special masters.

Hutchison, in a late filing by the deadline today to the proposed political districts submitted by the special masters, identified a few concerns in the proposed maps.

“Despite the special masters’ largely successful performance of their duties, the court has charged the parties to identify any legal errors with the proposed maps. Legal errors do exist in the current maps, but they are few,” the filing said.

One concern cited by Hutchison is the Senate District 8 seat now held by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas. He argues in the filing the district is irregularly shaped and not compact.

There is also a concern cited about Senate District 6, now held by Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, as drawn favoring Democrats where it has historically been a Republican seat.

Following two public hearings on Oct. 10 and 11, the court-appointed special masters filed their proposed maps three days later. Before the maps were filed Oct. 14, Hutchison issued a statement that said the party had faith in the panel to submit fair maps.

“Creating fair districts for both elected legislators and the public has been the goal of the Republicans since the beginning of the 2011 legislative session,” the statement said.

As to Miller’s underlying argument that it is the Legislature’s duty to perform the redistricting process, Hutchison said in his filing with the Supreme Court that he agrees the Nevada constitution entrusts the task of redistricting to the Legislature, but that, “if the Legislature fails to fulfill its duty, it may be incumbent upon other branches of government to remedy the situation.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval thus far has rejected any suggestion that he call a special session of the Legislature to resolve the redistricting issue. The Democrat-controlled Legislature passed two redistricting plans during the 2011 legislative session, but both were vetoed by the Republican governor who cited concerns that they violated the federal Voting Rights Act.

Jobless Rate Holds Steady, But Improving In Some Sectors

By Sean Whaley | 12:48 pm October 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – The September jobs report released today contained some hints of economic life in recession-battered Nevada, even though the unemployment rate held steady at a double-digit 13.4 percent rate from August.

While still tops in the nation in unemployment, Nevada saw a decline in the jobless rate in the Las Vegas area, to 13.6 percent from 14.3 percent in August. The Reno-Sparks and Carson City areas also saw declines.

While Nevada’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained unchanged after three months of increases, it is well below the 14.9 percent rate reported in September 2010, according to the report released by the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

Nevada also saw some job growth in September over August, adding 10,000 jobs, although most were seasonal. When seasonality is factored in, the state gained 1,800 jobs.

“This month, it appears the unemployment rate is stabilizing and that job growth is outpacing job losses,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said. “While this is a good sign for our economy, we must continue to look for ways to spur job creation and offer job retraining to Nevada’s workforce.”

Californians who lost jobs due to freeze. / Photo courtesy of FEMA.

Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, said: “In months past I’ve talked about signs of stability and an economy that is essentially moving sideways. But now I think there are some definite signs of improvement, albeit modest improvement; I don’t want to overstate its significance.

“By far we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “Our job levels are still down by about 175,000 from where they were at the beginning of the recession. But we are starting to see some signs of pockets of improvement.”

Those pockets include the tourism industry, and they are starting to translate into new jobs in some employment sectors, Anderson said.

Bill Anderson, chief economist for the state Research and Analysis Bureau.

Nevada’s statewide rate is adjusted for seasonality. The local rates are not. The seasonal adjustment process takes into account normal and predictable fluctuations in labor market activity due to such reoccurring factors as changes in the weather, the beginning and end of the academic year and the timing of holidays in estimating the unemployment rate.

Employment is up in seven of the eleven major industry groups compared to the same month in 2010. It is significant improvement from two years ago when only one industry, education and health services registered employment growth.

In recent months, the construction industry has shown some signs of life. In September, the industry added employment for the fifth consecutive month. The addition of 1,600 new jobs pushed September’s employment estimate 200 jobs higher than the same month last year. It marks the first time in nearly five years that the construction industry posted an over-the-year increase.

While a positive sign overall, it is too early to tell if the shift marks a turning point in the industry’s fortunes. Expectations for a strong turnaround are generally low given continued trouble in housing and commercial development, but it is a positive development none the less, the report says.

Other sectors adding jobs include the professional and business services industry, which added 1,300 jobs in September and is up 6,500 or 4.8 percent from the same month last year. Leisure and hospitality held steady at 321,200, but in the last year the industry added 11,300 jobs, a 3.6 percent increase.

The public sector saw some job growth from August due primarily to the start of the new school year, but in the past 12 months, state, local and federal government has collectively lost 5,100 jobs, a decline of 3.3 percent.

State government has lost 1,600 jobs compared to September 2010, and local government, including teachers, has lost 3,600 jobs. The federal government added 100 jobs over the year.

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Audio clips:

State economist Bill Anderson says the September jobs report shows some signs of improvement:

102111Anderson1 :17 overstate its significance.”

But Anderson says Nevada has a long way to go to recover from the job losses of the great recession:

102111Anderson2 :13 pockets of improvement.”

 

State Employee Contracting Controversy Addressed With Administrative Changes

By Sean Whaley | 3:37 pm October 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Ten months after a legislative audit first raised serious questions about current and former state employees working as contractors for state agencies, the Board of Examiners earlier this week approved administrative changes to prevent future abuses.

The changes approved Tuesday bring closure to the issue of “double dipping”, but not before it spawned legislation and a serious examination of the state employee contracting process.

The audit, released in December 2010, identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a current state employee earned $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

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

The Board of Examiners is composed of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

In addition to the administrative changes, Masto’s office was asked by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee to review the information for potential criminal violations.

Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said today the requested review was completed on June 10 but no action was taken against any current or former employees referenced in the audit.

“The case was declined due to insufficient evidence primarily related to the fact, as pointed out in the legislative audit, that no positive controls were in effect to document or record the time state contractors were actually engaged in their state duties,” she said.

The new rules added to the State Administrative Manual implement the changes mandated by Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The new rules prohibit a current state employee from being hired under contract by a state agency unless approved by the Board of Examiners. The same approval is required of a former state employee who has not been out of state employment for at least two years.

Such contracts can only be approved if certain circumstances are found to exist, including situations where a short-term or unusual economic circumstance exists for an agency requiring such employment.

Smith said she is pleased with the voted by the board.

“I think we’ll see a lot better accountability and reporting on the use of consultants because of this,” she said. “I’m glad. It may be the type of thing that we need to keep sort of tweaking each session until we have it where we need it to be, but so far, so good.”

“I think we demonstrated it was the right thing to do,” Smith said.

State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who serves as chairwoman of the Audit Subcommittee, said she was pleased that the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously. They are overdue, she said.

“There were a few instances that either were very sloppy record keeping or might have been more suitable for prosecution, so I hope somebody is following up on those,” Leslie said.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“If citizens are going to have confidence in government, they need to be assured that everyone is playing by the same rules,” she said. “The audit raised a lot of red flags about whether there were state employees who were getting sweetheart contracts.”

The administrative changes approved Tuesday will go a long way to correcting any such abuses, Leslie said.

The administrative changes come as yet another state employee contracting controversy involving a new member of Sandoval’s cabinet was recently reported in the Las Vegas Sun. The newspaper reported Sept. 29 that Frank Woodbeck, the newly appointed director of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, held down two state jobs last fiscal year, earning almost as much as the governor.

Woodbeck told the newspaper he worked 60- to 70-hour weeks to fulfill the demands of the two jobs.

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Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the law may need tweaking, but she is pleased with the changes:

101311Smith :10 far, so good.”

State Sen. Sheila Leslie says she is pleased the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously:

101311Leslie1 :20 the same rules.”

Leslie says the audit raised red flags about whether there were state employees getting sweetheart contracts:

101311Leslie2 :26 the Audit Subcommittee.”

Leslie says there were a few instances that may have risen to the level of prosecution:

101311Leslie3 :11 up on those.”

Special Masters Begin Work On Drawing New Nevada Political Boundaries

By Sean Whaley | 3:02 pm October 11th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The business of drawing new political boundaries will now get under way by three court-appointed special masters following two days of public hearings on what Nevada’s legislative and congressional districts should look like for the next decade.

The clock is ticking.

The special masters, Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover, Las Vegas attorney Thomas Sheets and former legislative Research Director Bob Erickson, have 10 days to draw four congressional and 63 legislative districts based on the 2010 U.S. Census data as directed by Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell last month.

Special redistricting masters, from left, Bob Erickson, Thomas Sheets and Alan Glover, take public testimony today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Russell will receive the maps on Oct. 21 and release them to the public. By mid-November he will decide whether to accept them or send them back to the special masters for refinement.

All this is happening as the 2012 election season moves ever closer. A number of people have announced they are running for one of the four congressional seats even though there are no districts yet to run in.

The redistricting process outlined by Russell will continue even as the Nevada Supreme Court has decided to weigh in on the issue, which ended up in the courts after the Democrat-controlled Legislature failed to reach a compromise with Republicans on new district lines.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, who vetoed two Democrat-sponsored redistricting bills in the 2011 legislative session, weighed in on the controversy again today when asked, saying there is no reason to call the Legislature back into session to approve new maps. On Monday he said he had not had any conversations with lawmakers about calling them back to deal with redistricting.

” There are no facts and circumstances at this time that would justify calling a special session,” he said.

Sandoval said today he has faith in the judicial system, and the process outlined by Russell, to resolve the impasse.

While the Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 14 on questions raised by Secretary of State Ross Miller, it did not stop the process set up by Russell to develop new maps. In his petition filed with the court, Miller argues the state constitution makes it clear that it is the responsibility of the Legislature to draw the political boundaries, not the courts.

Because the court refused to block the process outlined by Russell, the special masters heard public testimony Monday in Las Vegas and today in Carson City on how the maps should be drawn. Twenty-two speakers testified in Las Vegas. Only a handful participated in Carson City.

One major issue for the special masters is whether to draw an urban Las Vegas congressional district that would include much of the Hispanic community. Democrats in their proposed maps split the Hispanic vote among three congressional districts, while Republicans are advocating for creating a single district with a large percentage of Hispanic voters.

At the hearing today, Democrat Forrest Darby presented a new set of maps for the masters to consider, saying the Southern Nevada congressional districts included in the plan would allow either the Republicans or Democrats to win any or all of the three.

Democrat Forrest Darby testifies on his redistricting proposal today in Carson City. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“We really believe this is a fair map,” he said.

Darby said he has also petitioned Russell to reconsider his requirement that the four congressional seats have virtually no population deviation. A slight deviation would make for cleaner and more logical districts, he said.

“You cannot get down to one person,” Darby said. “If you do you will have horrible, ugly boundary lines, period.”

Also testifying was state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, who recommended that the special masters look at Assembly Bill 570, the measure creating the 13 new political boundaries for the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, as a starting point to draw congressional and legislative districts. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously and was signed into law by Sandoval, he said.

“I voted for it. For me it preserved the communities of interest, it did not pack individuals, it also created a situation where the deviation was only 0.37 percent in the creation of those 13 districts,” Settelmeyer said.

State Sen. James Settelmeyer testifies at the redistricting public hearing today as former Assemblyman Bernie Anderson looks on. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Former Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, a Democrat from Sparks, said the special masters are qualified to address the issue, but that redistricting is not a responsibility of the court system.

“I am of the opinion, however, that you do not have the authority to do this,” he said. “And I believe it is a question of separation of powers. And my base view is I want to make sure that does get into the record. That this is a legislative issue and should be left to the Legislature to take care of.”

Sheets asked what the answer is to resolving the redistricting issue when the Legislature cannot agree.

“I guess we are an imperfect solution to this problem that seems to have no other resolution if you have intractable parties,” he said.

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Audio clips:

Democrat Forrest Darby says Nevada’s congressional districts should have some deviation to make for cleaner lines:

101111Darby :26 what we did.”

State GOP Sen. James Settelmeyer says the special masters should look to the Board of Regents redistricting bill as a starting point:

101111Settelemyer :19 because of that.”

Former state Assemblyman Bernie Anderson says the courts have no authority over redistricting:

101111Anderson :19 take care of.”

Special Master Thomas Sheets says the panel is an imperfect solution to the impasse:

101111Sheets :07 have intractable parties.”

 

Nevada State Controller Posts Fraud Hotline Link On Website

By Sean Whaley | 2:38 pm October 10th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada State Controller Kim Wallin announced today that a Fraud Hotline has been posted on her agency’s website in order to assist both the public and state employees in reporting questionable practices.

Wallin said the link will send information directly to her for review. The types of practices that can be brought to her agency’s attention include tax fraud, Medicaid fraud and over-billing by government contractors.

“The Fraud Hotline link will be a way for the public and state employees to provide tips on fraudulent activities so we can crack down on scam artists and save taxpayer money,” Wallin said. “The governor’s website recently removed a similar link so I felt it was critical to take this responsibility on and make the link a feature of the Controller’s website.”

Nevada State Controller Kim Wallin. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Mary-Sarah Kinner, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said the fraud link on the previous state website did not migrate to the new website unveiled recently. But typing the word “fraud” into the state website search function generates the link as the first search result, which goes to the Fight Fraud website operated by the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, she said.

Wallin said that nationwide, Medicare, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit and Unemployment payments account for $87.5 billion in improper payments. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, in its “2010 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse,” estimated that the typical organization loses 5 percent of its annual revenue to fraud. Government organizations are the third most frequent victim of fraud after banking and manufacturing.

Wallin said she has not had such a link on her website previously, but decided to add it when the link on the main state of Nevada webpage disappeared.

“It’s something that needs to be done, we have to do it,” she said. “And I think in one way it is probably a good thing . . ., especially for employees reporting. They work for the governor, they don’t work for me. So that way their identities are protected and it is an impartial person looking at it.”

Wallin said she has been reviewing instances of potential fraud brought to her attention internally but has not had a fraud link previously.

The Controller’s office will promote the Fraud Hotline link through service providers and local governments. Each tip through the Hotline will be reviewed internally for potential investigation. Identities will be kept confidential.

The Controller, one of the state’s six constitutional officers, is the chief fiscal officer and administers the state’s accounting system and debt collection program. The state Controller’s Office mission is to advance accountability, continuity, and efficiency in the state’s financial operations.

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Audio clips:

Controller Kim Wallin says it is important to have a link for state employees and the public to report potential fraud:

101011Wallin1 :17 following up on.”

Wallin says she will keep all fraud reports, including those from state employees, protected:

101011Wallin2 :19 looking at it.”

Nevada Capital Investment Corporation Board Appointed, Will Meet For First Time Tuesday

By Sean Whaley | 3:50 pm October 7th, 2011

CARSON CITYState Treasurer Kate Marshall today announced the appointees to the board of the Nevada Capital Investment Corporation (NCIC), a new group charged with overseeing the investment of school funds to improve returns while promoting economic development statewide.

Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed Jim DeVolld, former president and CEO of the First Independent Bank of Nevada; Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford appointed Jerrie Merritt, senior vice president of the Bank of Nevada; Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness appointed Chris Howard, Northstar Investors principal and the director of entrepreneurial initiative at the University of Nevada, Reno; Assembly Speaker John Oceguera appointed David Goldwater of David Goldwater Consulting; Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea appointed James York, president and CEO of Valley Bank of Nevada; and Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich appointed Robert Lind, managing director for Berkshire Bridge Capital LLC.

Marshall will serve as the chairwoman of the nonprofit board, which will meet for the first time Tuesday. The board was created as the result of the passage of Senate Bill 75 during the 2011 legislative session.

Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall.

“We are extremely excited about beginning Nevada’s first ever private equity investment fund with such an esteemed group of appointees at the helm,” Marshall said. “We will set as aggressive a timeline as possible so the state can begin to see the benefits of Senate Bill 75 for our schools and for economic development moving forward in Nevada.”

The primary goal of the board will be to increase the rate of return on the money in the state’s Permanent School Fund. But it will also work to promote job creation and economic development by investing the money in business development. The new law allows the board to invest up to $50 million from the trust fund in the economic development efforts.

The Permanent School Fund was previously invested only in U.S. government securities that generated a return of less than 1 percent. The new law allows the investment of non-tax dollars in the fund in new businesses in Nevada, in existing businesses that are expanding, or in businesses which agree to relocate to this state.

In hearings on the bill sought by Marshall’s office, it was noted that 11 other states already had the authority to invest their funds in more diverse ways.

The Permanent School Fund is a trust fund made up of federal funds provided to the state for decades from such sources as the sale of federal lands and court fees. It is a trust fund worth about $300 million that can’t be spent, only invested.

The new board is charged with a variety of responsibilities, including contracting with a private industry fund manager who will be responsible for the development of an investment plan for approval by the board, selection of private equity firms that will invest in Nevada businesses, for providing mentoring and networking opportunities for Nevada entrepreneurs, and for developing a collaborative partnership between Nevada System of Higher Education institutions, investors, and private industry.

Marshall said Nevada is following the lead of most western states in allowing for a more diverse approach in vesting money from the school fund.

“Evidence shows that these balanced, diversified portfolios are realizing greater returns, which in Nevada’s case will ultimately result in more money for Nevada K-12 schools,” she said. “Further, by establishing a first of its kind fund in Nevada’s history, we’ve created a mechanism for providing private equity investments in Nevada that will help stimulate economic growth and employment, without risking tax dollars.”

Nevada DMV Goes Mobile With iPhone App

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 11:04 am October 5th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada iPhone users now have DMV information at their fingertips with a new iPhone and iPad app called “DMV Mobile”.

Motorists planning a trip to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles can look up wait times at six metropolitan offices, get maps to all of the offices and kiosks, look up personalized plates and even schedule a drive test.

“As more and more people rely on mobile devices for information, we’re pleased to be able to bring them new services,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval. “Customer service is a top priority for the DMV and this application gives up-to-the-minute information on wait times, just as the new kiosks provide customer-friendly alternatives.”

A Nevada DMV iPhone app is now available.

DMV Director Bruce Breslow said: “Being able to search for kiosk locations could become a major time saver for the motoring public as the kiosk program is expanded next year. Also, one fun feature is the Personalized License Plate Lookup. Motorists can check whether a plate combination is available and get a preview of what their plate would look like.”

iPhone users will also find links to all of the DMV online services through the department’s website.

“The ‘DMV Mobile’ app for the iPhone and iPad gives motorists access to key DMV information while on the go,” DMV spokesman Tom Jacobs said. “However, because of the recent ‘hands free’ law regarding cell phones, that shouldn’t mean on the go behind the wheel.”

In addition to the iPhone app, the department unveiled a completely redesigned home page on its website.

“This is the first redesign since the late ‘90’s and it takes the site into this century,” Breslow said. “It’s far more user friendly.”

The iPhone application and website was developed in-house by the DMV at no cost other than staff time.

 

 

Gov. Sandoval Appoints First Director Of Tourism And Cultural Affairs

By Sean Whaley | 5:23 pm October 3rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval has appointed Claudia Vecchio as the first director of the new Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. She will begin her job Nov. 14.

The newly constituted department is comprised of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, Division of Museums and History, Nevada Arts Council and the Nevada Indian Commission.

“Claudia is an experienced destination marketer with a solid background in social media and branding,” Sandoval said. “Together with her appreciation for history and culture, her background is ideally suited to taking us to the next level in how we engage with Nevadans and tourists alike.

“I look forward to her leadership in promoting Nevada’s many fine destinations, as well as preserving and enhancing our sense of history, appreciation for the arts, and well-being of our Native American population,” he said. “I am pleased to make this appointment as we kick off Nevada History Month.”

Vecchio previously served as the tourism director in Ohio. In that post, she supervised the overall brand development of state tourism, working closely with the Ohio Historical Society and the Ohio Arts Council to create development programs.

While in Ohio, Vecchio and her team developed a marketing program to assist in the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. She also helped open the Toledo Glass Museum and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

In a telephone interview, Vecchio said she was intrigued by the position because of all the state has to offer, from Las Vegas to Virginia City to Lake Tahoe and the many other gems waiting to be discovered by visitors.

“It has everything from one of the largest tourism destinations in the world to these rich, textured, smaller, rural communities that have so much appeal,” she said.

Welcome to Las Vegas sign. / Photo: David Vasquez.

“I so look forward to working with the governor, and with the lieutenant governor and all of the industry partners to help shape this new role – but when we bring that cultural affairs piece into it then you’re really taking about the heart and soul of the state with that kind of a product,” Vecchio said.

Vecchio said she has experience working on Olympic bids as well, which fits in well with efforts under way by the state to submit a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics for the Lake Tahoe region.

The new agency was created in part due to the state’s budget difficulties. The former Department of Cultural Affairs was eliminated as part of Sandoval’s budget. The museums and other programs will continue, with several functions operating under the new agency.

Vecchio also has an extensive background in marketing, having worked with the Edelman public relations firm in Chicago and Burson-Marsteller in Dallas. She is currently president of Destination Integration in Dallas, where she provides marketing programs for small and mid-sized communities that integrate tourism and economic development components.

Vecchio has a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications from Brigham Young University. She is the recipient of several Public Relations Society of America and America Marketing Association Awards, including recognition for web marketing. She has also served on the Travel Industry Association of America’s Council of State Tourism Directors.

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Audio clips:

New Tourism and Cultural Affairs Director Claudia Vecchio says Nevada has everything from Las Vegas to rich, smaller communities:

100311Vecchio1 :13 so much appeal.”

Vecchio says she looks forward to working with Gov. Brian Sandoval and others to help shape the role of the new department:

100311Vecchio2 :18 of a product.”

 

 

Gov. Brian Sandoval Announces $13.8 Million In Federal Funds To Spur Nevada Job Growth

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:59 am September 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A new federal program is bringing $13.8 million to Nevada to lend to small businesses to spur job growth, Gov. Brian Sandoval announced earlier this week.

The funds provided to Nevada’s State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) by the Small Business Jobs Act are expected to help create private sector jobs and spur more than $138 million in additional lending to small businesses in Nevada, Sandoval said.

“Access to funding is a significant issue for many entrepreneurs seeking to grow,” Sandoval said.  “This funding will go a long ways towards helping new small businesses get off the ground and creating jobs for Nevadans.”

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

Nevada applied for the funds despite opposition to the program by the state’s Republican representatives in Congress at the time: then-Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., now in the Senate, and then-Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. Political analyst Jon Ralston noted the apparent contradiction in a recent column  in the Las Vegas Sun, although he pointed out that then-Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, also opposed the measure.

Under the Small Business Jobs Act, Nevada can now access $13.8 million in SSBCI funds. Nevada expects to generate a minimum of $10 in new private lending for every $1 in federal funding.

The Nevada Commission on Economic Development will use the funds to support the Nevada Microenterprise Initiative and a new Nevada Collateral Support Program. The potential job growth impact of the program is 1,035 positions throughout Nevada, with an emphasis on manufacturing, utilities, construction, and health services.

“These funds will help break down barriers to loans for creditworthy small businesses looking to invest and hire in their local communities,” said Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios. “This program will help ensure that more Main Street entrepreneurs have access to the credit they need to expand their businesses and create new jobs.”

Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios.

Nevada Commission on Economic Development Director Mike Skaggs said: “These programs will allow the state to participate with financial institutions throughout the state to support additional lending activities for our Nevada small businesses.”

“Anything that helps to support business expansion and ultimately increase employment in our state will be a great benefit,” Heritage Bank of Nevada President Stan Wilmoth said. “The collateral support piece of the funding will allow banks to refinance debt secured by assets with little or no equity at current market rates.”

In conjunction with the Nevada Banker’s Association, the Office of Economic Development will put funds on deposit at Nevada banks on a transaction by transaction basis to enhance the collateral position of borrowers. These will be business loans with a focus on companies which create jobs or retain jobs in our base economic clusters such as technology, mining, manufacturing, logistics, or film and digital media production. Generally, these loans will have a targeted amount of $250,000.

Under the State Small Business Credit Initiative, all states are offered the opportunity to apply for federal funds for state-run programs that partner with private lenders to increase the amount of credit available to small businesses. States must demonstrate a reasonable expectation that a minimum of $10 in new private lending will result from every $1 in federal funding.  Accordingly, the overall $1.5 billion federal funding commitment for this program is expected to result in at least $15 billion in additional private lending nationwide.

 

Author Of New Public Pension Reform Report Says Radical Changes Needed To Protect Taxpayers

By Sean Whaley | 2:34 pm September 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Scott Beaulier is no fan of states borrowing money, but in his new working paper on transitioning public pensions to 401(k) style plans to reduce taxpayer liabilities to pay retirement benefits, the Troy University professor says it is an option worth considering.

In his paperFrom Defined Benefit to Defined Contribution” for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Beaulier said the benefits of paying the upfront costs of transitioning pension plans from defined benefit, where employees are guaranteed a set amount at retirement, to defined contribution, where employees are responsible for their investment choices, outweigh the disadvantages.

“The borrowing should be one-time, and it should total the present value of all future payments owed to all retirees who do not transition to the 401(k) system,” Beaulier said in his report released earlier this week.

Scott Beaulier, author of Mercatus study on public pension reform.

The state of Michigan opted to borrow when it converted to a defined contribution plan in 1997, he said.

“Thanks to one-time borrowing, the transition was a smooth one, and Michigan covered with debt the billions of dollars in defined benefit liabilities that it was responsible for paying,” Beaulier said. “The move, which involved taking on debt and significant political risk, has proven successful and has saved Michigan taxpayers billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.”

Beaulier is executive director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University in Alabama.

Defined benefit plans create long-term liabilities for states and taxpayers, while defined contribution plans carry no such risk. Because of this, and the concern over the health of public pension plans nationwide, there is a growing chorus of groups advocating for the change.

Nevada lawmakers plan to study the PERS defined benefit retirement plan that covers most state and local government employees in the next 16 months before the 2013 legislative session. The legislation authorizing the study allocates $250,000 from the general fund, but requires a $250,000 match from outside sources before the work can begin.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has advocated for a switch for new employees to a defined contribution 401(k)-type retirement plan to address the long-term liability concerns.

Supporters of Nevada’s existing defined benefit plan, including public employee groups and many lawmakers, say it is well managed and will be fully funded over time. They argue no such major changes are needed.

Nevada’s Public Employees’ Retirement System had an analysis performed of the costs of switching to a defined contribution plan for new employees in 2010. The report by the Segal Group Inc., the PERS actuary, said it would cost $1.2 billion in just the first two years to begin making such a transition.

The costs are due to the need to fully fund the existing defined benefit plan for current state employees. One option would be to raise contribution rates paid by public employers and their employees, but the cash-strapped state and local governments would be hard-pressed to come up with the money to pay for it.

In an interview with the Nevada News Bureau, Beaulier said: “Those costs have to be incurred because when you reform usually what you’re doing is offering new retirees the option to go with defined contribution. But by becoming fully funded you’re guaranteeing all of those pensioners who are retiring in the future under the old system that guarantee that their money will be there.

“Borrowing in this case would actually make a lot of sense because it is borrowing to put us on a much more sane fiscal path,” he said. “So one-time borrowing that says we are converting from defined benefit to defined contribution would be a way to deal with this.”

If revenue can be found elsewhere, such as selling off resources, that would be preferable, Beaulier said. Or participants could contribute more to help fully fund the plan as well, he said.

Nevada’s existing public employee retirement 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.

A study of state and local government pension funds by the Pew Center on the States released in February of 2010 identified Nevada as one of 19 states where “serious concerns” exist about the long-term health of the retirement plan.

Beaulier said the key to ensuring taxpayers don’t end up on the hook for billions in pension payments when the plans run out of money is to make the change to defined contribution.

There are problems with making such a transition, one example being if a state issues bonds to finance the up-front costs, he said. A state would have to find the money needed to repay the bonds.

But making modest changes to the existing plans, as the Nevada Legislature did in 2009, is not enough, he said.

“I think that the fiscal challenges are forcing state administrators to look closely at how to shore up the financing of their defined benefit plans,” Beaulier said. “But my guess is most of them are just going to chip away at the promises that have been made and not engage in the kind of radical reform that is needed.

“Maybe some of them need to be asking: ‘How do we save taxpayers a lot of money long term,’ ” he said.

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Audio clips:

Mercatus public pension study author Scott Beaulier says the upfront costs have to be paid to transition to a defined contribution plan:

092811Beaulier1 :26 will be there.”

Beaulier says borrowing to make the transition makes sense:

09281Beaulier2 :16 deal with this.”

Beaulier says the political realities are that not all states will make the reforms that are needed:

092811Beaulier3 :19 that is needed.”

Nevada Gets $3.4 Million Federal Grant To Expand Boulder City Veterans Cemetery

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:39 pm September 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today announced that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has informed him that Nevada has been awarded a $3.4 million grant to cover the entire allowable cost of expanding the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.

Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.

“I am proud of the work Executive Director Caleb Cage and the Office of Veteran Services did in securing this grant for our state’s veterans,” Sandoval said. “The grant will allow Nevada to continue to provide dignified service to Nevada veterans and their dependents.”

The grant will fund the construction of an administration building, roads, a committal shelter, cremains burial areas, landscaping and supporting infrastructure. Developing approximately 17.3 acres, the construction will include 4,801 cremains burial plots.

“Thanks to the pride our excellent staff takes in honoring our fallen heroes, the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery is one of the finest in the nation,” Cage said. “We are extremely grateful to the National Cemetery Administration for recognizing the caliber of our cemetery by investing in our future in this way.”

The closest national cemetery is Veterans Affairs Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif., approximately 245 miles away. The closest state cemetery is the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, approximately 439 miles away.

Gov. Sandoval Makes Appointments to Health Insurance Exchange Board

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:44 pm September 23rd, 2011

Dr. Ronald Kline.

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval announced today his appointments to the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange Board.

Sandoval has appointed Elsie Lavonne Lewis, Leslie Ann Johnstone, Dr. Ronald Kline, Barbara Smith Campbell and Marie Kerr. Each of the appointees will be voting members of the board.

“While Nevada remains a partner in challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law, we are mandated to move forward with its implementation,” Sandoval said.  “Each member of the board will bring a distinctive perspective to the table to help Nevada formulate the most effective exchange.”

Lewis, chief operating officer of the Clark County Urban League, will serve until June 30, 2013. Johnstone, executive director of the Health Services Coalition in Clark County, will serve until June 30, 2014. Kline, a physician with Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada in Clark County, will serve until June 30, 2012. Smith Campbell, a Washoe County resident and former chairwoman of the Nevada Tax Commission, is the founder of Consensus, a tax consulting firm, will serve until June 30, 2014. Kerr, an attorney in Reno, will serve until June 30, 2012.

Reno attorney Marie Kerr.

Created by Senate Bill 440, the Exchange is required to:

-          Create and administer a state-based health insurance exchange;

-          Facilitate the purchase and sale of qualified health plans;

-          Provide for the establishment of a program to assist qualified small employers in Nevada in facilitating the enrollment of their employees in qualified health plans;

-          Make only qualified health plans available to qualified individuals and qualified small employers on or after January 1, 2014; and

-          Unless the federal health care law is repealed or is held to be unconstitutional or otherwise invalid or unlawful, perform all duties that are required of the exchange to implement the requirements of the law.

The bill creating the exchange passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously with four members of the Assembly not present for the vote. While lawmakers questioned the effect of the act being found unconstitutional on the operation of the exchange, there was no testimony in opposition to the measure.

The exchange is governed by the Board of Directors, consisting of five voting members appointed by the governor, one voting member appointed by the Senate majority leader and one voting member appointed by the speaker of the Assembly.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford has appointed Dr. Judith Ford with Canyon Gate Medical Group in Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera has appointed Lynn Elkins.

Let’s Get Linky

By Elizabeth Crum | 1:49 pm September 23rd, 2011

Bored with my usual “In Case You Missed It” headline, so I’m mixing it up today, Dear Readers. Livin’ on the edge, that’s me. Here’s some stuff you may have missed this week in your mad rush to live your life:

Presidential/Electoral Stuff

What do Florida and Nevada have in common, besides being all sunshine-y? They are both toss-up states with high unemployment rates, which puts them in play in 2012 presidential politics. Michigan (blue) and North Carolina (red) are leaners rather than toss-ups, but that Motor City jobless rate might be a problem for Obama as well. (H/T Ralston)

Rick Santorum admits to helping out a fellow Senator and tipping off John Ensign way back when. (Doug Hampton said as much when he appeared on Face to Face.)

Senate

Here’s the state GOP complaint/request filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics Tuesday for an investigation into Rep. Berkley’s legislative actions related to her husband’s medical practice and related matters. Ralston put together a fun timeline showing what happened next.

Sen. Dean Heller gave his first speech. Quite the populist these days. Those of running for U.S. Senate and trying to appeal to independents, I mean.

I wonder if Heller called these guys copycats? He’s been pushing for transparency of that supercommittee with near-daily press releases since it was formed.

House

Speaking of copycats, someone at R&R pointed me to a Joe Trippi “Echo” ad in the California governor’s race after I Tweeted something about this Amodei ad tying Kate Marshall to various Dems.

You know its official when the door sign goes up.

Gov

Sandoval is having a couple of little fundraisers. And Secretary of State Ross J. Miller says he’s looking at the AG’s (not the governor’s) office in 2014.

Sandoval is not running for vice president. Really, Dear Readers, he’s not.

T-shirts for cheap. (Poor Jim Gibbons.)

Leg

Redistricting continues.

Random Stuff

Personal income growth in the states is (you guessed it) down. Nevada is in the lowest fifth.

Someone is encouraging people to move to Nevada, but not for the reasons you might think.

Here’s the Retail Association of Nevada poll if you want to read the whole thing.

We might get the winter Olympics. In 2022. If the world has not ended by then.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Chinese Miss Cosmos pageant. There is. And it’s coming to Reno.

 

 

 

Carson Judge Russell Expected To Rule Quickly On Redistricting Guidelines, Sets Public Hearings For Oct. 10-11

By Sean Whaley | 3:14 pm September 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Racial gerrymandering, fracturing, packing, nesting – a three-hour hearing today in Carson City District Court over how to draw Nevada’s new political boundaries was full of arcane concepts and obscure terminology.

The much anticipated ruling from Judge James Todd Russell on guidelines for drawing those new districts will have major ramifications, however, for the state’s voters and its two major political parties.

The purpose of the hearing was to decide what factors a panel of three citizens must consider when drawing the state’s political lines for four congressional and 63 legislative seats based on the new population figures from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Attorneys for Democrats and Republicans used the terminology to make their cases for how the new political lines should be drawn. Most of the hearing focused on the four congressional seats that must be drawn for the 2012 general election. Nevada earned a 4th seat due to population gains over the past decade.

Time is of the essence in the dispute, with the election season set to get under way early next year.

Attorney Mark Hutchison, representing the Republican Party, argued that the Hispanic community in central Las Vegas should form the basis for one of the four congressional districts in any new redistricting plan.

Attorney Marc Elias, representing Democrats, argued that while communities of interest should be considered, there is no requirement in the federal Voting Rights Act that a predominantly Hispanic district be created.

Special Master Thomas Sheets, from left, GOP attorney Mark Hutchison and Democrat attorneys Mark Braden and Marc Elias confer after the redistricting hearing today. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

After the hearing, Hutchison said: “The court is going to take care to make sure this process is fair and from the beginning that’s all the Republicans have wanted, for the process to be fair. We want to start with a level playing field and let the chips fall where they might. We’re just opposed to any sort of a partisan Democratic slant to this process and I think we got that today.”

Hutchison said he will not appeal Russell’s ruling on how the redistricting process should be carried out by the special masters.

Elias declined to say whether he would appeal Russell’s ruling on the guidelines for the special masters on how to draw the maps.

“I always take these things one step at a time,” he said. “I’m here today and I’m going to wait for the ruling.

“Look, you heard the same thing I did – I think he said he was going to take this under advisement, he obviously listened attentively, he said he was going to do some research and then I expect we will hear from him.”

Russell has appointed the three special masters – Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover, Las Vegas attorney Thomas Sheets and former legislative Research Director Bob Erickson – to draw new political districts.

The issue ended up in the courts when a bipartisan plan could not be hammered out between Democrats and Republicans in the 2011 legislative session.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature passed two redistricting plans, both of which were vetoed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

While not immediately ruling on the Hispanic congressional district question, Russell did announce some developments in his plan to resolve the dispute.

He announced that the special masters will hold two public hearings, one in Las Vegas on Oct. 10 in the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, and the other Oct. 11 in the Carson City legislative building, to take comment from interested parties on what Nevada’s new districts should look like.

Following those hearings, the special masters will have until Oct. 21 to submit new political maps to the court. Russell said he will then release their report and proposed maps to the public.

Russell said that by Nov. 15 or 16 he will decide whether to accept the maps as drawn by the special masters or send the issue back for any specific revisions he deems necessary.

Regardless of how he rules, the redistricting issue is expected to end up in front of the Nevada Supreme Court, and could be appealed into the federal court system as well.

Elias asked Russell to use Senate Bill 497, the second redistricting measure passed by Democrats but vetoed by Sandoval, as the starting point for the special masters to draw new districts.

Hutchison and other attorneys representing Republicans rejected the idea, saying the maps approved for the 2001 redistricting, along with the many sets of maps proposed this year by lawmakers and citizens, could all be considered by the special masters as a starting point.

Attorney Daniel Stewart, representing Clark County resident Daniel Garza, who opposed SB497, said the congressional districts in the bill inappropriately “fractured” the Las Vegas Hispanic community into three different districts to create three safe Democrat congressional seats.

“This is a perfect example of what I think the masters shouldn’t do,” he said.

But Elias warned that any effort to focus exclusively on creating one Hispanic congressional district could lead to “racial gerrymandering” which would put any plan approved by Russell at risk for a federal court challenge. It is not possible to draw a congressional district in Las Vegas that would have a majority of eligible Hispanic voters, he said.

There is also no evidence of block voting by white residents that has thwarted the efforts of Hispanics to elect candidates of their choice, Elias said, noting the election of Sandoval, who is Hispanic.

One of the experts cited by Republican as evidence of block voting by whites was the election of former state Sen. Bob Coffin to the Las Vegas City Council in Ward 3, defeating Hispanic candidate Adriana Martinez in the process, he said. But the expert failed to note that Coffin is of Hispanic heritage himself, Elias said.

“Nevada is not Mississippi,” he said. “There is no white block voting in Clark County.”

Attorneys also argued their positions on other issues, including whether two state Assembly districts should be drawn to fit exactly within each state Senate seat, a process called “nesting.”

They also argued whether “representational fairness”, or consideration of how many “safe” seats each political party should have, is appropriately before the special masters.

A number of prominent Democrats have either announced or are said to be interested in running for the Southern Nevada congressional seats even though the district lines have yet to be drawn. Already announced candidates include Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, former Rep. Dina Titus who lost to Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., in the 2010 election, state Sen. John Lee of North Las Vegas and state Sen. Ruben Kihuen of Las Vegas. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford of Las Vegas is also said to be interested in running for Congress.

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Audio clips:

GOP attorney Mark Hutchison says Republicans want a level playing field:

092111Hutchison :25 got that today.”

Democrat attorney Marc Elias says Judge Russell listened attentively and will issue his ruling after conducting some research:

092111Elias :15 hear from him.”

Nevadans Grow More Pessimistic About Economy, Question If Elected Officials Understand Their Problems

By Sean Whaley | 2:19 pm September 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevadans are more pessimistic now about the state of the economy than they have been since early 2010, according to the most recent poll commissioned by the Retail Association of Nevada.

It shows that Nevadans were starting to feel a bit better about the economy earlier this year, but their mood has changed in the poll by Public Opinion Strategies released today. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed said the state is heading in the wrong direction, up from 69 percent in February and 76 percent in September of 2010.

“So it’s a very pessimistic voter population,” said Bryan Wachter, director of government affairs for RAN. “It’s just kind of reactionary. I think it ties for one of the most pessimistic polls we’ve done since we started polling.”

The only more pessimistic results came in February of 2010, when 80 percent of those surveyed said the state was headed in the wrong direction. RAN started its polling in May 2009.

Mary Lau, president of RAN, said the survey, “reflects the continuing, brutal toll that the economy is taking on Nevadans.”

“We conduct this poll approximately every six months to gain information about how Nevadans view our economy and the state’s political environment,” she said.  “We then share this information with our members, the public and state Legislators so that the real concerns of our state will be considered when policies are shaped in Carson City.”

The survey of 500 likely voters was completed September 14-15 and has a margin of error of plus/minus 4.38 percentage points. It was conducted just before the release of the unemployment numbers for Nevada for August, which showed the third straight month of increases after five months of declines. The jobless rate rose to 13.4 percent in August, up from 12.9 percent in July.

Californians who lost jobs in 2007 due to a freeze. / Photo courtesy of FEMA.

“You can see where we were going, and there were a couple of optimistic points in the history of the poll, but we’re back to the more pessimistic side,” Wachter said. “It’s not surprising that these people are disheartened with the employment numbers, but it is surprising to see that respondents allowed themselves to get a little excited and then now we’re seeing that drop back off.”

The survey also shows that while Gov. Brian Sandoval’s approval rating is strong at 50 percent with 33 percent disapproving, the Legislature is not as fortunate. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed approve of the job the Legislature is doing, with 48 percent disapproving.

And a majority of those questioned in the poll do not believe that Sandoval or the Nevada Legislature understand the challenges they are facing.

Fifty-two percent said they do not believe Sandoval understands the problems they face, with 41 percent saying he does. For the Legislature, 65 percent say lawmakers don’t understand their problems with 31 percent saying they do.

Among other findings in the survey:

Only 37 percent of Nevadans believe that the worst is over, compared to 50 percent who believed that in February of 2011 and 32 percent who believed that in May 2009.

Nevadans are also wary of increased taxes and government spending, with 64 percent saying there is still a lot of waste, fraud and abuse in the state budget. This same percentage says that increasing taxes and fees on businesses will result in additional job losses. Sixty-two percent say increasing taxes will harm efforts to diversify the economy.

Despite these views, 57 percent of Nevadans would rather raise taxes than cut spending if the alternative is cuts to education and health care, though an overwhelming majority of 71 percent would support a proposal to limit annual state government spending increases to the rate of economic growth in the state.

Public Opinion Strategies (POS) is a national Republican-oriented political and public affairs research firm founded in 1991.

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Audio clips:

Bryan Wachter, director of government affairs for RAN, says Nevadans are more pessimistic than they have been in a long time:

092011Wachter1 :15 we started polling.”

Wachter says earlier polls showed a bit more optimism from Nevadans, but not in the latest poll:

092011Wachter2 :22 drop back off.”