Posts Tagged ‘Sen. Ben Kieckhefer’

State Lawmaker Says Action To Delay Tourism Contract Exceeds Legislative Authority

By Sean Whaley | 1:12 pm June 22nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – State lawmakers have put a new tourism contract to promote Nevada on hold despite the concerns of one lawmaker that the move exceeds legislative authority.

Concerns have been raised by Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, about the intent to award the two-year, $3.2 million contract to an out-of-state firm.

Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest public relations firms in the country, was selected by a state agency to handle the promotion of Nevada for the next two years.

“We haven’t had a bad tourism plan in the past, so I have some real reservations,” Horsford said during Thursday’s Interim Finance Committee meeting. “And to bring in a national firm, that I think is based out of New York, to come in here in our state and promote rural communities, that they don’t even know where they are, let alone what they do; I have some real questions and reservations about that.”

Horsford is running for the 4th Congressional seat, which includes a large swath of rural Nevada in addition to parts of Clark County.

Ultimately lawmakers decided to hold off on approving budgetary changes sought by Claudia Vecchio, director of the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, that would allow the contract to go forward, citing several questions they wanted answered first.

Tourism Director Claudia Vecchio. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

That decision was opposed by Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said lawmakers are exceeding their constitutional authority by intervening in an Executive Branch function.

“The fact of the matter is that some people didn’t like the contract so now they’re not going to appropriate the funding,” he said. “That’s going backwards and that’s not our job.”

The Legislature appropriates revenue and authorizes expenditures, but it is up to the Executive Branch to implement those decisions, Kieckhefer said. The decision was an attempt to do a de facto denial of the contract and it overstepped legislative authority, he said.

“I totally understand the concern that we’re spending a significant amount of money on a big contract with an out-of-state vendor,” Kieckhefer said. “But the simple fact of the matter is that no Nevada company was in the top five in this (Request for Proposals).

“I wish we would spend money in Nevada and we do as much as we can,” he said. “But this bid process followed every law that we have in statute, followed every policy set by the Legislature in terms of bidder preference and things like that, and the simple fact of the matter is that this was the best company to do the job. And their job is to drive more traffic to Nevada to enhance our economy, to enhance our biggest industry, which is still hospitality and tourism and gaming.”

Delaying a contract that will help the state’s economy grow is ludicrous, Kieckhefer said.

Vecchio defended the contract and selection process at the meeting. Nineteen companies submitted proposals, but none of the four finalists were from Nevada, a fact which generated comment from at least one Nevada public relations firm.

Burson-Marsteller, which is actually based in Los Angeles, was the unanimous selection of an evaluation committee made up of Nevada tourism professionals, Vecchio said. The company will be working with Red Rock Strategies out of Las Vegas, she said.

The contract has been drawn up and signed by both parties, but it remains contingent upon approval of state officials.

Vecchio said the firm will provide national and international contacts that will benefit the state.

“The value that you get back, and the value that comes back to a destination by working with the best in the business, is tenfold, twentyfold over what it is with somebody who just has that local perspective,” she said.

Burson-Marsteller has proposed an idea for a smart phone application that will provide a way for visitors to craft itineraries and access to services in both cellular telephone service and non-service areas, Vecchio said. Much of rural Nevada does not have cellular phone service, but the information will be downloaded to the phone and so will be available to visitors, she said.

“That’s a game changer for this state,” Vecchio said. “So it is the understanding of our visitor needs that is so important to our success.”

Vecchio, appointed in October 2011 by Gov. Brian Sandoval to the tourism job,has previously worked for Burson-Marsteller in Dallas as well as for the Edelman public relations firm in Chicago.

Horsford said he is certain that there are firms in Nevada with the regional and national experience that could perform the work although he said he did not know the identities of all 19 applicants.

“The Legislature set a policy that 5 percent preference should be given to Nevada-based businesses,” he said. “So this is a policy that the Legislature and the governor believe was important, particularly at this time when so many business, and advertising and PR is no exception, need the work.”


Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the company picked for the tourism contract does not know Nevada:

062212Horsford1 :25 reservations about that.”

Horsford says Nevada has a policy to give a preference to state firms:

062212Horsford2 :21 need the work.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says the IFC vote exceeded its authority:

062212Kieckhefer1 :27 implements those things.”

Kieckhefer says the selection process followed all the rules:

062212Kieckhefer2 :23 in this RFP.”:

Tourism Director Claudia Vecchio says a national firm will provide major benefits to the state:

062212Vecchio :17 that local perspective.”





Gov. Sandoval Will Extend Sunsetting Taxes Into Next Two-Year Budget To Avoid Education Cuts

By Sean Whaley | 2:17 pm March 13th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today he will propose to extend a package of taxes now set to expire in June 2013 into the next budget to avoid further cuts to education, which he said cannot withstand further reductions.

To maintain a basically flat spending plan for the two-year budget that will begin on July 1, 2013, Sandoval said the modified business tax that was maintained at a higher rate for large businesses in the 2011 legislative session, along with a small increase in the sales tax, must be continued.

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

The 2011 tax package also eliminated the business tax for 115,000 small Nevada businesses which would continue into the next budget as well.

“We’re going to keep them,” Sandoval said of the sunsetting taxes. “Again, my baseline is this: I’m not going to cut education, and that includes K-12 and higher ed. I am not going to reduce services for the most vulnerable people in our society.

“I’m not going to pit kindergartners against senior citizens,” he said. “I’m not going to pit higher ed students against people that need essential services.”

This preliminary recommendation for beginning the budget process for the 2013 legislative session could be modified as the state’s fiscal picture becomes clearer in the coming months, Sandoval said.

“We’re going to be having many conversations between now and when the final budget is presented to the Legislature,” he said. “I believe at this point in time, which is very early, it is the responsible thing to do for the future of the state of Nevada.”

Sandoval said an expanding Medicaid caseload, along with costs associated with the expansion of the program under the federal health care law, will consume any revenue increases. Because of this, failing to include the sunsetting taxes for budget planning purposes would mean cuts to education.

“In addition to avoiding further cuts to education, this decision means there will be no need for tax increases in the next session,” Sandoval said. “Nevadans will pay no more than they are in the current biennium. The budget building process remains ongoing, but we must begin today.”

Efforts are under way to circulate petitions to put possible tax increases before the voters, including measures that could lead to hikes in both mining and gaming taxes. A gross margin tax on business is also being considered by labor groups and teachers but no ballot measure has been filed yet.

Sandoval made the announcement to the capitol press corps after a meeting of the Board of Examiners. He said his intention with the announcement is to be transparent.

Sandoval strongly opposed continuing the tax increases approved by the 2009 legislature in the 2011 session, but ultimately agreed to do so after a Nevada Supreme Court ruling threw his proposed budget into financial disarray.

The 2013-15 budget planning process begins Thursday with a briefing by state Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp to state agencies and representatives of public and higher education.

Today’s announcement was immediately welcomed by some Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who is expected to lead the Republican Senate caucus in the 2013 legislative session, said he supports Sandoval’s preliminary budget instructions.

“I support Gov. Sandoval and his budget instructions that will not impose new taxes on the people of Nevada,” Roberson said. “I will continue to lead the fight against new tax increases while working with Gov. Sandoval to improve public education. I will not support additional cuts to public education.”

Roberson opposed extending the sunsetting taxes in the 2011 session, arguing that the Nevada Supreme Court ruling did not create the huge financial hole in the budget that others had suggested.

“Gov. Sandoval has outlined a prudent and fiscally responsible preliminary budget framework,” Roberson said.  “I am grateful for his tremendous leadership. I will stand with him and support him.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, announced his support for Sandoval’s proposal via Twitter.

“I applaud the decision by Gov. Sandoval to do what is necessary to protect education from cuts,” he said, adding that what that means in the 2013 session is yet to be determined.

Nevada Senate Democrats issued a statement saying they “applaud” the change of position by Sandoval and Republican lawmakers but that the proposal is an insufficient short-term fix.

“What we need are long-term solutions to resolving our budget problems, not postponing them for another 2 years,” said Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. “We must address tax fairness for middle class families, cut wasteful spending in our government, and provide Nevada business with an educated workforce that can help compete in the national and global marketplace.

“In order to diversify our economy and attract new businesses and industry to Nevada, we must show them we are serious about investing in a well educated workforce,” he said. “We can’t do that if education funding remains stagnant.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, criticized Sandoval’s announcement in a statement:

“Taxpayers lose again with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s decision to propose extending the so-called ‘sunset’ taxes,” he said. “This demonstrates, once again, the danger behind the concept of a ‘temporary’ tax increase. Once bureaucracy becomes dependent on that additional revenue to sustain itself, the tax increase rarely goes away.

“In 2010, Gov. Sandoval stated that raising taxes is ‘the worst possible thing you can do’ after a recession,” Lawrence said. “His statement is as correct today as it was then – raising taxes on job creators is exactly the wrong thing to do in the aftermath of a recession.”

Sandoval said the spending will also be prepared using the new approach of performance-based budgeting.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he will keep the sunsetting taxes in his budget to avoid cuts to education:

031312Sandoval1 :14 in our society.”

Sandoval says he won’t pit kindergarteners against senior citizens:

031312Sandoval2 :12 need essential services.”

Sandoval says at this point in time it is the responsible thing to do:

031312Sandoval3 :12 state of Nevada.”


Controversy Over State Use Of Outside Legal Counsel Expands To Robo-Signing Lawsuit

By Sean Whaley | 10:49 am February 2nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – When state Sen. Greg Brower asked the Attorney General’s office earlier this month about the $6 million in outside legal costs incurred so far in defending the state in a freeway construction dispute, he said his motives were purely fiscal in nature.

“We just don’t have money to waste,” said Brower, R-Reno. “At least this particular situation seems to suggest that maybe we are. Maybe there are good answers to all of these questions I raised in my letter but there is only one way to find out and that is to ask them.”

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

But the use of outside counsel is being questioned in another case where Brower’s law firm, Snell & Wilmer, is representing a company being sued by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who is also using the services of a private law firm.

The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 16, 2011 in Clark County District Court against Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS) alleging deceptive practices against Nevada consumers related to the default servicing of residential mortgages in Nevada, specifically loans in foreclosure.

“The robo-signing crisis in Nevada has been fueled by two main problems: Chaos and speed,” Masto said in announcing the filing of the lawsuit in December. “We will protect the integrity of the foreclosure process. This lawsuit is the next, logical step in holding the key players in the foreclosure fraud crisis accountable.”

Masto obtained approval from the state Board of Examiners and the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee in 2009 to hire the law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll to investigate and prosecute mortgage lending cases, including the current case against LPS. The firm works on a contingency basis, not getting paid unless the firm obtains settlements or court judgments.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

In a statement in response to the lawsuit issued in December, LPS said the use of the Washington, DC law firm is apparently a violation of Nevada law.

“Unfortunately, the company’s efforts to engage in meaningful discussions with the Nevada Attorney General’s office have been frustrated by the Nevada Attorney General’s decision to outsource its investigation to Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, a plaintiff’s law firm located in Washington, DC in apparent violation of Nevada law,” the company said in a statement. “The complaint highlights misconceptions about LPS and seeks to sensationalize a variety of false allegations in a misleading manner.”

The firm on Tuesday filed a motion to dismiss the civil complaint.

In an interview Friday, Brower called the two legal matters “apples and oranges.”

Brower said the questions in his Jan. 12 letter to Masto asking about the use of the Washington, DC, firm of Watt, Tieder, Hoffar & Fitzgerald to handle the case filed by Ames Construction against the Nevada Department of Transportation over construction of the first phase of the Carson City bypass are strictly related to the $6 million in legal costs incurred by the state in the matter, which remains unresolved. He also asked why the state hired an out-of-state firm, and whether the Attorney General’s office could have handled the matter itself.

Gov. Brian Sandoval also raised concerns about the legal costs at a January meeting of the Board of Directors of the Transportation Department. So did board member Tom Fransway.

In the LPS dispute, Brower said he arranged a meeting between the Attorney General’s office and the company last year to discuss the matters of concern before the lawsuit was filed, but Brower said he will not be representing LPS in the dispute going forward.

The state has frequently employed outside legal firms for various matters over the years, including the successful pursuit of a settlement agreement by Nevada and other states against the nation’s big tobacco companies in the 1990s. Since the settlement was reached in 1998 under then-Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, Nevada has collected $505 million for a variety of programs through 2011.

The state Agency for Nuclear Projects has also employed the Washington, DC, law firm of Egan, Fitzpatrick, Malsch & Lawrence since 2001 to represent it in its ongoing dispute over construction of the nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain. The contract was also approved while Del Papa was attorney general and the late Kenny Guinn was governor. Payments through 2012, including expert witnesses, are expected to total $33.4 million, most of which is federal funds.

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said he also has questions about the legality of using Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll to sue on behalf of the state, and has asked Masto in a letter to respond to his concerns. He first raised questions at a meeting of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee in December.

The statute is clear that the Attorney General’s office has the authority to hire outside counsel to defend the state or in the case of a conflict of interest, he said.

“But to hire counsel to then go out and prosecute or go after other private entities doesn’t seem legal within our current statutory framework,” Kieckhefer said.

Kieckhefer said he also asked for more information on the use of a contingency fee for the contract.

“When you’re trying to execute justice, you’re suddenly putting a monetary incentive into the execution of justice, and that seems inherently problematic to me so I’ve asked for a little bit more information on that as well,” he said.

There is a difference in the two contracts. The firm representing NDOT is being paid an hourly rate. The state Transportation Board approved an additional payment amount to get the case to an arbitration hearing next month. The legal costs including the new amount will total $6 million.

The contract with Cohen, Milstein is a contingency agreement, meaning Nevada will not have to pay unless the firm is successful against LPS. The firm is eligible to receive up to 15 percent of any settlement.

In yet another wrinkle in the use of outside legal counsel, Brower’s firm was also employed by the Department of Transportation in a construction dispute similar to the one he has raised questions about. Snell & Wilmer was paid nearly $2.9 million to represent the agency in a dispute that was settled with the firm Parsons Brinckerhoff in Feb. 2011.

The litigation involved the design and construction of the Interstate 515/215 interchange in Henderson.


Audio clips:

Sen. Greg Brower last week expressed concerns about the legal fees associated with an NDOT contract dispute:

020212Brower :31 to ask them.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer questions if the Attorney General has the legal authority hire a private law firm to sue a private business:

020212Kieckhefer1 :31 current statutory framework.”

Kieckhefer says he also has concerns with the use of contingency fees in such legal actions:

020212Kieckhefer2 :20 that as well.”