Posts Tagged ‘spending’

Nevada Retailers Expect $245 Million In Back-To-School Spending, Up 15 Percent Over 2011

By Sean Whaley | 8:45 am August 15th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada retailers and their online counterparts expect to see $245 million in spending on back-to-school merchandise for public school children this year, a 15.4 percent increase over spending levels in 2011, the Retail Association of Nevada (RAN) reported today.

College spending in Nevada is expected to generate another $134 million in what is as the second biggest consumer event for retailers behind the winter holidays, according to the National Retail Federation. The NRF reports that combined K-12 and college spending will reach $83.8 billion this year.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

“Parents want to make sure their kids have everything they need to start the new school year and are willing to spend more than ever on school-related necessities,” said Mary Lau, president of RAN. “However, the economy remains a concern in most households, which will have an impact on the way families shop. Bargain-hunting will remain important to budget-conscious consumers.”

According to the latest survey results from the NRF, families nationwide with children in grades K-12 are expected to spend an average of $689 on clothing, backpacks and other supplies. The latest estimate is a 14.1-percent increase from the estimated $604 spent last year.

According to demographics released by Nielsen Marketplace, there are approximately 1 million households in Nevada, and 34 percent (or 355,000 households) have one or more children in grades K-12. Assuming national trends as reported by the NRF generally hold true for Nevada families, total spending in the state will reach approximately $245 million. Due to an increase in both the count of families with children entering elementary or middle school, and an increase in spending per family, back-to-school spending in the state is expected to increase 15.4 percent compared to last year when total spending was an estimated $212 million.

As for college-bound students, the NRF estimates families will spend an average of $907 on new clothes, dormitory or apartment furniture and other college supplies. Compared to last year’s estimate of $809, college spending is expected to increase 12.2 percent.

Utilizing the latest estimate of Nevada residents who will be enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs within and outside of Nevada in the coming school year released by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, aggregate back-to-school spending on college supplies is expected to increase this year as well. Again, assuming Nevada residents follow national trends, college spending is estimated to reach $134 million, compared to $120 million in 2011.

Bryan Wachter, director of government affairs for RAN, said back-to-school spending is exceeded only by the Christmas holiday season.

“Back-to-school is for a specific purpose, and we feel we can measure it pretty accurately,” he said.

Wachter said clothing and electronics, from calculators to laptops to phones, are the big spending categories.

“Electronics, not quite but almost, total clothing,” he said. “The average person is going to spend about $250 per student on clothing and we’re going to spend about $225 on electronics.”

The spending increase is due in part to some increased confidence among Nevadans that their jobs are more secure, Wachter said.

The Internet is continuing to grow as a preferred shopping “destination” for back-to-school items. Approximately 39.6 percent of consumers will be using the Internet to shop for needed supplies, nearly double the 2007 estimate. That said, discount stores are expected to be the most popular shopping destination, with 67.1 percent of consumers planning to shop there. Department stores followed with 59.9 percent.


Audio clips:

Bryan Wachter of RAN says back-to-school shopping is a huge event for retailers:

081512Wachter1 :15 on back-to-school items.”

Wachter says spending on electronics now nearly equals spending on clothes:

081512Wachter2 :12 $225 on electronics.”

Holiday Spending Expected to be Up Despite Economic Downturn

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 6:36 am November 1st, 2011

Despite the state’s nation-leading unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy rates, projections in Nevada point to a 6.4 percent increase in holiday spending this year, according to estimates by an information advisory firm.

“This projection of increased spending mirrors the growth seen in retail-specific sales during the first eight months of the year,” said Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis. “For several years, Nevada’s spending trailed national spending. This year, we believe that gap is beginning to close.”

According to the first Gallup holiday spending survey of the 2011 season, Americans expect to spend an average of $712 on Christmas gifts this year, which is essentially the same as the $715 projection issued last year.

However, this latest estimate remains significantly below pre-recession levels; in 2007, Americans estimated that they would spend an average of $909 per person. This figure dropped to $801 in 2008 and to $740 in 2009.

If Nevadans keep pace with this year’s national estimate of $712 per person, shoppers would spend an estimated $1.4 billion during the upcoming holiday season.

Mary Lau, president of the Retail Association of Nevada (RAN) said that based on recent taxable sales data released in Nevada, “We believe that consumer spending may be in a healthier place than it was last year.”

The annual growth rate in total taxable sales (including retail-specific and non-retail categories) is 5.7 percent for the month of August and 6.2 percent for the year-to-date; both represent solid improvements compared to the prior year.

However, compared to the same month in 2007, total sales remain down 13.3 percent for the month and 17.6 percent year-to-date. Taken at face value, these are grim statistics, but a look at trends in retail-specific taxable sales categories reveals several bright spots.


– Taxable sales of clothing and clothing accessories statewide are up 14 percent year-to-date (as of August) compared with the same period in both 2010 and 2007.

– Electronics and appliance store sales are up 9 percent year-to-date compared to 2010, and are almost on par with 2007 levels, trailing by just 3 percent.

– Sporting goods, hobby, book and music store sales are up 6 percent year-to-date compared to 2010 and down just 2 percent compared to the first eight months of 2007.

Clark County

– Sales of clothing and accessories are up 16 percent year-to-date compared to both 2010 and 2007.

– Sales at electronics and appliance stores are even with 2007 for the year-to-date and 14 percent higher than in the prior year.

Washoe County

– Recreation-related spending remains strong in the northern county, with sporting goods, hobby, book and music store sales up 17 percent for the first eight months of 2011 compared to the same period in 2007; compared to the prior year, sales are up 2 percent.

– Sales by miscellaneous store retailers are up 20 percent compared to the year-to-date in 2007, and up 2 percent compared to the prior year.

– Clothing retailers are reporting sales for the year-to-date consistent with the prior year (up 1 percent) and 11 percent below 2007 levels; while negative, the change is not as severe as that faced by other categories.

Rural Nevada

– Sales reported by non-store retailers are up 14 and 15 percent compared to the year-to-date in 2010 and 2007, respectively.

– Rural county clothing retailers are reporting sales up 31 percent compared to the year-to-date in 2007, and up 5 percent compared to 2010.

– Sales of electronics and appliances are up 26 percent for the year-to-date compared to 2007, and are about even with the prior year.

Nevada Last in Federal Dollars Per Capita

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:06 pm July 15th, 2011

The federal government is more generous to some states than others and least of all to Nevada, according to an analysis by Federal Funds Information for States (FFIS) which tracks budget policy across the nation.

Some states receive fewer federal dollars because they operate relatively modest Medicaid programs that trigger a smaller amount of matching federal money.

Image from Wikimedia Commons and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

That’s the primary reason why Nevada gets the least in federal funding with just $1,090 per capita.

The U.S. average for federal spending per capita is $1,786.

Some Western states – like Wyoming and Alaska – receive a greater proportion of federal grants in the form of revenue from leasing rights to the rich resources being extracted on public lands. Wyoming receives $3,757 in federal spending per capita.

The federal budget provides about 30 percent of state revenue, making it the largest single source of funds for many states.

An infographic by The Pew Center for the States website shows the amount of federal spending for each state.

Of the per capita federal spending Nevada receives, The Pew Center for the States reports that $386 helps fund health care services; $336 goes to income security and social services; $178 goes to fund transportation; $140 goes to education; and $68 goes to a combination of other areas including agriculture, community development and employment and training services.

Per capita federal spending is a measure for states seeking to assess how they fare in their fiscal relationship with the federal government.

The FFIS analysis focuses on 200+ federal grant-in-aid programs tracked by FFIS. The analysis does not include American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) dollars, better known as “stimulus” funding.

FFIS is a joint subscription service of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.




U.S. Rep. Joe Heck Gives Praise To Gov. Sandoval For Budget That Does Not Increase Taxes

By Sean Whaley | 7:28 pm April 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – U.S. Rep. Joe Heck praised GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval in remarks to the Nevada Legislature today for proposing a budget that does not raise taxes, saying it is the way to an economic recovery.

Heck, R-Nev., also expressed appreciation for Republican lawmakers who so far this session have supported Sandoval’s no new taxes or fees position during the lengthy review of his two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget.

Heck, a former state Senator, narrowly defeated incumbent Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., in the 2010 general election to represent District 3 in Southern Nevada.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., speaks to the Nevada Legislature today/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Heck said job creation is the way for Nevada to grow its way out of its fiscal problems, and he pointed to the state of Virginia as one that dealt with a large budget deficit by cutting spending, not raising taxes.

“In fact, a number of states have begun to recover more quickly,” he said. “It is because they listened to small businesses, they listened to the people who create jobs and they reduced government spending without increasing taxes. They did this to inspire confidence and establish predictability.”

Virginia has created nearly 100,000 new jobs since early 2010, Heck said.

“Yes, there were painful reductions to programs people cherished, but I would trade the criticism resulting from cutting or eliminating a handful of programs if it meant 100,000 more jobs in Nevada right now,” he said. “People want a paycheck, not a government check.”

In comments to the press after his remarks, Heck said unemployment is “the root of all evil” in Nevada.

“We need the jobs,” he said. “And burdening businesses, burdening individuals with higher taxes, is not going to create jobs.

“I think you’ve got to exhaust every possible opportunity to rein in those programs that have lost sight of their original mission, or aren’t accomplishing what they were intended to accomplish and that means cutting,” he said. “Every program means something to somebody.”

Heck acknowledged it is difficult to grow the economy and attract high end businesses without a good educational system.

“You’ve got to concentrate on what generates a result,” he said. “That is why career and technical education needs to be funded and funded well.”

Education spending needs to focus on the skills needed to diversify the economy, Heck said.

Heck also said in his remarks to Sandoval and lawmakers that the federal government has to get its spending under control or tax increases will be inevitable.

“We must work together to return government spending to responsible levels,” he said. “That means making difficult decisions to bring government in line with the private sector, it means demanding accountability and performance, and it means forcing government to do more with less. That’s what our families have done.  It is what our businesses have done and it is what our government must do.”

Heck also praised Sandoval and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki for focusing on economic development and job creation in the legislative session, issues that have the support of Democrats as well.

“Many have talked about Nevada’s potential to be a leader in renewable energy, and I agree,” he said.

That is why Heck said he supported the continuation of the federal loan guarantees for renewable energy projects.

“But we must also look past the energy production side of the equation,” he said. “We must have serious discussions about bringing the research and development as well as the manufacturing components of this industry to Nevada. That is where the sustainable, good-paying jobs will materialize. I will continue to support research and development tax credits, work to streamline the bureaucracy to access Nevada’s lands that remain under federal control, and expedite the federal permitting process while protecting the environment and maintaining safety.”

Audio clips:

Rep. Joe Heck says states that are beginning to recover balanced their budgets without raising taxes:

042511Heck1 :19 without raising taxes.”

Heck says budget cuts are painful but necessary:

042511Heck2 :17 something to somebody.”


Nevada Stimulus Spending Is Election Focus But Effectiveness In Dispute

By Sean Whaley | 1:51 pm October 25th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The question of how well the Gibbons administration has done in quickly and efficiently deploying Nevada’s share of stimulus dollars is difficult to quantify.

Gibbons, a Republican who is leaving office in January, was criticized by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., in a debate Wednesday for failing to move quickly to spend stimulus dollars. Titus said the bottleneck was not at the federal level, but at the state level. Congress specifically chose to put the money into existing programs to get it moving quickly to create jobs, she said.

Gibbons defended his handling of the nearly $2.5 billion in stimulus funds awarded to the state so far, saying: “The stimulus funds awarded to Nevada were spent and are being spent as expeditiously as possible in order to create as many new jobs as possible.”

Nevada’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act website shows the state has actually received and spent about $2 billion of the total awarded through June 30, 2010.

The majority of the stimulus funds received by the state have already been spent not on job creation projects, but on Medicaid caseloads and jobless benefits. Three jobless related programs alone account for nearly $1.3 billion in total spending in Nevada.

Titus is not alone in her criticism of Nevada’s efforts under Gibbons to quickly use stimulus funds to create jobs, especially early on in the process. The act was approved by Congress in February 2009.

In a letter to Gibbons on Oct. 1, 2009, Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, cited Nevada as a state that was not doing a good job in spending the funds, ranking 47th of 51 based on an analysis of the percentage of recovery act highway formula funds put out to bid, under contract and under way.

Nevada received about $201 million in stimulus funding for road projects.

“I strongly urge you to refocus your efforts to implement the Recovery Act and use the available funds to create and sustain family-wage jobs,” Oberstar said in the letter.

The state Democratic Party criticized Gibbons for the report as well, but Dan Burns, a spokesman for the governor, said in October 2009 the information was inaccurate. He also criticized Nevada Democratic leaders for bringing in stimulus money that put the state 50th per capita for its allocation of funding.

The Nevada Department of Transportation announced in February of 2010 it had obligated its entire stimulus funding a month ahead of schedule. The agency announced in May that stimulus funds will have created or saved 5,600 construction jobs by the end of the year.

The state was also questioned about its slow pace on spending nearly $19 million in stimulus funds for neighborhood weatherization projects. As of November of 2009, the state had spent less than $1 million and risked losing the money.

But the program moved into high gear, and Gibbons announced in May 2010 that the State Office of Energy and the Nevada Housing Division had received letters from the U.S. Department of Energy commending their efforts at quickly and efficiently spending the stimulus funds.

Nevada was identified as one of a small group of states that had 100 percent of its award through the environmental permitting process finished and 75 percent or more of the funds obligated.

“These accomplishments are a testament to your team’s strong planning and management,” U.S. Department of Energy State Energy Program Director Mark Bailey said. “DOE applauds Nevada’s State Energy Office for your success and commends your hard work.”

John Restrepo of the Restrepo Consulting Group in Las Vegas, said the Gibbons administration may have been slow in getting going on spending the stimulus funds, but that the state has probably done as well as any other in getting the money into the economy.

Restrepo, who also serves on the State Economic Forum, a panel charged with predicting Nevada’s tax revenues for the next two years, said for him the bigger issue with the stimulus is whether it was big enough.

“In my humble opinion it was not large enough,” he said. “It was a tepid response in adding employment and addressing the longer term problem of our antiquated infrastructure.”

What can’t be proved conclusively about the stimulus spending is whether the state and national unemployment pictures would be worse without it, Restrepo said. Speaking as an analyst, Restrepo said he believes the recession would have been worse without the funding.

“The stimulus did some of what it was supposed to do,” he said. “We could have done better.”

Nevada State Controller Kim Wallin, a Democrat, said there is no way to compare how Nevada is doing on spending its share of stimulus funds with other states because there are no uniform reporting requirements.

But Wallin, who has some oversight responsibilities for the stimulus spending, does post a weekly report on her website showing the amount received for each project and the amount spent. Some agencies have not moved quickly to spend the money, she said.

The state Energy Program, for example, has been awarded $34.7 million but expended only $16.9 million as of Oct. 15, Wallin said.

A number of wildland fire fuel reduction projects under the direction of the state Department of Agriculture show low expenditures as well, she said.

While some agencies have done a good job of obligating and expending their funds, a number of other programs do not show any significant spending yet, Wallin said.

 “The whole idea of the stimulus was to get the money spent as quickly as possible to create jobs,” she said.

Jim Groth, director of the state Office of Energy, said Nevada is in the top 10 states in terms of expending its energy-related stimulus funds. In addition to the nearly $35 million for a variety of projects and programs, the office received another $9.5 million in energy efficiency and conservation block grant funds, he said.

The state has until April 2012 to spend the money, and it will all be put to use long before that deadline, Groth said.

The projects funded by the stimulus funds, and their progress, are updated weekly on the agency’s website, he said.

The job-creation programs have different deadlines by which the money must be expended and are included on the controller’s stimulus spending webpage. Some deadlines have already expired, while other projects run through 2014.

During the Wednesday debate in the closely watched District 3 race, Republican challenger Joe Heck said the stimulus act is not working nationally or in Nevada, as evidenced by the loss of jobs and high unemployment rate. Nevada leads the nation in unemployment, which remained unchanged at 14.4 percent in September.

The September report, released Friday, shows Nevada had nearly 24,000 fewer jobs than in the same month the year before.

Titus said the situation would be worse without the stimulus spending approved by Congress.

Titus also rejected any suggestion that District 3 has seen only minimal job creation from the stimulus.

The federal stimulus reporting website shows District 3 shortchanged in job creation, reporting only 187 jobs in the three months ending June 30. But that is because most of the state stimulus money flows through the state capital in Carson City, so the jobs are counted in District 2, represented by Dean Heller, R-Nev., who voted against the stimulus bill. The district shows 8,674 jobs created during the same period.

Nevada District 1, represented by Shelley Berkley, showed 439 jobs created.

Development Of Next State Budget Under Way

By Sean Whaley | 1:52 pm September 10th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada state agencies and public education have submitted budgets calling for nearly $8 billion in spending for the upcoming two years, about $3 billion more than what is expected to be available with current tax revenues.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said the gap will exist in large part because of the expiration of temporary tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature, the loss of one-time federal stimulus funds and some increased caseloads, particularly for Medicaid.

The spending plans submitted by state agencies and education by a Sept. 1 deadline assume that the current furlough program and merit pay freezes will not be continued when the new budget takes effect on July 1, 2011. If the governor and Legislature decide to continue the pay freezes and one-day-a-month furloughs, the nearly $8 billion in spending would be reduced by about $480 million.

That still leaves about a $2.5 billion gap in anticipated tax revenue and potential agency spending, Clinger said.

About $1 billion of the gap is related to taxes that will expire on July 1, 2011 unless extended by the Legislature. Lawmakers in 2009 increased the sales tax and the modified business tax on the state’s largest employers to balance the current budget. Car registration fees were also increased.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds that will not be part of the next budget total nearly $600 million, Clinger said. So the loss of the temporary tax increases and federal stimulus funds contribute about $1.6 billion of the $3 billion difference between anticipated revenues and spending, he said.

The remainder of the difference has not been completely analyzed yet, but much of it is due to seeing more people becoming eligible for Medicaid, which will require an increase in state general fund spending, Clinger said. Medicaid provides health care for low income people, many of them children and the elderly. The costs are shared by the federal government and the state.

Caseload growth in Medicaid and related programs is expected to require $150 million in new spending over the life of the new two-year budget.

If the spending level for the 2011-13 general fund budget ends up at $7.5 billion because furloughs are extended, it would be an increase of about $1 billion over the current two-year budget where spending is expected to total $6.5 billion by June 30, 2011, Clinger said.

But those numbers don’t paint a full picture, he said. The nearly $600 million in lost federal stimulus funds will have to be made up with general fund revenue in the next budget, so that is a major factor in the increase.

But there are some actual proposed spending increases in the new budget, particularly the $150 million in increased Medicaid spending, Clinger said.

“It is going to be important that we outline how you get from $6.5 (billion) to the $8 (billion),” he said. “I haven’t gone through the process of comparing the current $6.5 billion to the $8 billion to sort of give you a reconciliation of that but that is one of the things we will do.”

A number of legislative leaders have already said taxes have to be on the table as a potential solution to the budget shortfall, but both leading party candidates for governor have rejected the idea of new or increased taxes to bridge the gap between revenue and spending.

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said he believes lawmakers must first look to find efficiencies and implement reforms where possible. After that process is completed, there will likely still be a gap between revenues and what is needed to fund the operations of state government for the next two years, he said.

“But I think we ought to work on the checkbook side of things first, on what we’re spending money on,” Oceguera said.

The amount or revenue available to fund state programs and services won’t be known for certain until after the Economic Forum meets in December. The group’s projections must be used by lawmakers in adopting a balanced budget.

Clinger’s office has also embarked on a review of the programs being offered by state government with an eye to identifying the core services that must be provided. Programs that do not meet the priority criteria would then be on the table for potential cuts or even complete elimination as part of the budget balancing process.

The Legislature has also created a committee to perform a fundamental review of some state agency budgets with an eye towards finding savings and efficiencies. The panel meets again on Wednesday.


Audio clips:

Budget Director Andrew Clinger says the proposed state spending levels will have to be reconciled with the current budget:

090910Clinger1 :11 we will do.”

Clinger says the potential of $1.5 billion more in spending in the next budget must be explained:

090910Clinger2 :23 to the $8.”

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera says Legislature must first look to efficiencies in state government before considering new revenues:

090910Oceguera :30 spending money on.”

Chachas: Federal Spending as Illustrated in Pennies

By Elizabeth Crum | 4:08 pm May 4th, 2010

I recently saw a variation of it online, but U.S. Senate candidate John Chachas has put his own spin on a new campaign ad that is now up on YouTube and will also soon be coming to a Nevada television near you.

The idea is that the “law of large numbers” makes it hard to understand the scale of federal spending and borrowing, so the issue is framed and illustrated using stacked pennies on a table.

Charters and Choppers and Strip Clubs, Oh My!

By Elizabeth Crum | 12:19 pm April 10th, 2010

In the interest of fairness vis a vis my earlier post about RNC funds being used to pay for questionable activities, we have this story from FrumForum about the eyebrow-raising use of DNC donor funds.  Opening excerpt:

While RNC chairman Michael Steele faces calls of resignation for questionable expenditures — including meals at a bondage-themed nightclub — it turns out the Democratic National Committee has been spending thousands of its own donor money on luxury hotels, limos and yes, scantily clad go-go dancers, FrumForum has discovered. Further, the DNC has been hiring White House helicopters for party use, while Steele fell into more hot water for even suggesting he might need a private jet.


– Late last year, Democrats partied it up at D.C.’s ‘Josephine’, when they dropped $5,850. The nightclub comes complete with two stripper poles and, according to one reviewer, a “skimpily clothed go-go dancer to feast your eyes on.”

– In just the first two months of this year, the DNC spent half a million dollars on catering, parties, lodging and limos. This includes a staggering $278,478.12 on Hilton hotels; $143,286 on catering from Susan Gage Caterers and Avalon Caterers; $36,956 on lodging at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C.; an $11,154 event at the Kennedy Center; and about $1,500 in limo services.

– The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $14,098 on car service last year. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $48,270.25 on charter flights and limousines. Democrats even spent $36,874.39 to bring in Austrian celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck three times last year.

– But perhaps the most questionable expense was the DNC’s use of the trappings of the White House for partisan purposes: $232,436.81 spent on White House helicopters and White House In-flight Services since August of last year. The DNC’s White House helicopter expenditures have been unexamined until now because, unlike the RNC, the DNC files some of their travel expenses under a different Federal Elections Commission ID than their other expenses.

Last week I heard a very young man working on his very first campaign for a never-ran-before candidate say it was fun, but he didn’t really understand how politics could be a full time job.

If you’re reading this, my dear boy, please note that politics can not only be a job but one with some really great perks.  Until you get carried away and someone notices.  Then you have to fire a scapegoat or two and tone it down for awhile.

Lobbyists Spend Little at Special Session, Legislative Reports Show

By Sean Whaley | 11:37 am March 18th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The 2010 special session called by Gov. Jim Gibbons last month to balance a state budget out of balance by more than $800 million touched on major issues from gaming and mining fee increases to layoffs of state employees.

But the importance of the session, which ended in the wee hours of March 1, is not evident from the lobbying expenses reported by those seeking to influence or just keep an eye on the actions of lawmakers.

While a few reports remain to be filed, a whopping $75.55 was spent by three lobbyists on five different lawmakers over the six-day session, according to reports filed with the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

The “big” spender was lobbyist Russell Rowe, who spent $22.50 on both Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, and $17.55 on Assemblyman Chad Christensen, R-Las Vegas.

Rowe represented a number of clients at the session, including Boyd Gaming and the Nevada Development Authority.

Lobbyist Jon Sasser spent $5 on Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas. Sasser represented Washoe Legal Services.

Lobbyist Bob Gastonguay spent $8 on Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas. Gastonguay represented the Nevada State Cable Telecommunications Association at the session.

The other 272 registered lobbyists who filed expense reports with the Legislature reported no expenditures. Eleven lobbyists have not yet filed reports.

Nevada’s Transparency Website Improved But Still Incomplete

By Sean Whaley | 7:52 am October 24th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Eighteen months after Gov. Jim Gibbons issued an executive order requiring the state’s financial information to be posted on an easily searchable website for the public, his quest for transparency remains a work in progress.

A significant improvement is expected in the next few days, however.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said Nevada’s transparency website has been up and accessible since January, but so far it contains budget and spending information only for fiscal years 2006 to 2008. It also now includes the 2009-11 legislatively approved budget.

The current website does have a searchable database, and taxpayers can delve into detail showing actual payments to vendors, he said. Searches can be performed by vendor name or by agency.

But financial data is still being loaded into the system for fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, and for the current 2010 budget year. By the end of October, the site should have the current budget and spending information which will then be updated nightly as is done on transparency websites in other states to provide a real time look at spending, Clinger said.

With the implementation of daily updates to the database, Clinger said Nevada’s site will be about 70 percent complete. What will still be missing is data on contracts between state agencies and other entities. A section on the state payroll is also a work in progress.

Clinger said he believes Nevada’s transparency website is as detailed as those in other states, including Texas and Missouri, which are cited frequently as sites that are easy to navigate.

But having looked at the Missouri transparency site, Clinger is working with his staff to see if some of the basic elements that make the Missouri site easy to use can be incorporated in Nevada’s site.

“I think ours will be as good as Missouri’s,” he said. “But their layout is a little more user friendly.“

State Controller Kim Wallin, who is providing the financial data to the Department of Administration for posting, proposed the creation of a transparency website through her office, duplicating the site created by the state of Missouri, at a cost of about $250,000. Missouri was chosen because it uses the same financial accounting software as Nevada.

But the Gibbons administration decided to move forward on its own and has spent about $112,000 on the project so far.

Clinger said once the budget and spending information is current and available to the public, the agency will move on to the issue of posting contract information. The contracts portion will be done in this biennium, but the timing depends on the availability of funding, he said. It will cost about $63,000 to implement.

“We’re trying to find a way to use the resources we have in the current biennium to fund that piece,” Clinger said. “It is one of my top priorities.”

Information about the contracts the state enters into with other agencies and private firms is hard to come by for the general public. The Board of Examiners earlier this month approved more than 80 contracts worth millions of dollars, a process that occurs every several weeks for the board as a routine matter.

But even without the contract information, the transparency website has a lot of information, Clinger said.

“The governor’s budget and the legislative budget are there. And on the spending side, you can actually see payments down to vendors. We’ve got the top 500 vendors in terms of payments. You can do a search by agency. There is a lot of information.”

Sandra Fabry, executive director of the Center for Fiscal Accountability in Washington, DC, and an expert on transparency websites, called Nevada’s effort a step in the right direction. But she questioned the length of time it has taken to get the site ready for daily data updates and said it is not as easy to navigate as it should be.

“Given that web users tend to judge websites on their first impressions, the Nevada site lacks the clean and uncluttered design, and taxpayers unfamiliar with fiscal matters will have to figure out that in order to get to the expenditure database, they have to click on “Actuals” at the bottom of the page,” Fabry said.

Fabry said she is encouraged to hear that the Nevada site will soon have real time updates, and that a change in contracting procedures has been implemented in preparation for posting contract data on the website for public review.

“Ultimately, Nevada taxpayers will benefit when all government expenditures are subjected to their scrutiny via a comprehensive, yet user-friendly website, she said. “The potential for Nevada to deliver is certainly there, it just needs to be harnessed and made a priority.”

The Center for Fiscal Accountability is a project of Americans for Tax Reform, a national taxpayer advocacy organization.

Clinger said the website will also be the place to look for information about federal stimulus funds coming into Nevada.

Gibbons issued a proclamation in March of 2008 requiring the creation of a transparency website “as soon as practicable.”

Called the Nevada Open Government Initiative, the proclamation specified the need for an “easily searchable database of financial transactions related to government budgets and expenditures . . .”

When it is fully operational, Nevada will finally join many other states in posting much of its financial data on a website for public review. Inquisitive taxpayers, the media and others interested in how the state spends its tax dollars will be able to review the financial information as it is updated daily.

The length of time it has taken to get the transparency website fully operational has been criticized by some in Nevada, including the Nevada Policy Research Institute and Citizen Outreach. (Disclaimer: Citizen Outreach provides funding to the Nevada News Bureau.)

Steven Miller, vice president for policy at NPRI, said there is no reasonable explanation for why the site is taking so long to complete, other than the fact that it is not a priority for many of Nevada’s elected officials.

“A modest expenditure that potentially could save millions is a no-brainer,” he said.

R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, said the state’s transparency website, launched in Jan. 2007, has helped the state save money. By posting the data, the agency was not only able to provide public access to state financial information, but the posting provided an opportunity for officials to examine how the state was conducting its business, he said. The website has contributed to the implementation of various efficiencies that are saving Texas taxpayers more than $8 million, he said.

Clinger said the criticism for any delays are not warranted. The Department of Administration is working on the project using existing funds during a time of very tight budgets. No formal request was made to the Legislature to fund it. The target date for the 2009 and 2010 data posting was Oct. 1, which has been missed, but not by much, he said.

The website has been accessible and searchable since it was mentioned by the governor in his state-of-the-state address in January, Clinger said.