Randi Thompson Randi Thompson
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I'm Grateful for Independence

Published: 7/7/2015 8:26:55 AM

On this weekend where we celebrate our nation’s victory over a tyrannical and oppressive government that tried to control this land some 239 years ago, we all should stop and think for a moment just what independence and freedom really mean. It's something different for each of us, but they are two things for which we should all be grateful.

For me, first of all, it's the choice and the ability to work for myself as an independent contractor. Being my own boss is a tremendous source of freedom for me. It allows me to pursue work that makes me happy.  It means setting my own work schedule. It means being able to work late on a Saturday night and then golfing on a Monday afternoon.  I have worked in offices, and tried to do the 9-5 thing, but that just isn't me. 

The freedom to be able to balance my work and personal life is tremendously precious to me. I am grateful to live in a country that allows me that freedom, but protecting that freedom is still a battle in many state legislatures and in Congress. That is why I joined a national coalition called “It’s My business” (itsmybusiness.com) to add my name to the grow list of those willing to fight to ensure people can work for themselves.

Independence also means the ability to be independent.  It means being responsible for my actions and choices and accepting the consequences of both.  I'm grateful that my parents raised me to be responsible.  Yet I fear the growing sense of entitlement in our country is impacting the freedoms of those of us who are being “responsible.” 

Independence means freedom, but freedom is not free.  So I'm grateful for the courageous men and women who 240 years ago stood up to their government leaders and said enough.  They went against neighbors and even their families to fight for the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. (If you have not seen it, watch the AMC’s series Turn. It's a great show about the revolutionary war.)

I'm also grateful for the patriots who have fought for this country since 1776. The civilian and military personnel who have placed country before self.  We would not be here if not for their commitment to live and die for the freedoms we hold so dear.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t end with expressing concern over how our government seems to be moving to one that wants more control over our lives.  From the EPA to the IRS, we are seeing more regulations that are restricting our freedoms. Our ability to remain free means we all have to fight for those freedoms.  That means being educated voters and also standing up to oppressive actions.  More on that in the next column! 

Until then, celebrate your freedoms and our country’s 239th Birthday. 


President Obama’s EPA Is Out of Control

Published: 7/7/2015 8:25:23 AM

Now before you say I’m “anti-environment,” I spent 10 years at the US Fish and Wildlife service, working to balance protecting species with development. But the past few years there has been no balance at the EPA.

Some regulations will not deliver a significant environmental “bang for the buck”, like their pending one to reduce ozone levels.  This rule could reduce our state’s Gross Domestic Product by about $1 billion a year for the next 20 years and cost over 10,000 jobs annually. (So much for that job gain from Telsa, huh!) It would essentially require construction and mining companies to buy all new trucks that meet the stricter air requirements. But the irony is those trucks would be sold to Chinese companies who will use them.  So much for reducing “global” carbon emissions. The rule is overly expensive and won’t help improve the global environment.

Another idiotic EPA rule defines the waters of the United States so expansively that the federal government could apply the decades-old Clean Water Act to creeks, small ponds and even streambeds that are dry much of the year. The Clean Water Act was supposed to govern navigable waterways, not every puddle left by a rainstorm! 

Compliance and enforcement is already a burden on small businesses. Even before the new rule, the average cost of a Clean Water Act permit was $270,000 and daily fines for violations can reach up to $37,000.

Meanwhile the state of Nevada said it will create a new Environmental Division with 68 employees and a $10 million budget so it can comply with this new water rule. The state plans to GPS every single pipe, culvert, anything, maybe 50,000 statewide, and put them into a database. Then all 50,000 entries will have to be assessed to keep potential pollutants out of waterways.

There really isn't a small business out there that can afford these costs, and this rule has the potential to bring local development to a stop.  But then, maybe that is the EPA’s goal!

Regulations like this that make it hard for small businesses to create new jobs. Business owners should use their limited resources to grow jobs, not bureaucracy!

The only good thing that has come out of this Administration’s environmental policies lately is allowing Shell to drill for oil and natural gas in the Arctic Ocean.  Pres. Obama said he’d rather get the oil and gas domestically, “with all the safeguards and standards that we have,” than import it from countries with worse environmental standards.  Of course that drew the ire of the environmental community, especially Greenpeace.

What is so hypocritical about Greenpeace’s opposition, though, was a photo accompanying I saw that showed a Greenpeace ship using Shell’s fueling station in the ocean to get fuel for their massive vessel.  Can’t have it both ways, guys!


Twilight Zone

Published: 7/7/2015 8:24:14 AM

I feel like I'm living in a legislative Twilight Zone where sight and sound conflict with reality. Do you remember that 1950s TV show? If you do, the cue the music (do do do do, do do do do) and listen to the voice of Rod Serling...

Imagine yourself last summer, working with hundreds of people from the business and labor sectors to fight a margins tax that was on the election ballot. Now picture yourself being overjoyed in November when 80% of all voters – Democrat, Republican, Independent, and Libertarian -- agreed with you and killed that tax.

Now imagine it's December and you're getting ready for a legislative session under the control of Republicans for the first time since 1929.  Picture yourself being optimistic that you will finally see legislation passed to reform a broken education system, address unfunded liabilities in the state’s pension system, and reform collective-bargaining agreements that are hurting local governments.   The idea of tax increases are far from your mind.

Picture yourself in January, listening to the Republican governor as he presents his legislative agenda -- the same governor who joined in the fight against that margins tax on the ballot.  Imagine the excitement you expected to feel as he explained a bold agenda to reform education, public employee programs and spur economic development with no tax increases.

Now imagine the feelings of disappointment and disbelief as you hear that same governor advocate for the largest tax increase in Nevada history; a tax very similar to the one that you and the Governor just worked so hard to defeat!

Now it's spring. Imagine the frustration as you see bills that were originally written to tackle unsustainable pension plans, get watered down by the very Republicans who promised to make significant changes to those plans.

Picture yourself talking to Republican legislators, many of whom joined you in the fight last year against the margins tax, now telling you that they will support that same bad tax that 80% of voters just defeated.

Imagine watching floor debates where Democrats vote against taxes while the Republicans vote for them.

Imagine the frustration as you see your top legislative agenda – a bill to change Nevada’s outdated over-time law, a law that often prevents part-time workers from picking up extra shifts – is amended by Republicans to increase minimum wage.  Then picture the smile you get when the wage provision is dropped because it’s unconstitutional.  A moment of glee in this Twilight Zone of disappointment.  

Now picture that with just one month left in the session, you watch Republican legislators, who should be opposing any tax increases, present an alternative tax increase to Governor’s plan that will tax jobs.

Welcome to the 2015 Legislative Twilight Zone.  

Do do do do, do do do do.

But I’m not alone.  Picture yourself looking at the hills around Reno and seeing more snow on them in May than there was in January.  It appears we have a few Twilight Zones this year.  


Don’t Let Reform Bills Die

Published: 7/7/2015 8:22:34 AM

With three weeks left at the legislature, I’m worried that many bills to reform tort laws, education, and public employees will be tossed aside to ensure Democrat votes for tax increases. Losing those reforms will not only tick me off, but it will be a lost opportunity to make changes to our state’s legal and educational environment, as well as to our state’s solvency. 

One bill is Assemblyman Randy Kirner’s to make minor reforms to our pension system.  Legislatures around the U.S. are taking actions to address unfounded liabilities estimated at $4.6 trillion in the country.. Nevada’s is estimated at $12 billion. If we don't make changes, the fund could need a taxpayer bailout.

Mr. Kirner’s bill, AB 190, would establish a defined contribution plan for new public employees who start after July 1, 2016. This plan reduces concerns about unfunded liabilities.

The bill also prohibits the purchase of “years of service”. Her’s one example of why this needs to change. 

When Clark County District Attorney David Roger retired last year at 50, he paid $330,000 to buy 5 years of service so that he could retire (to take another job) with 30 years of service. Buying those 5 years meant he begin to immediately collect retirement.  Normally it would not kick in until 60, at which time he’d make about $130,000.  But because he bought the 5 years to give him 30, he now gets a pension based on 30 years (rather than 25).  So at age 50, he starts collecting $150,000 a year for 10 years to total $1,500,000.  Not a bad return for a $330,000 investment.  At age 60, he will be making an additional $20,000 per year.  That kind of payout is not sustainable and has to end.

Kirner’s bill would also tie the minimum retirement age to that of Social Security in order to receive  full retirement benefits.  For Police and Fire, their retirement age would be 10 years earlier.  These are all reasonable changes to ensure current employees will have funds for their retirement, and that both current retirees and those close to retirement will receive what they expect.

SB 406 would ensure certain felons lose their pension.  Las Vegas Judge Steven Jones is going to prison for abuse of judicial powers, but he’ll be able to collect up to 75% of his $200,000 a year salary as a judicial pension, at some point. That has to change.

AB 312, sponsored by Assemblyman Glenn Trowbridge, would change the calculation of the retirement benefit for new employees to be based on five years and not the last three, which tends to lead to a much higher payout.

There are many reasonable measures that may get tossed as a bribe to get Democrat vote for taxes, and that is a shame, as these bills are vital to being able to attract employers, retain good employees, take care of our state retirees, and ensure our state’s financial viability.    


My New Years’ Wish List

Published: 1/16/2015 6:13:33 PM

My New Years’ Wish List

By Randi Thompson

 

Christmas is winding down and we’re planning for a new year.  Here are a few of my wishes for the New Year.

The Republicans in the Nevada Assembly will stop standing in a circle and firing at each other.  I wish these folks would realize they have an opportunity in February to make real change that will help our economy and taxpayers, but their continual power struggles could derail that opportunity.

I wish some folks would lighten up and recognize that Sony’s movie “The Interview” is a comedy, not an affront to the people of North Korea.  And yea, their leader is a horrible, oppressive dictator who should be removed from power for the sake of the citizens of North Korea.  So come on Sony, release the movie; I’ll go see it! 

I hope Congress will actually pass bills that are important to our nation and our economy, like immigration reform.  Congress needs to address the guest worker program and the visas program that high tech companies rely on to attract highly skilled foreign workers.  Failure to do so will continue to have a negative impact on our economy.

I also hope Congress can stop the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing some of it’s far-reaching regulations that will do little to curb global carbon emissions. Over-regulating American businesses won’t do a damn thing to reduce carbon emissions in China and India!  But EPA’s actions will increase the cost of power in the US and hurt American businesses in the competitive global marketplace. 

The current EPA plan that scares me is the so-called Clean Power Plan, which will attempt to control the way Nevada produces and consumes electricity.  It will have a huge impact on all Americans, so I’m gonna elaborate a bit here.

The plan sets steep carbon emission reductions across the country. Nevada is targeted for a 34 percent reduction by 2030. The plan’s primary purpose is to supplant low-cost fossil-based electricity with resources like wind and solar.  These alternative energies are much more expensive and simply cannot replace fossil fuels to meet our demand for base-load power. 

Nevada has worked hard to maintain a balanced energy portfolio of geothermal, coal, wind and solar.  This energy mix ensures that the state can maintain reliable base-load power, especially during spikes in demand on 115-degree days in Vegas.  It also helps Nevada keep electricity rates low.  Our rates about 10 percent below the national average, but under EPA’s plan, Nevada’s electricity prices would increase on average 18 percent over the next 15 years, according to a recent study conducted by NERA Economic Consulting that uses the U.S. Government’s own data.  They say national compliance costs will run between $366 - $479 billion.  The numbers are staggering and represent EPA’s most expensive regulation in history.  

Affordable and reliable energy is the critical foundation for a prosperous economy, but the EPA is trying to usurp Nevada’s attempts to control its energy future and maintain affordable energy.  So I wish and hope that saner minds will prevail!

Randi Thompson is a political and public relations consultant.  You can reach her through www.AmplifyRelations.com


A new look to Kietzke Lane

Published: 1/16/2015 6:12:52 PM

A new look to Kietzke Lane

By Randi Thompson

 

Part of my New Years resolution for this column is to provide a solution whenever I present a problem. It’s easy to use this column to complain, but you deserve more than to just read my rants.  If I’m going to whine, I should at least offer a resolution.  So here is my first rant/resolution of 2015. 

Imagine it’s your first time in Reno. You get a car at the airport and take Plumb lane and turn right onto Kietzke, heading to downtown, as hundreds of visitors do every day.  What do you see?

A really long block of beat up fences and back yards filled with piles of wood, abandoned tree houses, and discarded cars.  Not a great impression for a first time visitor. 

Now I mean no disrespect to the folks who live along the Kietzke corridor.  I walked that area when I was running for office, and met many of the hard-working folks that live there.  But many of them don’t have the funds to maintain a nice backyard; yet many of us drive by their yards daily. The view does not make a good impression on a first time visitor, let alone on those of us who drive along it on a weekly basis. 

As a major corridor though, there sure seems like there is plenty of room between the road and those back yards for a fence, or even one of those sound walls that I see along McCarran.  I bet we could at least put in a tall chain link fence with slats in it to hide the view.  An aluminum fence would be cool, but I fear that would just become a blank canvas for taggers.   

Of course the question is how do we pay for such a fence.   Well thanks to my friends Diana and Don, they offered an option. 

If you drive the other end of Kietzke, the rich end near Neil road, you’ve no doubt seen the lovely deer statues that are perched in the roundabout there.  If you’re like me, the first time you saw them you thought they would jump out of the grass and run into your car they looked so real.  But after a while you forget they are there because you’re too concerned oncoming traffic and making sure you don’t get side swiped.  While those deer are lovely, they are a waste of art in a traffic circle.

So here’s an idea: Sell the deer and use the proceeds to build a fence along the other end of Kiezke.  I’m sure there are quite a few folks in the area that would love one of those deer perched in their yard.  You could enjoy the beauty of the statue much better if you didn’t have to worry about not hitting oncoming traffic. 

Few of us will miss the deer, but many will appreciate the improved view along a major corridor.  That will make a better impression on the hundreds of visitors that pass along Kietzke every day. 


Is Tesla really a good deal?

Published: 9/19/2014 3:14:37 PM

Is Tesla really a good deal?

By Randi Thompson

 

Cabela’s.  Scheels.  Aces ball park.... 

 

We Northern Nevadans have seen some big projects over the past few years that got tax breaks or subsidies because they promised a huge economic bang for our taxpayer bucks.  

 

But I'm not convinced they have met the hype our politicians promised.  

 

Cabela’s and Scheels were supposed to get half of their sales from out-of-state shoppers, but there is no verification process to confirm that.  Heck, Scheel’s doesn’t even accept out-of-state checks!  (Not that anyone writes a check anymore, but having a sign saying that on your cash registers runs counter to the idea that out-of-staters are encouraged to shop there!)  

 

The Aces ballpark is great, but it hasn’t transformed downtown as so many promised. There are still empty lots and businesses across the street, and we taxpayers are on the line for a $1 million annual payment.   

 

If the Tesla numbers work out, it will be a significant boost to our economy.  The Governor says there will be a $100 billion economic impact over 20 years.  That would be about $5 billion a year. Considering Nevada’s annual Gross Domestic Product is $127 billion, $5 billion is about 3%.  Does that justify our state and counties losing $62 million a year?  Maybe.

 

The Governor says Tesla will create 22,000 direct and indirect jobs.  Currently there are about 278,000 people working in Washoe, Storey and Lyon Counties, so a 10% bump is significant.  But some folks question that number. There is no battery manufacturing industry in Nevada, so Nevada’s economic impact model does not report multipliers for that industry.  However, Arizona does have a job multiplier for battery manufacturing, and they say it is 2.6.  That means for every 1 Tesla job, another 1.6 jobs will be created through secondary spending.  That totals 10,300 jobs, not the 22,000 that the Governor has stated.

 

Probably the best part about getting Tesla is the news attention we are receiving across the US. The media value alone will help our economic development tremendously.  But I’m just concerned that the economic benefits our politicians are promising won’t meet projects.  And in 10 years, will any of us ask the government for a verification of economic output vs. our taxpayer investment?  

 

This is why I’m a bit reluctant to jump on the Tesla bandwagon; but it’s also the precedent it’s setting.  Will any “big” business now demand tax breaks to move here?  And what message are we sending to the thousands of Nevada businesses that have been operating here for years, employing 1.2 million Nevadans, who aren’t asking for tax breaks. 

 

The Legislature raised our taxes in 2009, with the promise to sunset them in 2011, yet they are still in place.  They should keep their promise to all employers in Nevada and reduce the tax increase they placed on all businesses, instead of picking and choosing who gets tax breaks. We need a tax structure that is fair and equal to all businesses in Nevada.


Minority Rules

Published: 7/18/2014 7:35:44 PM

Minority Rules

By Randi Thompson

Last month, only 51,000 people voted in the primary election in Washoe County.  That means about 11% of the voters set the stage for who will be our next mayor, sheriff, judges, city councilmen, county commissioners, and many other important races.

Maybe the candidates didn’t excite you; but whoever is elected will have a profound impact on your daily life.

The low turnout and the election of many “status quo” candidates has me wondering if increasing the pool of eligible voters would have a positive difference on both turnout and elections results.

In my May 25th article I wrote about Doug Goodman and his idea to change primary elections in Nevada. He has looked at statistics that show how overall primary election turnout has continued to drop over the years. In 1992, the first year the state posts primary election results, we were around 30 percent.  Over the years, while the number varies depending on hotly contested races, we are staying around 20 percent.  

One reason these numbers are likely going down is we’re not allowing about 25% of voters to vote in primaries. 

In 2000, there were 130,000 registered “non partisans” in Nevada.  Today there are 210,000.  When you add in Libertarian, IAP, and others, there are 280,000 voters, which is about 25 percent of the voting population.  As the party’s have moved to the left and right, they are leaving behind the moderates who feel left out by their party’s rhetoric.  When you have “closed” primary elections, why should this growing population of voters even bother to show up? They have limited voting options. Why are we not letting one fourth of voters have a say in the qualifying rounds of elections?  Where’s the ACLU?

Mr. Goodman will tell you it’s time to enact what he calls the Nevada Election Modernization and Reform Act (NEMRA), which would allow for open primaries.   A majority of states use some form of open primary. The most common allows unaffiliated voters to choose either the Democrat or Republican Party ballot at the polls, but the states that have that system don’t go over 30 percent turnout. 

Washington State has an open primary and averages about 41 percent turnout. California just adopted an open primary where independents and minor-party voters can vote for major-party candidates, but experts say it will take some time before voters adapt to the idea.  But it’s a start.

A big difference between what other states have enacted and what Mr. Goodman is proposing is that his would allow the election of a candidate in the primary. If one candidate receives at least 50% +1 of the votes cast for a particular office, that candidate is automatically elected to that office. Right now counties and cities have different rules for primary victories, which is confusing for candidates and voters. 

Democracy is a participatory sport.   And the more people who participate, the stronger our democracy will be. After a turnout of just 23 percent of voters here, I think Mr. Goodman’s idea is worth discussion. 

Randi Thompson is a political government and public relations consultant.  You can reach her at www.AmplifyRelations.com.


Set our community colleges free

Published: 6/24/2014 7:32:39 AM

Set our community colleges free

By Randi Thompson

June 17, 2014

 

In a rare move, two former community college presidents appeared before the legislature last week, asking them to let the community colleges be detached from the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), which oversees public higher education in the state.  It’s a rare move because you won’t hear any current community college president speak out in support of the separation, because that would likely be going against their bosses, the Board of Regents. 

 

The idea of removing the community colleges from NSHE is not new.  It’s been studied, researched and discussed for over 20 years.   But now you have people associated with the universities and the community colleges speaking out.  

 

Carol Lucey, the past president of Western Nevada College joined John Gwaltney, a past president of TMCC, testifying before an interim committee created as a result of a bill by Senator Barbara Cegavske that called for a study of governance and funding ideas for the higher education system. 

 

Lucey and Gwaltney spoke in support of recommendations from the Lincy Institute on a governance model that suggests the Regents could maintain the role of a “coordinating board,” to oversee the curriculum of all the higher education institutions, and then create a local board for each of the four community colleges, appointed by the legislature, that will oversee “policy and process, budgeting, curriculum, faculty promotion and tenure, and hiring and dismissing of institutions’ presidents.” This model would not require local financial support, nor would it entail much additional administrative expense for the state or the colleges.

 

Our state will be better served by this model because it will allow the community colleges to be a real tool for local economic development, as they are better able to respond to the community’s work force requirements by creating specialized classes and programs that local employers need.

 

Another report by the “Fresh Look at Nevada’s Community Colleges Task Force”, led by Bruce James, said that “Nevada’s community colleges could be more responsive to community needs by bringing the governance of each to the communities it serves.”  The Task force recommended that the “Board of Regents should consider delegating part of its authority to local governing Councils.”

 

Last week, Mario Martinez, a UNLV professor, said the universities would benefit from this split because the lower graduation rates at the community colleges are bringing down the whole system.  “Restructuring NSHE is the best path to create a system that serves our students and state while breaking a power monopoly in public higher education that has become dysfunctional. The outcomes our two-year institutions are producing place us at the bottom of the nation on almost every measure.”  He adds that, “Centralized management structures do not work well when systems and organizations become increasingly diverse and complex.”

 

The legislature has the chance to make a significant change to higher education that will benefit the Universities, the community colleges, the students they serve, and the employers who hire those students. It’s time to set our community colleges free. 


Is it Time for Election Reform?

Published: 5/30/2014 1:48:11 PM

Is it Time for Election Reform?

By Randi Thompson

May 21, 2014

 

Disenfranchised voters are not new, but their numbers seem to be growing stronger as the partisan rhetoric from politicians gets nastier. I fear this primary election is no different. 

 

Voters tell me often that they cannot relate to the “extreme elements” of their party, and recent polling confirms that.  A Rasmussen poll in April found that 53 percent of likely U.S. voters think it is fair to say that neither party in Congress is the party of the American people. That matches the previous high found during the 2012 election. 

 

Along with feeling disenfranchised from their Party and elected leaders, voters are also feeling that their vote has no impact at the polls.   They are losing faith in the election process.

 

Add to that recent polling that shows they have also lost faith in Congress.  Just 6 percent of voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job, and 72 percent say it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were defeated this November. 

 

Yet if voters feel disenfranchised and aren’t motivated to vote, they won’t show up on Election Day to vote against the incumbents.  So the system of dissatisfaction perpetuates itself.  

 

It may be time for a change.  At least Doug Goodman thinks so. 

 

Doug contacted me about a column I wrote titled: "Using crisis for political gain" (October 27, 2013).  I issued a challenge in that article, saying: "So folks, it's up to us on Main Street to stand up and demand sanity be restored in Congress, the White House, and politics in general. Are you willing to do that?" 

 

Doug said he is willing and is spending a lot of time talking to legislators and election officials about changing our election system to one that he says will increase voter participation and reduce the partisan rhetoric.  It’s rather complicated, but the gist is to amend Nevada law to have an open primary election so that you can vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation. If a candidate receives 50%+1 of the votes cast in the primary, that candidate is elected.  If not, then the top three vote getters advance to general election where voters would mark their first and second choice. The winner is guaranteed to receive no less than 50%+1 of the votes cast. 

 

About 23 percent of active Nevada voters are not registered as Democrat or Republican, so the open primary would allow independent voters to participate in the partisan nominating process. 

Partisan candidates would have to woo those independent voters, so you’d likely hear less caustic, partisan rhetoric.  By allowing three candidates to go to the general election, we’d likely see more third party and “centrist” candidates in the general election; candidates that are likely a more accurate reflection of the American electorate.   

 

There are pros and cons to an open primary, and there are statistics on both sides that show it both encourages and discourages voter participation.  But I think we all can agree that we need a change.  I applaud Doug for his efforts.  

 

If you are interested in learning more about Doug’s efforts, or want to help him, you can contact him at DanDsGoodman@yahoo.com, follow him on Twitter, @nvelectreform, or read his blog http://www.nevadaelectionreform.blogspot.com

 

Income Inequality vs. Income Tax inequality

Published: 5/30/2014 1:47:42 PM

Income inequality has been called the “defining challenge of our time.”  It is the growing gap between the income that rich and poor people are making.  Some refer to it as the “One percenters vs. the 99 percenters.”  

From Pope Francis to President Obama, people are talking about how the gap between rich and poor is affecting our society, and the global economy. 

When the President and the Pope met recently they talked about their shared commitment to fighting poverty and the growing income inequality.   And they are not alone. Most Americans also believe that income inequality is a growing problem. According to the Pew Research Center survey earlier this year of 1,504 adults, 68% of the Democrats said that the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased during the past decade. But 67% of Independents 61% of Republicans also think that.

Where the real lines differ is how to fix it.  About 90 percent of the Democrats said government should do something to reduce the gap, while only 45 percent of Republicans think government should do something. But all essentially agree that the growing gap is an issue that we do need to reduce.

Why is the gap growing? 

A variety of surveys have a variety of conclusions. America's CEOs have had their pay inflated by generous stock options and having their pay set by peers on corporate boards, is the conclusion of a 2008 survey by Robert J. Gordon (Northwestern) and Ian Dew-Becker (Duke.)  

It's a devaluing of middle-class workers, says economist William Galston in The Wall Street Journal, that more than any other factor has created the cavernous income gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and everyone else. “Gone are the days when loyal, productive employees got big raises when the company enjoyed big profits”.  Today we see that nearly all profits go to executives and stockholders while workers get tiny raises at most, he claims.

 

Other economists say that we are living in a different era, one of globalization, international trade, and revolutionary and disruptive technological innovations that allow people today to do the same amount of work that it took two or three people to perform a few decades ago.   Thus, technology has eliminated many “middle class” jobs. The result is higher levels of long-term and perhaps even permanent unemployment and underemployment, all of which has been intensified by the longest recession and the weakest recovery since the end of World War I.

 

Thanks to technology, and a fear of losing a job in an era of high unemployment, employees are putting in 10-hour days to meet their bosses' demands, and often work remotely from home on nights and weekends. With productivity continually climbing, corporate profits have soared to all-time highs; the stock market gained more than $6 trillion in value in 2013. Yet Americans' real disposable income went up a mere 0.7% the same year.

 

One-quarter of American workers make less than $10 per hour, which creates an income below the Federal poverty level. These are the people who wait on you every day: cashiers, fast food workers and nurse's aides.  Meanwhile, the top 10% of earners took home 50% of all income in 2012. That's the highest percent in the last 100 years, when the government began collecting income data. The top 1% took home 20% of the income, according to a study by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. (Source: NYT, The Rich Get Richer Through the Recovery, September 10, 2013). 

 

It’s been five decades since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty,” but class divisions inside the U.S. have only continued to widen.  So how do we close the gap?  

 

People much smarter than me are suggesting all kinds of ideas, and none of them are easy.  It will take a combination of corporations paying their entire workforce better, creating new industrial sectors that can then create millions of good-paying jobs for the middle class, and reforming education to ensure that kids graduate with the ability to get one of those good-paying jobs.  

 

While this growing gap is a concern, so is the gap that is growing for those who pay and don’t pay income tax, and those that are tax “payers” and tax “users.”

 

We all know that the top 10% of wage earners pay 70% of all Federal income tax.  Over 97% of all Federal income taxes are paid by 50% of all wage earners.  So that means the remaining 50% of are paying about 3% of the Federal income tax.  And of that 50%, about 43% of them - or about 70 million homes -- pay no federal income taxes. The households with zero federal income tax liability are not evenly distributed across income groups. The majority this year -- nearly 67% -- have incomes below $30,000. 

 

At the height of the recession, about 47% of wage earners didn’t pay federal income taxes, a point Mitt Romney tired to quietly say at a fundraiser that was then broadcast to the nation.  Today it’s down to around 43%, due to two factors — federal tax cuts that expired after the Great Recession and an improving economy. 

 

But the reality remains that a large percentage of the population is not making enough money to pay federal income taxes.  Of the 43% of households owing no federal income tax this year, about half simply earned too little income to qualify, including many retired workers who live on Social Security. The remaining households likely qualify for breaks via the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.  

 

Looking ahead, the Tax Policy Center estimates that the number of workers who pay no federal income taxes will continue to fall, reaching just 33% by the year 2024, which is good news. But the growing concern now is that of the 43% of workers who are not paying taxes, how many are also receiving government subsidies? 

 

The Census Bureau estimates that about 151 million people – or 49% of the US population -- receive benefits from one or more government program.  About 27%, or 82 million people, received Medicaid benefits, 49 million collected Social Security; 46 million receive Medicare; 23 million are in the Women, Infants and Children program, 20 million get Supplemental Security Income; 13 million live in public or subsidized rental housing; 5 million get unemployment; 3 million get veterans' benefits; and 364,000 get railroad retirement benefits.  That is a lot of people who are dependent on taxpayers for their survival.

 

Many economists argue that increasing wages will reduce the number of people receiving government subsidies.   It’s an interesting argument, especially when you consider this:  The number of Americans receiving food assistance has surpassed the number of full-time private sector workers in the U.S.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 97.1 million full-time private sector workers in 2012.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a total of 101 million people currently participate in at least one of the 15 food programs offered by the agency, at a cost of $114 billion in fiscal year 2012.

 

So the question really comes down to this: will increasing wages and reducing the gap in incomes actually increase the number of people who pay income tax and reduce the number of people receiving government subsidies?  That seems to be the question that few politicians are willing to see answered… at least for the last five decades.


AFL-CIO Flips on tax Initiative they initially sponsored

Published: 5/11/2014 8:12:59 PM

AFL-CIO Flips on tax Initiative they initially sponsored

By Randi Thompson

May 6, 2014

 

I support broad-based, low-rate taxes.  Yes, you read that right.  I support taxes.  But the tax needs to be assessed equitably as to not adversely impact one person or business over another.  

The proposed margins tax that will be on your ballot this November is not that kind of tax.  That is why not a single elected Democrat in this state has come out for the tax.  (Oh, wait, Las Vegas state senator Tick Segerblom has, but that is it!) Even Lucy Flores -- the former gang member turned Assemblywoman who is Harry Reid’s handpicked candidate for Lt. Governor -- is not in favor of the tax. 

So it should be no surprise that this past week the AFL-CIO, the Democrat-supporting labor union that initially led the charge for a “margins tax”, voted to oppose the initiative that the teachers union is now pushing.  

In a statement after a vote of delegates at the AFL-CIO’s convention for the group’s Committee on Political Action, Danny Thompson, executive secretary treasurer, said:  “We are a strong voice and advocate at every level of government for more funding for classrooms, teachers, and school buildings.” 

But the AFL-CIO understands that this tax, which tax would create a new 2 percent tax on all Nevada businesses that have gross revenues over $1 million annually, will kill jobs and hurt our economy.  This is the group that worked with the teachers union to get signatures for the initiative at a tax rate of 0.9 percent.  But the teachers union got greedy and doubled the rate, and the AFL-CIO walked away. 

Along with its economic burden, the AFL-CIO knows that the poorly-written initiative creates a very complicated tax that will require the creation of a “Nevada IRS”.   The tax essentially triples the state’s general business tax and creates the equivalent of a 15 percent corporate income tax nearly twice as high as the corporate income tax rate in California.   

The tax is expected to raise about $700 million a year and would be be deposited into the state’s school account, but there is no guarantee the Legislature will not then reduce existing funding to compensate for the increase from the tax; thus not guaranteeing that the funds for education will increase.  And the teachers have yet to say how this funding increase will improve education!

According to Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis of Las Vegas, the margins tax will kill 5800 direct private sector jobs with an estimated reduction in labor income of $273 million annually.  When indirect and induced impacts are factored in, private sector job losses increase to 8,860 and incomes fall by approximately $413 million annually. 

This is a bad tax.  That is why I’m telling voters and business owners alike to join the coalition to Stop the Margin Tax, www.stopthemargintax.com.   It’s free to sign up.  But if you are so inclined, make a donation to help spread the word that this job-killing tax is bad for Nevada’s economy and workers. 

 

Helping Local Governments without Harming Taxpayers

Published: 3/25/2014 9:38:22 PM

By Randi Thompson

March 21, 2014

 

In his “state of the City” speech recently, Sparks Mayor Gino Martini explained how the decline in revenues, specifically property taxes, has hurt the city. 

 

“Revenues are not keeping up with expenses, and only likely to increase two to three percent for the next few years.  Property tax caps limit property tax revenues, and we’re just not seeing much growth in fees from businesses licenses and building permits,” said Martini.  

“As the economy improves, I expect these areas to generate added revenue, but for the time being, we do not expect any meaningful increases.”

 

There is something our legislature can do that will help bring revenue to our local governments without really impacting the taxpayers.  

 

Nevada made the decision a long time ago to make property taxes the main source of funds for local governments and schools because they were a stable revenue source.  But boy did the Great Recession change that.  Every local government has seen a dramatic drop in revenue since 2008, primarily because property values dropped between 40 to 60 percent from their height in 2006. While property values have seen nearly double digit increases each year for the past few years, local government coffers are not benefitting from those increases because property taxes can only increase 3 percent each year.  The property tax cap that was passed in 2005 – right in the middle of the State’s incredible growth that saw housing prices and thus property taxes increasing dramatically - is now really limiting the amount of revenues that local governments can recover from the recession.

 

Property tax bills cannot increase by more than 3 percent for owner-occupied residential property and 8 percent for all other types of property, such as commercial, rental units, gaming, etc. In addition to that, Nevada is the only state that applies a depreciation factor for property tax calculations.  This leads to unequal valuations, which runs counter to the intent of our constitution.  

 

Now I’m not advocating that we get rid of the cap, but our legislature can do something that will be essentially revenue neutral to home owners, while helping local governments and school districts regain some of the huge losses they have endured. 

 

Our constitution requires that the state provide “a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation” and also “secure a just valuation for the taxation of all property.”  First there’s a legal question as to whether the “split roll” of 3 percent for residential property and 8 percent for commercial property comports with the Constitution. But since no one has challenged the scheme in court, it has survived. 

 

Our constitution also requires “just valuation”, but I’d say that the way Nevada is determining that valuation is pretty subjective.  The property tax value of a home based on the market value of land, plus the replacement cost of a home less depreciation at 1.5 percent per year up to 50 years.  This is a wacky way to value a home, as the replacement cost has a lot of variables, such as the cost of steel or cement at the time of replacement.  These are hardly things a homeowner can control.

Why don’t we assess homes the way most other states do – market price.  That is a much better reflection of a home’s true value.  

 

The other element that causes an unequal assessment is depreciation.  While depreciation is applied to commercial buildings as well, let’s look at its impact on homes.  Two houses next door to each other are valued differently if one is older than the other.  Yet the residents of each home have equal access to the roads, schools, sewer systems, etc.  Why should one pay more tax than the other when their access to services is the same?  By getting rid of depreciation at the time a home is sold and bringing the taxable value of the home up to market value would mean that no property owner would experience a huge tax increase as long as they own their home.  The new home owner would know when they buy the house what the taxes will be.  

 

According to a 2013 study by Applied Analysis, changing depreciation from 1.5 percent a year to 1 percent would have a relatively modest impact on taxpayers; however, because of the property tax’s broad base and relative contribution to state and local government operations, it will improve the strength of the state’s tax system over the longer run.   I’d say forget the half percentage drop and get rid of depreciation totally.  

 

The Applied Analysis report also states that “a sharp decline in values during the Great Recession, combined with Nevada’s property tax abatements and the depreciation factor, has created a situation where traditionally stable property taxes are a less reliable source of revenue.”    The report also notes that “Nevada schools are the single largest beneficiary of the property tax and a reduction in the depreciation factor would help stabilize both operating and capital revenue streams well into the future.”   

 

We know we can’t get the legislature to revisit the property tax cap, but they can eliminate the archaic depreciation system. The move would help local governments and schools restore some of the revenue they lost in the collapse of the housing market without really adversely impacting homeowners and business owners.


And the Pinocchio goes to….

Published: 3/12/2014 4:33:47 PM

And the Pinocchio goes to….

By Randi Thompson

March 5, 2014

 

“Despite all that good news, there’s plenty of horror stories being told. All are untrue, but they’re being told all over America.” 

So said Harry Reid on the floor of the Senate on Feb. 26.  

A few hours later he returned to the floor to amend his statement: “I can’t say that every one of the Koch brothers’ ads are a lie, but I’ll say this: Mr. President, the vast, vast majority of them are,” Reid concluded. 

This isn’t the first time Reid has made outrageous statements that were flat out wrong.  He is rather notorious for it these days.  But this line caught a lot of attention; and rightly so. Many real people are going through hell because of ObamaCare.  Calling them “liars” shows not only a deep disrespect for Americans who are suffering from illnesses, but also a total disconnect with the citizens of this country. 

Reid made his comments as part of a harsh attack on the billionaire Koch brothers, who are backers of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a political group that has spent $30 million in the past six months primarily focused on ads attacking Democrats who support ObamaCare. At one point, Reid even declared, the brothers had “no conscience” and were “un-American.” Those are mighty uncouth words coming for the leader of what should be our nation’s most deliberative body of statesmen.   

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker evaluated Mr. Reid’s “amended” statement, after first saying that his original statement was so outrageous that even Reid had to admit he went too far.  The Post awarded him two Pinocchios, saying that Reid’s revised rhetoric still went too far. “He would have been on safer ground if he dropped the harsh rhetoric and had simply said that many of the ads have serious problems and even rely on actors, not real people,” wrote the Post.  

Now the Post’s Fact Checker did evaluate five of the AFP ads, and gave four of them Two Pinocchios, while one received a single Pinocchio and was praised for sticking relatively close to the facts.  So in all fairness, both sides are stretching the truth. 

Pinocchios are nothing new Reid. In December when asked why all of his staff wasn’t going on ObamaCare Reid said, “All I did was follow the law. The law says that if you have committee staff, leadership staff, they stay where they are. If you have other staff, which is most everyone, they go to the exchanges. I followed the Affordable Care Act. It is the law.”   Ding: Two Pinocchios.  

A lot of Pinocchios have been awarded to both sides regarding ObamaCare.  But the reality is we really don’t know how this bill will impact America.  Yet considering there have been 27 (so far) politically motived delays in its implementation, one thing is blaringly true: Congress and the President didn’t know what the hell they were doing when they approved ObamaCare.   

 

 

Randi Thompson is a political and public relations consultant.  You can contact her at Randi@AmplifyRelations.com

 


We can afford to host the Olympics

Published: 3/4/2014 1:33:15 PM

We can afford to host the Olympics

 

By Randi Thompson

February 17, 2014

 

A lot has been said about the $51 billion price tag of the Sochi Olympics, and how there is no way Reno-Tahoe could afford to host the games. Just for reference, the Salt Lake City Olympics cost a little over $2 billion. 

 

There are many differences between Reno-Tahoe and Sochi.  First, Putin built monuments to himself, which a dictator can do, in an attempt to present a new face of Russia to the world.   More reasonable heads would prevail here; let alone a more inquisitive media.  

 

Second, Sochi is primarily a summer beach resort.  They had to spend billions on infrastructure – building ski venues, roads to those venues, water delivery systems to new hotels – in addition to the ice skating rinks, luge track, ski courses, etc. Reno has more hotel rooms than Salt Lake, and we have more world-class ski resorts around Lake Tahoe then Salt Lake or Sochi – with infrastructure to get to them.

 

Third, Russia’s opposition leader has alleged that up to $30 billion in Olympic money has been embezzled.  Then last, there are high costs related to providing security in an area that has seen numerous terrorist attacks. 

 

These are things that are not likely to occur here.     

 

We can do the Olympics in a much more cost effective manner.  And the economic benefits could be huge for years to come.  But imagine if could utilize existing facilities in neighboring states like California and Utah.   

 

I had the privilege to attend the 1984 winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.  Few venues were within walking distance. We had to take a 2-hour bus trip each way to watch the women’s slalom.  The Salt Lake City (SLC) Olympics were spread out over 100 miles -- From Provo (43 miles south of town) to Soldier Hollow (53 miles southeast and a 2 hour drive.)  The LA summer Olympics had events in ranging from San Jose to San Diego. So don’t think you walk or even drive with ease to Olympic venues.  

 

While we can host the skiing events just fine around Tahoe, some of the big ticket construction items like luge and bobsled tracks require a lot of space, don’t really draw the big crowds, will likely not be used again, and are expensive! (The SLC luge/bobsled complex cost over $60 million.) How about utilizing facilities like that and applying a few million to flying competitors and guests back and forth.  A win-win for all three states. 

 

Flying SLC to Reno takes about an hour.  That’s a reasonable option – if charters can be worked out.  Fans and athletes can attend events at these venues, have a medal ceremony, then jump on a plane to Reno. How about overnight party bus and train rides from SLC to Reno with food, drinks and telecasts of the days’ events? With the extensive media coverage you can be in Utah and watch events in Reno in real time. 

 

It’s just an idea. But we could create the first tri-state Olympics -- a true “united states” effort.

 


Democratic Corporate Welfare

Published: 2/13/2014 12:08:27 PM

I have wanted to avoid this topic, but I just can’t anymore.   If you still think that Obama care is actually about controlling health care costs and making sure that every American has access to affordable health care, then don’t bother reading this. 

Here are just a few facts; and yes they are facts to all you liberals who say my columns are little more than fodder for cocktail chatter! 

First: About 85 percent of American’s have health insurance. There are three groups that comprise the bulk of the 15 percent that are uninsured:  non U.S. citizens, young adults ages 19 to 25, and families with annual household incomes of less than $25,000.  So we are changing a system for 100 percent of our population so that 15 percent will get insurance?  Oh, but wait; that first group, the foreign born residents?  They are exempt from buying insurance.  Yep, that promise you heard that this Act will help reduce throngs of illegals from using the emergency room like their primary care physician is a lie. The way Obamacare forces you to buy insurance is through your tax return.   Illegal aliens don’t file taxes folks.  So we’re actually changing our entire health care system to force less than about 10 percent of our population to get insurance while ignoring a group that is costing our hospitals and us insurance buys over well over $4 billion a year.   How is this good policy? 

The second fact: Despite the President’s claim, you can’t keep your insurance policy.   The Nevada Division of Insurance does not have the discretion to rescind the cancellation notice that over 25,000 Nevadans have received.   This ruling came from the office of Democratic Attorney General Catherine Masto.  Your remember her. She’s the woman who refused to challenge the health care law, so Governors Gibbons and Sandoval both had to find outside attorneys to represent the State.   As much as it probably irked Ms. Masto, her office ruled that the President can’t wave his magic wand and give you back your health insurance policy.   

Third, this Act is Corporate Welfare on steroids.  We taxpayers are on the line to bail out those multibillion dollar insurance companies who sell policies through the Obamacare exchanges, if too few young and healthy people sign up for Obamacare. Yep, those big bad insurance companies – the ones this Administration loves to blame for our “horrible” health care system  – secured a provision in Obamacare that says the says taxpayers will bailout the companies if they spent at least $60,000 on an individual.  Late last month the Department of Health and Human Services lowered that limit to $45,000. This will transfer billions more dollars from tax payers to insurance companies. This is an automatic entitlement. It is not discretionary. Congress has no power to stop this bailout through the appropriations process.  Even Karl Rove could not have secured such a corporate giveaway!

Obamacare is leading to the dismantling of the best health care system in the world.  Democratic leaders better realize this before they destroy one-third of America’s economy.


Something to Consider: Rosewood Golf Park

Published: 2/13/2014 12:04:56 PM

The City of Reno should not be in the golf business.  I agree with the City’s golf consultant on that point.  But not all golfers are “affluent” as consultant James Keegan implied.  Thus, I disagree that the City should close Rosewood. They have an opportunity to create an affordable golf experience at Rosewood that I’d like to throw out.

I am a golfer, though far from affluent.  My dad is also a golfer and golf writer (and also not affluent.)  After reading about the City’s dilemma we brainstormed about what the City could do with Rosewood. 

With the demise of Brookside there are few inexpensive alternatives for young and senior golfers with limited funds.  Since there will be a road going through the course there will be a loss you’re of space, but preferably the road design will allow the course to stay intact enough to build a 9-hole course.  There should also be enough room for a lighted Himalayan-type (hilly) 18-hole putting course and a lighted driving range. 

Thus, Reno should sell the course to either the County or a private owner.

If the county operates the course, they could team with the school district to offer golf lessons for school kids through programs like First Tee. The pro shop could carry new as well as donated and consignment items for those who can’t afford new equipment.  Once a year they could sponsor a Golf Swap similar to the UNR Ski Swap.

You could develop retail facilities that cater to players and the neighborhood, such as a restaurant and bar, maybe a child center with a play yard and game room where golfers could drop off their kids for a few hours while they golf.

Golf is a growing sport, especially among the Baby Boomers who are retiring in droves.   So jobs in this sector are growing.  Why not team up with Truckee Meadows Community College to create a Golf Management program and have this location as a training facility. If the county or City really wants to manage the course, consider a different management structure that can utilize retirees and student golfers who would work for minimum wage and golf privileges.

With a smaller course, there is the option of lighting more than the putting and driving range.  How about lighting three holes, if not all nine?   When was the last night you played night golf?  

With a little “out of the box” thinking, Reno or the County could create a unique opportunity for residents and tourists.  This course would offer a variety of affordable golf options for the youth and seniors, without requiring a taxpayer subsidy.  It would create a retail area that provides services needed in the area.  And you’d have a unique nighttime golf facility for residents and tourists that could garner media attention to help showcase Reno as an outdoor vacation destination.  

Is this worth a discussion, City Council?
 


Despite my frustrations, I won’ leave you, GOP

Published: 2/4/2014 11:59:17 AM

When are you quitting the Republican Party?

That’s what a girlfriend (who was a Republican and is now a Democrat) asked me last week after we exchanged emails about Neena Laxalt and Sue Wagner changing their voter registration from Republican to Independent.

I admire Sue and Neena, and don’t know their reasons for changing. But I know why my girlfriend left, and I don’t blame her. I, too, am frustrated with the Party!  There have been a lot of stupid comments by men in power, locally and nationally, that reflect disrespect toward women, and it’s ticking me off!   

Polls have shown how Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remark about “legitimate rape” in the 2012 election hurt all GOP candidates across the country, from the President to local races here. Was I ticked at his ignorant statement?  Heck yes. But the fact that he was the GOP nominee only goes to show the ignorance of the GOP voters in Missouri.  Todd Akin was not a viable candidate, just as Sharron Angle was not a viable candidate against Harry Reid.  

I understand their frustration in support these candidates. We see taxes going up along with our national debt.  We see our savings accounts plummet as corporate earnings soar.   We see the rich getting richer not through hard work and innovation, but through tax subsidies and government bailouts. 

GOP primary voters are mad as hell, and they aren’t gonna take it anymore.  Yet it’s that attitude, and the cleverness of the Todd Akins and Sharron Angles of the world who pander to it, that is killing the GOP. 

Over spending is not a partisan issue.  It’s a political issue.   But the only ones yelling “Wake up America” are the TEA Party advocates.  Yet their desire to kick out any Republican who voted for a tax increase is only hurting their cause. 

Beyond the virulence about fiscal issues, it’s the hypocrisy of the social issues that really frustrate old school Republicans like me. The GOP is the party that stands for less government intervention in your life, yet so many current leaders are advocating for the government to regulate who you can marry and how many kids you should have.  This makes no sense.  These are personal choices that the GOP has historically said are your choices, not the government’s. 

When my friend asked when I was leaving the GOP, I reminded her of something she had said to me several years ago when I was frustrated with the “pro-life” movement in the party.  She told me that if I leave the party because I don't like the direction it’s going, I’m letting them win.  Our job as “pro-choice” women, she said, is to stay and fight for the core values of the GOP: smaller government, fiscal restraint, and self-empowerment.  We cannot let those “one issue” voters dictate our agenda. 

So I’m going to stay and fight for a return to our core values, despite the number of folks in the GOP who probably wish I would leave!


Curbed

Published: 1/12/2014 12:11:05 PM

Some friends and I did the River Wine Walk on the Saturday before Christmas.  This is one of my favorite downtown events because you get to stroll around downtown, wine glass in hand, visiting the old and new stores, restaurants and bars.

Well, I have to say that except for the really lousy wine that they serve, it’s a great event.  (Hey, Riverwalk Association, why don’t you let the restaurants chose their own wine!   Every place we went to apologized for the wine they were serving, explaining that the Association provided the wine.  So really, please class-up the event and pour some decent wine. )  But I digress. 

The other downer about the event was that my friend Robyn got a parking ticket.  Her car was one of about eight with $20 tickets placed on their windshields. 

Here is an event that is encouraging people to come downtown and support local merchants the weekend before Christmas, and the City chooses to send one of the few parking enforcers they have into downtown to play Grinch.   

Really guys?   Come on!  With all the crap we’ve gone through with the parking stations that didn’t work, you quietly transition back to coin-only meters in an era where few of us even have coins or cash because we use our ATM cards for everything…and you come out writing tickets the weekend before Christmas?  Do you really want to create such a PR nightmare? 

I really didn’t want to write about the parking meter nightmare.  But after the Wine Walk ticketing barrage, and the fact that a reader recently asked me if I’d look into how the contract was awarded, I feel compelled to give my perspective about how the city blew it when it came to selecting the parking meter vendor, and how they might avoid such debacles in the future.

Curb was a local business that had a great concept about parking, but its technology was unproven.   Curb also had some local heavy hitters behind the company that lobbied hard to get the contract.  They were a politically-connected company that made promises they couldn’t keep.   Curb has said the city failed to meet certain obligations, and thus the current law suit.  I’m gonna dance around all that and just say that Curb had a good concept, and city tried to do the right thing, but they likely succumbed to political pressure over actual proven job performance.

The City has  subsequently awarded a contract to the parking meter company that was second to Curb last time, to put in meters that take credit cards and coins.  (In full disclosure, I was hired by that company, called IPS, to set up meetings with council members and staff to discuss alternatives to how can they avoid doing thus again.  involve local business folks   in such decisions   staff doesn’t have experience to ask the right questions
 


Spreading Holiday Cheer Children of all Ages

Published: 11/27/2013 2:14:23 PM

We often think of Christmas as a holiday for the young, and no doubt there is joy in seeing kids sitting on Santa’s lap or excitedly opening gifts around the tree.   That’s why in my last article I passed on one idea of how you could help some less fortunate children in our community through Northern Nevada HOPES.

Yet Christmas is a holiday enjoyed by children of all ages. So today I’d like to share some ideas of how you can make this holiday season special to those who are often overlooked this time of year: our seniors.

Home Instead Senior Care has a Senior Gift Tree in the Vision Centers at area Walmart stores.  You can pick up a gift request ornament that represents a senior’s wish and purchase the gift at the store and leave it there.  You have until Dec. 11.  The store will wrap the gift and Home Instead will get it delivered.  

The Reno Sparks Corridor Business Association and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office takes donations for Christmas on the Corridor, which provides gifts to children and seniors living in Reno’s Fourth - Sixth street corridor. Call Brooke Howard at 785-4242 to see how you can help.

Every year my family and friends go caroling to some senior centers. It is by far the highlight of our holidays, and it’s a fun way to spread some holiday cheer.  Take along song sheets to hand out to the crowd, though, as they love to sing!  There are many centers that would welcome carolers, but we love going to the Fountains on Harvard St. (825-2044) and Lakeside Manor (827-3606.) Call ahead to schedule a day and time.

Washoe County Senior Services helps our low-income seniors with a variety or programs year round, let alone for the holidays.  You can call them at 328-2575 to find a way you can help out area seniors.  They provide meals daily to seniors at a variety of centers around town, and I bet they’d welcome some lunchtime carolers!

Another place that could use some holiday cheer is the VA Hospital. Caroling to our wounded warriors is one of the most memorable experiences my family has shared.  There is also party for Veterans on Dec. 19 from 2 to 4 at the Veterans Hospital, so Call 336-5333 to make arrangements for caroling or to learn more how you can help our senior vets.

And lastly, look to your own street.  Is there an elderly neighbor or couple who may be alone this Christmas?   Reach out to them and see what you can do to make their holidays brighter. Help decorate their home, bring them cookies, or include them in a family celebration – your act of kindness will brighten their holidays, as well as yours.

So this year, treat yourself to some holiday cheer by helping spread joy to a neighbor or a stranger.   Your holidays will be brighter too.


Why don’t you like labor unions?

Published: 10/21/2013 10:54:08 AM

Why don’t you like labor unions?

A neighbor asked me that last week at our annual Labor Day BBQ.  He asked in a very conversational tone, not at all confrontational.

It took me a moment to cite specific reasons. 

I told him how year after year at the Legislature, the AFL-CIO prevents any bills from even getting a hearing to just discuss changing Nevada’s antiquated overtime laws.  We’re the only state in the nation that pays overtime not after a 40 hour week, but if you work more than 8 hours in a 24 hour period.  This law hurts small business owners who hire part time workers, like college kids, who want to fit work around their school schedule. It also hurts the kids because a business owner will cut back hours to avoid having to pay overtime, even if they don’t work 30 hours. 

I told him about the continual assault by the construction labor unions every session to limit the ability for a person to be an independent contractor, or to make it harder for businesses to hire independent contractors.

He appreciated those examples, but then explained how working for a major corporation, his union plays a key role negotiating his salary and benefits.  They stand up for him to corporate executives who will cut any and all costs to increase their quarterly earnings reports and stock prices.  I had to agree with him.  Yet he expressed some frustration at how they sometimes spend his dues, but that was part of the game.  

I also talked with his wife who is a teacher.  She said that while she too shares some frustrations with the union, they had helped her get back pay from the school district after the district refused to help her.   

I appreciated their perspectives, as it shows me there still is a role for unions. 

But this past week, I’ve been thinking more about unions, and what are the core reasons I don’t like them.  It comes down to two issues.  First, I think unions’ disincentive personal achievement, especially in the public sector.  If you’re guaranteed a raise each year, no matter how you perform, where is the incentive to do your best? 

Now before you start screaming at the paper, I know there are a lot of dedicated people who are motivated to do their best regardless of pay.  I know many teachers who get incredible satisfaction when they see their students improving.  They can see in their face the moment a kid “gets it!”  And that is a better reward than money.  So please know I’m not talking about you.  But having worked in the Federal government with union members, I have seen people lose motivation when they that others are getting away with the bare minimum.    

 

The other issue is that unions are shifting away from worker protection to self-preservation.  Union membership has been declining for the last 30 years, so unions are finding new ways to stay relevant and build membership. Their latest tactic is using “worker centers” to organize paid picketers who protest and advocate in lockstep with what the agenda of their sponsoring labor union. Just look at recent protests to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  Those weren’t McDonalds employees.  They were paid picketers from these work centers that are registered as charities or nonprofits, and this free from the laws that dictate union activity.  These union pawns engage in nuisance “strikes” designed to show how the unions are fighting for “the worker”; but the picketers are not “the workers.”  

Membership declines have driven labor leaders to explore new paths to survival.


 

 


Setting a new standard for education in Nevada

Published: 10/21/2013 10:53:27 AM

Setting a new standard for education in Nevada

By Randi Thompson

 

There is a high school in Washoe County that averages about a 93% graduation rate every year. It’s not a private or catholic school, nor is it located in the “richer” part of Reno.  It’s a public charter school sponsored by the Washoe County School District, located in Ninth Street near Montello. 

 

Coral Academy has been open for 14 years now, and has seen enrollment jump from under 56 6th -12th graders, to over 900 students at two campuses serving grades K-12.  Just this week, Washoe County announced that the middle and high school each received a Five Star Ranking, while the elementary school received Four Stars.

 

What makes the Coral Academy work is a combination of many things: a student driven curriculum, a place where teachers have flexibility and creative freedom, and an atmosphere of respect that has made learning fun for teachers and students.

 

I spent a few hours walking the halls, talking with administrators, students, teachers, parents, and graduates.  I was impressed with everyone I met, but I have to say I was most captivated by a 2010 Coral Academy graduate, and a 27-year-old female math teacher.

 

Danielle Swanson is finishing her senior year at the University of Nevada.  She was this year’s recipient of the Kenny C. Guinn Memorial Millennium Scholarship, which is awarded to one student who is studying to be an elementary or secondary education teacher.  During her four years at Nevada she received over $38,000 in academic scholarships.  Her goal is to teach math at Coral Academy, and when I met her, she was excited to announce that she was starting her substitute teaching the next day at Coral.  Next year, Danielle hopes to begin her student teaching at Coral.

 

Danielle relayed how she struggled in grade school.  She was one of those kids who would rather help teachers clean the chalk board during recess.  The ridicule and bullying impacted her grades and self-esteem. Her parents contemplated home schooling, but decided to try Coral first. Danielle said that coming to Coral was like coming home.  She was accepted and supported by her peers, which made school fun again.  The rigorous curriculum kept her attention, and soon she was excelling in all her classes.  Her teachers inspired her to not only want to learn, but to want to teach others.  She wants to be a teacher because of her positive experience at coral academy.

 

Callie Henderson is 27 and absolutely adorable.  She’s about five feet tall, slim, talks as fast as an auctioneer, and has a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.  She scurries around her classroom showing how she combines modern technology with poster boards and colored pens to teach 8th graders the connection between math and critical thinking.  Her enthusiasm for teaching is similar to what you’d hear from a teenager talking about her first love!  She’s been teaching for three years and loves the flexibility she has in deciding how best to teach her students.  From traditional math tools to using the Kahn Academy’s math tutorials on line, Ms. Henderson is able to develop a program that works for each student depending on their needs and abilities.  No wonder students like Danielle want to grow up and become a teacher, when there is a role model like Ms. Henderson.

 

Coral academy was started 14 years ago by two UNR professors who saw that students graduating from Washoe schools lacked proficiency in science, math, and engineering.   They along with a few high school science and math teachers formed Coral Academy as a STEM charter school.  They started out with 56 students at the middle school then added the elementary school and then the high school. Over the years they went from STEM to STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.

 

 

Coral receives the same amount of funding per pupil as any public school, but they have to take out 17% off the top to pay their rent and building maintenance costs. Unlike a “zone” school, charter schools have to pay rent, and they don’t get additional funds for building maintenance. They also don’t have any buses, so the kids walk to school, or the parents drop them off.  They don’t get additional funding for technology like Title One schools, so they rely on donations – like the $10,000 they received from the Dolan Automotive group the past two years -- to purchase document cameras, projectors and interactive white boards. 

 

Teachers’ salaries are comparable with zone schools, though class sizes are a bit smaller, averaging about 25 students.  Along with their teaching schedule, teachers are required to tutor one day a week after school and serve as an advisor for a school club.  They are also allowed to teach any elective class they want in addition to their specialty, which they say gives them creative freedom to teach something they truly enjoy.  This year, a math teacher started an engineering course for middle school kids.

 

Students also have creative freedom.  They get two electives each day in middle and high school.  They can learn Japanese, Turkish, Spanish, calculus or engineering, and take any of the 16 AP classes offered.  They can join band, the Anime club, the debate team, the film making club or any of over 20 other clubs.

 

At the elementary school students can join the Lego Robotics club, a fitness club, the Polish club, or any of about 16 clubs.  The emphasis at the elementary school is CAMP:  Computers, Art, Math and P.E.  They are looking at adding a computer programming course – at the elementary school!

 

Anyone can apply for Coral academy; there is no entrance exam.  Nor can the school turn away a student. Most of the classes are full, so new spots are filled through a lottery system. Many attendees are from the neighborhood, yet they have students from Fallon and Carson as well. Many UNR professors send their children to Coral, so there is a strong ethnic diversity that is both celebrated and accepted.

 

About 10 years ago Coral started a parent teacher visit for 8th graders, where teachers went to the home of every student, often having dinner with the family and talking about their child’s progress.  The school realized that keeping students engaged in middle school was critical to their progression into high school.  It has been so effective in student retention that Pedro Martinez just announced that program for the zone schools. 

 

The success of Coral Academy led the creation five years ago of a “sister” Coral Academy Las Vegas that is sponsored by the State and has over 1400 students now. 

 

Coral Academy’s achievements and awards are impressive.  But what is most rewarding is to see that they are inspiring changes to the traditional school curriculum. For too long, public school administrators – and teacher union leaders -- have disregarded the achievements of charter schools, saying that their class size or select student population gives them an advantage.  But Coral Academy has proven that is just not the case.  They have a diverse student population and less money per pupil, yet they are doing better than some private schools. They have a proven model that engages students and parents. And they have established an atmosphere where academic flexibility and creative freedom have made teaching, and learning, fun again.  

 


The High Cost of Unions

Published: 10/15/2013 11:21:51 AM

I bet Democrats and Republicans all can agree that government should be managed in a cost effective and efficient manner. One way that is achieved is through appropriate management of personnel.  Employers need to be able to take action against employees who fail to perform, harass co-workers or break the law.  

Yet the legislature has denied that management tool to our local governments by allowing local government to employees to unionize and “collectively bargain.”  Collective bargaining is where employees form a union and have representatives negotiate a contract with their “boss” that lays out things like salaries, benefits, vacation time, etc.

In 2011, the Reno City Council created a committee to review the city’s charter with the goal of finding ways to make the city more efficient and effective.  One of their recommendations was to remove mangers from collective bargaining units, as they are technically “the boss” of the rank and file employees.  The City of Reno went to the legislature earlier this year asking to remove, among other mangers, the two deputy police chiefs from the union. (There is only one uniformed officer working for the entire Reno Police Department that is not a union member: the Chief.) Even in Las Vegas the deputy chiefs are not union.  But the Reno police union adamantly opposed the move, and the legislature went along.

The police union that fought that bill in the legislature is the same union that thwarted the City’s efforts to fire deputy chief Dave Evans.  They also helped pay his legal bills.  Had that bill passed as the City had requested, the city would have been able to fire Evans, as was recommended by an internal police review, and save taxpayers about a half million dollars!  That is enough to hire five more cops!

While Evans will receive a settlement from the City for over $300,000  -- which is much, much less than what he demanded – we taxpayers had already paid him about $190,000 to not work the past year.  Two months before he was suspended, we paid about $13,000 to send him to Harvard for leadership training. (That is likely more than the City of Reno’s entire training budget! With this settlement he is able to buy retirement time so that he can retire with 20 years of service.  Oh, and did I tell you this guy, who is only 43, will get free health care for the rest of his life?  So, wait, better make that over $1 million plus that taxpayers are out for a guy that should have been fired.  That is enough to hire about 10 police officers!

Having the ability to hire and fire is a critical component of good management.  While unions may serve a role in the private sector, they make no sense in the public sector.  Private unions have an incentive to keep their demands reasonable, as bankrupting employers is a sure way to kill jobs. But there's little incentive for public unions to scale back their demands, since you can’t bankrupt a government entity in Nevada.

The challenge of collecting bargaining is that it limits the government’s ability to manage money and people.  Of the 1068 full time positions at the City, only 150 are non-union. Rather hard to balance your personnel budget on the backs of just 14 percent of your work force.

But to really understand how unions are impacting the City’s budget, take a look at some of the city’s union agreements on their webpage (www.reno.gov click Department, human resources, then click Labor Relations and Agreements.)  There you can peruse all the union contracts.  

I looked at the police officers agreement and was shocked to see that some of the pay-increase agreements date back to 1998 and have not been revised. There are salary bumps for motorcycle cops, the bomb squad, and for officers that the union board determines should get an increase of 5% … just because.  Cops that work special events like Hot August Nights get double pay. Union board members are allowed 450 hours of paid leave every year to conduct union business, and they can roll over those hours to the next year.  You’ll occasionally see these union guys at the legislature. Yep, they are being paid by taxpayer funds to lobby for more taxpayer dollars. The president of the union gets 1040 hours of paid time to conduct union business.  In case you’re bad at math like me, that is half a year.  So we pay a cop about $90,000 to work half a year for us, and half a year for his union. 

Just imagine if those dollars were freed up to maybe, oh, hire more officers? And if we were paying cops to actually be cops, maybe so many would not have lost their jobs in the last few years. 

Do you wonder why the City has gone to the legislature the past two sessions to get some relief from collective bargaining agreements that are severely impacting the city’s finances?  But the political clout of the public employee unions, especially police and fire, is insurmountable. 

So folks, we need to stand up and put the pressure on our legislators to allow our local governments some flexibility in their union contracts. I support paying police and firefighters well, as they are doing a critical and dangerous job.  But paying them to do union business? Paying them to protect bad employees from being fired?  This just isn’t right.

Now that I’ve brought all this out, if you see me pulled over by a RPD cruiser next week, you’ll know why.


Setting a new standard for education in Nevada

Published: 10/10/2013 10:54:24 AM

There is a high school in Washoe County that averages about a 93% graduation rate every year. It’s not a private or catholic school, nor is it located in the “richer” part of Reno.  It’s a public charter school sponsored by the Washoe County School District, located in Ninth Street near Montello. 

Coral Academy has been open for 14 years now, and has seen enrollment jump from under 56 6th -12th graders, to over 900 students at two campuses serving grades K-12.  Just this week, Washoe County announced that the middle and high school each received a Five Star Ranking, while the elementary school received Four Stars.

What makes the Coral Academy work is a combination of many things: a student driven curriculum, a place where teachers have flexibility and creative freedom, and an atmosphere of respect that has made learning fun for teachers and students.

I spent a few hours walking the halls, talking with administrators, students, teachers, parents, and graduates.  I was impressed with everyone I met, but I have to say I was most captivated by a 2010 Coral Academy graduate, and a 27-year-old female math teacher.

Danielle Swanson is finishing her senior year at the University of Nevada.  She was this year’s recipient of the Kenny C. Guinn Memorial Millennium Scholarship, which is awarded to one student who is studying to be an elementary or secondary education teacher.  During her four years at Nevada she received over $38,000 in academic scholarships.  Her goal is to teach math at Coral Academy, and when I met her, she was excited to announce that she was starting her substitute teaching the next day at Coral.  Next year, Danielle hopes to begin her student teaching at Coral.

Danielle relayed how she struggled in grade school.  She was one of those kids who would rather help teachers clean the chalk board during recess.  The ridicule and bullying impacted her grades and self-esteem. Her parents contemplated home schooling, but decided to try Coral first. Danielle said that coming to Coral was like coming home.  She was accepted and supported by her peers, which made school fun again.  The rigorous curriculum kept her attention, and soon she was excelling in all her classes.  Her teachers inspired her to not only want to learn, but to want to teach others.  She wants to be a teacher because of her positive experience at coral academy.

Callie Henderson is 27 and absolutely adorable.  She’s about five feet tall, slim, talks as fast as an auctioneer, and has a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.  She scurries around her classroom showing how she combines modern technology with poster boards and colored pens to teach 8th graders the connection between math and critical thinking.  Her enthusiasm for teaching is similar to what you’d hear from a teenager talking about her first love!  She’s been teaching for three years and loves the flexibility she has in deciding how best to teach her students.  From traditional math tools to using the Kahn Academy’s math tutorials on line, Ms. Henderson is able to develop a program that works for each student depending on their needs and abilities.  No wonder students like Danielle want to grow up and become a teacher, when there is a role model like Ms. Henderson.

Coral academy was started 14 years ago by two UNR professors who saw that students graduating from Washoe schools lacked proficiency in science, math, and engineering.   They along with a few high school science and math teachers formed Coral Academy as a STEM charter school.  They started out with 56 students at the middle school then added the elementary school and then the high school. Over the years they went from STEM to STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.

Coral receives the same amount of funding per pupil as any public school, but they have to take out 17% off the top to pay their rent and building maintenance costs. Unlike a “zone” school, charter schools have to pay rent, and they don’t get additional funds for building maintenance. They also don’t have any buses, so the kids walk to school, or the parents drop them off.  They don’t get additional funding for technology like Title One schools, so they rely on donations – like the $10,000 they received from the Dolan Automotive group the past two years -- to purchase document cameras, projectors and interactive white boards. 

Teachers’ salaries are comparable with zone schools, though class sizes are a bit smaller, averaging about 25 students.  Along with their teaching schedule, teachers are required to tutor one day a week after school and serve as an advisor for a school club.  They are also allowed to teach any elective class they want in addition to their specialty, which they say gives them creative freedom to teach something they truly enjoy.  This year, a math teacher started an engineering course for middle school kids.

Students also have creative freedom.  They get two electives each day in middle and high school.  They can learn Japanese, Turkish, Spanish, calculus or engineering, and take any of the 16 AP classes offered.  They can join band, the Anime club, the debate team, the film making club or any of over 20 other clubs.

At the elementary school students can join the Lego Robotics club, a fitness club, the Polish club, or any of about 16 clubs.  The emphasis at the elementary school is CAMP:  Computers, Art, Math and P.E.  They are looking at adding a computer programming course – at the elementary school!

Anyone can apply for Coral academy; there is no entrance exam.  Nor can the school turn away a student. Most of the classes are full, so new spots are filled through a lottery system. Many attendees are from the neighborhood, yet they have students from Fallon and Carson as well. Many UNR professors send their children to Coral, so there is a strong ethnic diversity that is both celebrated and accepted.


Why don’t you like labor unions?

Published: 10/8/2013 10:50:08 AM

Why don’t you like labor unions?

A neighbor asked me that last week at our annual Labor Day BBQ.  He asked in a very conversational tone, not at all confrontational.

It took me a moment to cite specific reasons. 

I told him how year after year at the Legislature, the AFL-CIO prevents any bills from even getting a hearing to just discuss changing Nevada’s antiquated overtime laws.  We’re the only state in the nation that pays overtime not after a 40 hour week, but if you work more than 8 hours in a 24 hour period.  This law hurts small business owners who hire part time workers, like college kids, who want to fit work around their school schedule. It also hurts the kids because a business owner will cut back hours to avoid having to pay overtime, even if they don’t work 30 hours. 

I told him about the continual assault by the construction labor unions every session to limit the ability for a person to be an independent contractor, or to make it harder for businesses to hire independent contractors.

He appreciated those examples, but then explained how working for a major corporation, his union plays a key role negotiating his salary and benefits.  They stand up for him to corporate executives who will cut any and all costs to increase their quarterly earnings reports and stock prices.  I had to agree with him.  Yet he expressed some frustration at how they sometimes spend his dues, but that was part of the game.  

I also talked with his wife who is a teacher.  She said that while she too shares some frustrations with the union, they had helped her get back pay from the school district after the district refused to help her.   

I appreciated their perspectives, as it shows me there still is a role for unions. 

But this past week, I’ve been thinking more about unions, and what are the core reasons I don’t like them.  It comes down to two issues.  First, I think unions’ disincentive personal achievement, especially in the public sector.  If you’re guaranteed a raise each year, no matter how you perform, where is the incentive to do your best? 

Now before you start screaming at the paper, I know there are a lot of dedicated people who are motivated to do their best regardless of pay.  I know many teachers who get incredible satisfaction when they see their students improving.  They can see in their face the moment a kid “gets it!”  And that is a better reward than money.  So please know I’m not talking about you.  But having worked in the Federal government with union members, I have seen people lose motivation when they that others are getting away with the bare minimum.     

The other issue is that unions are shifting away from worker protection to self-preservation.  Union membership has been declining for the last 30 years, so unions are finding new ways to stay relevant and build membership. Their latest tactic is using “worker centers” to organize paid picketers who protest and advocate in lockstep with what the agenda of their sponsoring labor union. Just look at recent protests to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  Those weren’t McDonalds employees.  They were paid picketers from these work centers that are registered as charities or nonprofits, and this free from the laws that dictate union activity.  These union pawns engage in nuisance “strikes” designed to show how the unions are fighting for “the worker”; but the picketers are not “the workers.”  

Membership declines have driven labor leaders to explore new paths to survival.


Response to “Put Foot Down on End Run” by Randi Thompson, 8/24/13

Published: 8/27/2013 6:10:35 PM

Response to “Put Foot Down on End Run” by Randi Thompson, 8/24/13

By Jill Tolles

Claim #1:

“The Legislature has found ways to skirt the law and get tax increases passed through what I’ll call the back door.  This last session, that door was wide open.

The Legislature passed three county-specific tax increase bills, but to avoid taking the hit for raising taxes, it sent the bills to the Clark and Washoe County commissions to approve.  In other words, legislators didn’t do their job and they circumvented the constitution.” 

Response: 

 Nevada is a Dillon’s Rule state which means local governments must have enabling legislation from the State in order to pass local taxes.  The following lists contain just a few examples of the legislature passing enabling legislation to local governments to increase sales and property taxes to deal with local issues.  AB46 passed by a 2/3 vote to enable the Washoe County Commission to pass a local tax for a local issue.

1. Examples of the legislature passing enabling legislation to local governments to raise sales tax.

  • NRS 377B.100 (1997, A 2003)
  • NRS 376A.040 (1991, A 1993, 1999, 2003)
  • NRS 377A.020 (1981, A 1983, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2003, 2005, 1009, 2011)
  • NRS 543.600 (1961, A 1985, 1989, 1993, 1999, 2011)
  • Railroad Grade Separation Projects Act (1997)
  • Elko County Hospital Tax Act (1997)

2. Examples of the legislature passing enabling legislation to local governments to raise property tax.

  • Elko Convention and Visitors Authority Act (1975)
  • Metropolitan Police Departments Act (1987)
  • Carson Water Subconservancy District Act (1989)
  • Lincoln County Water District Act (2003)
  • Moapa Valley Water District Act (1983)
  • Nye County Water District Act (2007)
  • Virgin Valley Water District Act (1993)
  • NRS 3.0107 (1991)
  • NRS 244A.531 (1973)
  • NRS 244A.773 (1985)
  • NRS 266.041 (1987)
  • NRS 268.773 (1985, A 1989)
  • NRS 318.119 (1967, A 1969)

Claim #2:

“The commission is being asked to approve taxes for the school district, yet it has no role in approving, auditing or allocating school district funds.”

Response:

The Legislature would have no more control over the School District than the County Commission if they had passed AB46 into law during the legislative session and in fact, the current proposed arrangement may provide more opportunities for local accountability.

The advantage to this solution is that the County is spending at least three times the amount of energy and hearing time dissecting the issue and the Washoe County School District’s budgets to ensure there is transparency and accountability.  The District and the Commission are able to draft binding agreements for reporting that the legislature (primarily made up of Clark County representatives who have no interest or oversight of Washoe County issues) would not enact at the state level.  

Claim #3:

“’The School District has not adequately responded to the independent and scathing report that analyzed the $550 million it spent on building modernization in the past decade. The report chronicles severe defects in management and financial performance, yet we don’t know what steps the district is taking to fix those defects.”

Response:

In May, the School District held two all-day Board of Trustee workshops that were open to the public to discuss in detail the findings of the report and initial responses and action steps.  They posted the report, session video, materials and response to the recommendations on the WCSD website here http://www.washoe.k12.nv.us/community/schoolcapitalneedsinitiative?_lang=en.

On August 20th from 4:00 to 7:30, the County Commission held the first of three public workshops specifically dedicated to AB46.  Tuesday’s meeting was focused primarily on the Great City Schools Report, the District’s response and an in depth overview of the budget.

Materials Presented to the Washoe County Commission on August 20, 2013

 

The theme of the night was transparency and accountability and Superintendent Pedro Martinez, President Barbara Clark, COO Pete Etchart, and CFO Tom Ciesynski presented a detailed and targeted overview of the District's budget with thorough explanations of the difference between operating and capital budgets. Questions from the commissioners were met with facts, comparisons and at times a passionate defense of the quality of the staff and the quantified results that are setting WCSD apart and forward into the future.

 

In addition to WCSD testimony, Michael Casserly, the Executive Director of the Council of the Great City Schools testified via phone during the meeting that the recommendations were for "tactical or technical" improvements, the report uncovered recommendations for “improvements to best practices not fraud or ineptitude” and that WCSD was “well managed” and the findings were overall, “favorable” and far from scathing. 

 

Since the report in April, the Board of Trustees and School District Staff has been working intensely on implementing the recommendations and posted their updated response and changes here: http://washoecountyschools.org/docs/communications/Final_CGCS_FM_and_CP_Recommendations_0808.13.pdf.

 

Claim #4:

“I don’t understand why the district needs to start collecting $20 million next year when it has a balance of about $100 million in capital projects funds.” 

Response:

From the WCSD FAQ’s: http://www.washoe.k12.nv.us/community/schoolcapitalneedsfaqs?_lang=en

“We have a balance of $94 million from the 2002 rollover bond. This money is for necessary projects that have not yet been completed, but have already gone through the public process and have been approved by the Board of Trustees. These projects are in addition to the $308 million in capital renewal needs that we estimate over the next ten years. These projects have been placed on hold until a stable funding source is approved.”

 

“Our buildings will continue to age with the normal wear and tear in a school setting. We are trying to find a sustainable and reliable funding source to address these basic needs on an ongoing basis so we can continue to take care of these buildings in the future and don’t have to continue to ask for more.

We believe with this sustainable source of revenue, we will be able to address the capital renewal projects that are needed every year.”

 

To learn more about how the District appropriately managed the money from the 2002 Rollover Bonds, go to http://washoecountyschools.org/district/departments/capital-projects-planning/2002-rollover-bond

Claim #5:

“Voters deserve more information about the school district’s budget…”

Response:

The school district’s staff and board of trustees have done a yeoman’s job posting every conceivable report on their website, publishing trustee editorials, holding public meetings at schools and open board meetings, sending out newsletters and emails, and doing television and radio interviews.   The voters, media and concerned citizens of Washoe County have all the information they need available to them to get informed on the district’s budget, plans, the capital  funding problem and the proposed solution.  If they want to learn more, they can start here:

http://www.washoe.k12.nv.us/community/schoolcapitalneedsinitiative?_lang=en


School Tax is another end run around the constitution

Published: 8/27/2013 6:09:54 PM

School Tax is another end run around the constitution

By Randi Thompson

August 25, 2013

 

Nevada is a “home rule” state, which limits the power of local government. It means that tax increases can only be approved by the legislature, or by getting enough voters to sign an initiative that goes on to an election for voters to approve. Back in the 1990’s, voters amended the state constitution to say that the legislature has to approve any tax increase by a 2/3rds majority vote.  So technically, those are the only way taxes can be increased.  

 

But through the years, the legislature has found ways to skirt voter intent and get tax increases passed through what I’ll call the back door.  And this last session, the back door was wide open for the legislature to raise taxes.  They passed three tax increases this year; but to avoid taking the hit for raising taxes, they sent these increases to the Clark County and Washoe County Commission to approve.  In other words, they didn’t do their job.  They passed the buck.  They set up others to take the blame for a tax increase that they didn’t have the courage to pass.

 

One Clark County tax was called the “cop tax.” It had already been approved by the voters several years ago, and it passed both houses by the required 2/3rds margin.  The legislature should have just approved that tax hike.  But they still sent it to the County Commission, to put them on the hot seat and take the blame for raising taxes.

 

The legislature also passed AB46, the bill to increase taxes in Washoe County for the “most critical repair and maintenance projects” for our schools.  

 

Now this isn’t the first time the legislature has allowed taxing decisions to made at the local level, as my friend Jill Tolles points out in her response to this article (below.) My response is just because they have done it before, doesn’t mean it’s legal!   If the legislature wants to allow taxing decisions at the local level, change the constitution.  But they shouldn’t abdicate their responsibility just because it could hurt their re-election. 

 

The school district had to convince a “super majority” of legislators -- 28 Assembly members and 14 Senators -- to approve their tax increase.  If the county’s schools are in such disrepair, and kids are freezing, then the legislature should have been convinced to support the tax increase.  Now whether the county’s case was not compelling enough, or legislators just didn’t want to risk their re-election, I can’t say.  I’ll guess it’s a bit of both.

 

Many have said that the school district has not adequately responded to the independent and scathing report that analyzed the $550 million they spent on building modernization the last decade.  It chronicles severe defects in management and financial performance, yet we don’t know what steps they are taking to fix those defects.

I also don’t understand why they need to start collecting $20 million next year when they have a balance of about $100 million in their capital projects funds.  They say these funds are budgeted for future projects, but they cannot possibly spend $100 million in two years. They have admitted they can only work on major projects in the summers, and that they can only spend about $25 million each summer. So they have enough money for about four years of projects.  Plenty of time to better prepare their argument and go back to the legislature in 2015 and try again for funds.  Maybe by then they can explain to the taxpayers and legislators how they have implemented protocols to improve their financial management.

 

The district says there are schools in desperate need of repair; but passing this tax increase won’t speed up those repairs.  How are they prioritizing?  Are they going by true need or political pressure?  I’m just not buying that giving them more money will keep our kids warmer this winter.  

 

On their website they say the capital projects bond is “restricted by voters to fund capital projects such as the construction of new schools and the revitalization of older schools.”   Since voters restricted these funds, why doesn’t the school board request a ballot question asking voters to “un-restrict” the funds if they need more flexibility to spend them. That makes more sense than asking us for more money. I’d support that.

 

A while back the school district apparently changed the definition of “capital expenditure” to be anything that lasts over 18months. So text books are considered a capital expenditure. This shows me they have been creative in their bookkeeping to give them the flexibility they need.   

 

All of this just isn’t adding up.  There is something else at play here. 

 

Voters deserve more information about the school district’s budget, and the county commission should not have to do the legislature’s job.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Politics is making us fat

Published: 8/14/2013 7:14:03 PM

Politics is making us fat

By Randi Thompson

 

Personal responsibility is a key principle of the Republican Party.  It’s one of the main reasons why I’m a Republican.  I live by the belief that the government is not here to take care of me. I am here to take care of me, my family and friends when needed.

 

In the debate about health care, there is growing emphasis on people taking more responsibility for their health, especially as it relates to obesity. 

 

Mrs. Obama wanted to take on childhood obesity and told kids to lose weight by dancing and eating more fruits and vegetables.  But she, like her husband and Congress, has not said a word about a major cause of obesity in this country – the declining quality of our food and the growing amount of fillers being put into food.

 

There are many reasons our food quality is declining.  We’re seeing more fillers in cereals and breads, like corn and soy.   Animals are being fed hormones to increase their weight and production.  And one of the worst elements being added into just about everything is high fructose corn syrup.  Just look at the label any kid’s juice bottle and you’ll likely see the first ingredient is high fructose sugar. 

 

Now I can’t ignore that video games have changed the ways kids play now adays, but I’ll stay focused on food. 

 

I was pleased to see a column by a doctor, Kent Sasse, (RGJ, July 25, 2013) that touched on a key element of what’s happened to our food – genetic modification.  This process adds foreign genes to food that do not occur in nature. (So if they don’t occur in nature, how is the human body supposed to digest them?)

 

The sale of genetically modified foods (called GMO for Genetically Modified Organisms) began in the 1990’s.  At that time about 40 states had no record of obesity, and only eight states hit an obesity index of 10%-12%.  Today, every state in the nation has obesity levels over 20%.  In less than 30 years the U.S. went from a thin nation to the 2nd highest obesity rate for large countries. 

 

Look on any food label and you’ll likely see corn starch or soy protein – both of which are predominantly derived from genetically modified crops.  But the “Big Food” companies aren’t required to indicate that their products contain GMO. 

 

GMO’s were introduced initially to increase food production yields, be more drought resistant to help bring more food quicker to a growing population.  It also helped to make them look better, taste better, and last longer during transport.

 

But over the years GMO’s have proven to be very useful to increase profits as well.   Grains can be changed so that they only grow one season, so that farmers have to buy grain every year.  Some grains have been modified so that they won’t grow unless you use a company’s herbicide.   One company that gets a lot of attention in this debate is Monsanto.  They are a huge wheat grower, and also the maker of Roundup.  

 

Now I know I’m the queen of “no more regulations”, but this is an epidemic that requires government intervention. We can’t stop “Big Food” makers from putting crap in our food. Only the government can!  Or Can we?

 

As Washington refuses to stand up to “Big Food”, many in small business and corporate America are taking action. Google and Facebook both provide free food to their thousands of employees, and they required that most of the food be non-GMO, organic or hormone free. Their actions help start dozens of “family” farms producing quality food within 150 miles of their headquarters. Those family farms are now selling food across the country – even to restaurants like Campo in downtown and Great Full Garden in Midtown.   If the government won’t take on “Big Food,” business will. 

 

If the government expects us to be more responsible for our health, they need to do their part and stop the polluting of our food system.

 

But since that isn’t happening, it’s up to us folks!  First and foremost – read the food label!   But you can also ask your grocer for an aisle of non-GMO foods, shop at a farmer’s market for local produce, and ask your butcher for hormone free meats.  If our government won’t stand up to “Big Food”, we must! 


How Did Small Business Fare in the 2013 Legislative Session?

Published: 7/2/2013 4:57:14 PM

 

How Did Small Business Fare in the 2013 Legislative Session?

By Randi Thompson

 

Business got a small victory this session. Starting on July 1 all business will see a slight increase in the payroll tax exemption.  The Legislature agreed to Governor Sandoval’s proposal to increase modified business tax (MBT) exemption level to $85,000 of payroll each quarter (up from $62,500). This means that the first $85,000 of payroll each quarter (or $340,000 annual payroll) is exempt from the MBT. Above that, the current 1.17% rate applies.  This means that about 80% of Nevada's businesses will not be paying any payroll tax at all.

 

How else business fared this past session kinda depends on whether you are Nevada-based business or an out-of-state one thinking of coming to Nevada. 

 

If you’re an out-of-state company, or if Nicolas Cage sas your lobbyist, then the legislature treated you just fine!  They gave you tax credits, deferrals and abatements, all the while complaining that business isn’t paying enough taxes!

 

But if you are one of the over 200,000 companies here now – creating jobs, paying payroll, property and sales taxes -- well the legislature continued threatened to raises taxes on you!  Actually, the legislature has done more than just threaten to raise your taxes – they have raised your taxes every year (except one) since 2003.  This year they extended the tax increases that they created in 2009 (the ones they promised to sunset in 2011), and threatened to raise taxes on entertainment, snack foods, mining, profits and mining. 

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just go one session without our legislators threatening to raise taxes?   They truly have no idea how their annual debates of raising taxes on anything that is sold, shipped, employed or pulled out of the earth continues to deter companies from expanding or even coming to Nevada.

 

The one thing a business owner truly needs from government is predictability.  Businesses are willing to pay taxes -- that is not the issue.  But for a business that is looking to move to Nevada, or expand their operation, they need to know what the taxes are and how they will impact their operation.   

 

Yet in every session (except one) for the last 10 years, the legislature has raised taxes.  The one exception was in 2005, but that was because in 2003 the legislature created close to $1 billion in new taxes.  So in 2005, as the state’s economy was booming, the state was flush with cash: a $312 million surplus to be exact. But instead of putting that money away for a recession, the legislature spent like drunken sailors!  They gave Higher Ed $100 million for construction projects, pay raises to state employees, expanded the college scholarship program, created new programs, and even gave every Nevadan who owned a car a $300 rebate check! 

 

Boy has that overspending has come back to haunt our legislators!  Not only did they create new programs and build new buildings that now need funding each year, they failed to save enough for the slowdown in 2006 and the damaging recession that hit in 2008.  Thus by 2007, they allowed the counties to increase sales and property taxes.  In 2009 they increased the payroll tax, the business license fee, and the car tax – with the promise they’d be sunsetted in 2011. They are now extended until 2015. Promises, promises.  They also promised to have a serious discussion about our state’s tax structure and come up with plan everyone can agree on.  We’re still waiting for that plan.

 

Even worse right now is the gross receipts tax proposal that will be on the ballot in 2014.  I doubt we’ll see any major businesses moving to Nevada while the Teachers Union tax increase is in play … even with all the tax exemptions that government continues to hand out!

 

Besides taxes, there were many other bills that impacted business, most of them bad!  But I’ll start with a good one.

 

AB 408 was sponsored by Assemblywoman Dina Neal (D-LV) and will require local and state governments to conduct an analysis of the likely impact of a proposed regulation on small businesses.  It also gives business a chance to express concern about a regulation’s impact to the Legislature or local governing body.  Ms. Neal reached out to the business community last year, asking how she could help businesses in Nevada, and this bill is a result of her efforts.  We are grateful for her reaching out and pushing this bill that will help reduce the regulatory burdens on business.

 

Sadly, that is the only bill that was actually “good” for business.  

 

There were dozens of bills working through the legislature that would negatively impact business that didn’t make it out of committee, or only got passed by one house. There were many that got through the Assembly, only to die in the Senate on the final day of session as a result of the absence of Democrat Senator Joyce Woodhouse.  She left the legislature the last day to be at her husband’s hospital bed. (Sadly he died two days after the session was over.) The dynamic on the final night of session in the Senate was affected dramatically with Woodhouse’s departure because that meant the Senate membership was 10-10, with Lt. Governor Krolicki being the tie vote.  This led to the failure of many bills that the business community opposed.

 

AB367 was one of those bills.  This construction defect bill, on its face, looked like it would help subcontractors who are not responsible for any defective work but are nevertheless brought into class action lawsuits.  But the bill actually eliminated any type of indemnity claim for subcontractors, even against those actually responsible.  It also broadened the definition of construction defect even further, which would have likely resulted in more law suits.  The bill failed to address the most troubling aspect of the law, which is the guarantee that attorneys can collect fees, which are often more than what homeowners get. The bill passed the Assembly with some Republican support because they thought the subcontractor part was an improvement. 

 

SB 180, sponsored by trial attorney and Senator Tick Segerblom, would have made it easier to sue employers for expanded classes of economic damages, as well as for non-economic damages like emotional pain, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and, of course, attorney fees.  We nicknamed it “The Sue Your Boss” bill.  The business community lobbied heavily against the bill, which passed along party lines in both house.  This bill was one of the first ones the Governor vetoed.

 

For a business that is trying to collect funds owed through a wage garnishment, SB 373 would have made that process even harder.  The bill would decrease the amount a business can collect through garnishment from 25% of weekly earnings to 10% of weekly earnings.  Nevada already extends debtors significant protections. All states bordering Nevada follow the federal standard for income exempt from garnishment – 30 times federal minimum wage per week. Nevada is at 50 times.  Also exempt is equity a person has in their home, car, life insurance proceeds, and retirement plans.   Many business groups opposed this bill, which passed along party lines but was vetoed by the Governor.

 

Despite cries from many legislators that we need to raise taxes, the legislature agreed to give tax breaks to the movie industry!  They passed SB165, the Nicolas Cage Bill! (Note to legislators: If you want to raise revenue, stop giving tax exemptions!)   This bill will provide up to $20 million of tax credits to a production company that film in Nevada, and is meant to sunset in four years (but we know how good the legislature as abiding by sunsets!) A recent report from the Tax Foundation found that across the US, states are losing money from film incentives and many are revoking the incentives.  Currently 44 states offer significant movie production incentives.  Louisiana's film tax credits cost the state nearly $170 million in lost tax revenues in 2010.  Kansas and Iowa have suspended theirs.  The bill passed with full support from the Democrats and a few Republicans, and the Governor signed it.

 

AB46, the sales and property tax increase that is designated for Washoe County school operation and maintenance, was amended to put the onus on the Washoe County Commission to approve the tax increase, and mandating the 2/3rds requirement for approval.   The tax is problematic for many reasons.  First, the legislature is the only body that is to approve tax increases, and our constitution requires a 2/3rds vote from them. So by passing this tax increase by a simple majority is circumventing the intent of the Tax Restraint Initiative that is in our Constitution.  Since the commission doesn’t control the school district’s fund, the legislature is asking the commission to approve funding for a budget over which they have no control.  But despite the problems with the process, the voters of Washoe County deserve an accounting of the $551 million that was spent the past 10 years from the 2002 bond before they approve another $20 million annually.   This bill passed with some Republicans from Washoe County supporting it, and the Governor did sign it, saying it puts the tax decision back to the local level.  But speculation is there are not four votes for this tax increase, so will the commission vote to send the question to the voters in 2014?

 

Of the over 600 bills that became law, the Governor only vetoed 17.  But he did veto the ones that would negatively impact business the most, so for that we are grateful!


Time for Pension Reform

Published: 5/7/2013 8:59:01 AM

How to pay for an educational system that continues to expand services beyond the class room was the focus of my blog.  We’re paying a lot of salaries to people who are trying to cure the ills of society instead of just educating our children.  While I’m concerned how we can pay all those salaries, I’m also concerned how we can cover their retirement benefits, too. 

When you retire as a public employee in Nevada, your retirement benefits are “defined.”  That means you are guaranteed a set amount of money each year based on what you “earned”; not what you “contributed” into the system.  This is the opposite of most private sector retirement plans, and even the Federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, which are “defined contribution” plans that pay benefits based on what you put into the system. 

A Nevada public employee is guaranteed a certain percentage of the average of their highest three years of salary.  After 30 years, you can earn about 75 percent of that salary.  Currently the state’s public employment retirement system (PERS) is about $11 billion underfunded.  Unless we change the system, the unfunded liability grows by $800 million every year! 

The state estimates it can make an 8% rate of return annually on the pension fund.  But since 2002, the rate of return has been 5.79%, far below expectations.  An 8% return is very optimistic, but there is a reluctance to adjust that number because lowering it drives up the unfunded liability.   And just for fun, ask a private sector financial planner if they can guarantee you an 8% annual return right now?   

PERS promotes their rate of return since inception as being over 9%.  But that said, it is also true that since 2002 the rate of return has only been 5.79%.  PERS does have a report that puts them in the top third but there are equally a number of reports that puts them in the bottom third.  I think it largely depends on what the rating is all about.  While they have been in the top third for returns, still the returns are less than the objective of 8%.  So, for example, last year the return was 2.9% which was among the best of large plans.  The problem is that return is 5.1% BELOW the objective.  They can be among the best but if they are not getting the investment return needed to fund the program, it does little good to claim to be "among the best."

The estimate of $11 billion actually comes from page 49 of the PERS annual report released for last year.  The actual number is $11,205,900,000 of Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability.  The $800 million annual increase comes from dividing the growth in unfunded liability from $3.2 billion in 2002 to $11.2 billion in 2012 by 10.  It averages $800 million per year, so more, some less.  That same table on page 49 shows each year beginning with 2003.

The state’s “defined benefit” system is ripe for abuse.  Here’s one example: John Oceguera.  He is a former Assemblyman and North Las Vegas Fireman.  When he retired in 2012, at 43, he started collecting his lifetime pension of $100,000 a year; and he only worked 20 years!  He also got paid over $400,000 in 2012, and $283,733 was from accrued, unused sick leave when he left his job.  

Then there’s former Clark County District Attorney David Roger, who was able to purchase five years of service and retire at age 50 to take another job.  He is collecting an annual pension of about $150,000 five years before he would be eligible otherwise.  But that’s not the worst of it.  When Mr. Rogers retired after 25 years of service, at age 50, he bought 5 years of service to give him 30 years.  At 30 years, one can begin immediately collecting retirement.  In his case, he paid $330,000 to buy the 5 years of service credit.  His retirement would have normally been $130,000 at age 60.  But because he bought the 5 years to give him 30 and now gets a pension based on 30 years (rather than 25) he begins collecting now not at $130,000 but the $150,000.  So from age 50 to age 60, he collects $150,000 or $1,500,000 and it only cost him $330,000 for a profit of just under $1,200,000.  After age 60, he will be making an additional $20,000 per year.  

While these may be extreme cases, they are not that unusual.  Many folks are retiring and making over $100,000 a year now.  This is a system that overpays, overpromises and underperforms.   And we cannot ignore the fact that people are retiring earlier and living longer. 

Today, 80 percent of a retirees’ monthly pension comes from investment returns.  The other 20% is from new money.  This makes the ratio of active employees to retirees relevant.  Ten years ago it was 1:4.  Today it’s 1:2.  

The state’s retirement system was designed in 1947 and is based on people not leaving their job and on salaries that were much lower. The reality is people change jobs about every 7 years, and salaries for public employees have grown. 

It’s time the legislature makes changes to PERS to adapt to the modern work force.  If we don’t, taxpayers will be hit with a huge tax increase to pay for the retirement that teachers, police and others have rightfully earned.