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Randi Thompson

A View from Center Right

Randi Thompson
Nevada NewsMakers Political Analyst
Nevada NewsMakers Blogs

 

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.


Will there ever be enough money for education?

Published: 4/29/2013 9:12:56 AM

Will there ever be enough money for education?
By Randi Thompson

Education is not just about teaching anymore.  That’s what I learned from reading the Reno Gazette-Journal’s recent series on improving education.

In 2011, there were 40 psychologists working for the school District. There were 179 counselors, 60 police, 158 principals and assistant principals, 31 staff in the 6 superintendents’ offices, 52 nurses, 9 communications staff, 43 in facilities or planning, 42 in staff development, 50 in information technology, 47 doing accounting, about 400 in nutrition services, and over 300 in transportation -- serving 90 schools.  These numbers come from www.TransparentNevada.com, the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s (NPRI) website.  (The figures are close to the county’s current counts.)  Notice I have not even mentioned teachers yet.

Schools aren’t just for learning anymore.  They provide breakfast and lunch, transportation, family counseling, home visits, teaching parents English at night, and backpacks with food for the weekend.  The stresses seem endless, as do the growing number of job titles in the “school” system.

The salaries are surprising, too.  About 60 employees have a base salary of over $100,000 according to NPRI. There’s another 100 making over $90,000, another 100 making over $80,000, about 150 making over $75,000, and another 800 or so making over $65,000.  There are some 1500 people working for the Washoe school system making over $60k a year – about $10,000 above the average income for Reno. 

Very few of the folks making over $80,000 are teachers.  But when you consider there are only 180 school days in a year, making $60,000 - $80,000 as a teacher, counselor, or ROTC instructor is pretty darn good. 

Some will argue that there are several sources of funds to pay these people -- bond money, state funds or federal dollars – but there is only one source for all those funds, and that’s taxpayers.

Not mentioned yet are the retirement benefits that are being paid each year. Our state is facing an $11 billion unfunded liability for the retirement system… but that will be the topic of my next article.

The challenges that educators face these days are almost insurmountable: students who can’t speak English, who are homeless, who are starving, whose parents pull them in and out of school.  And yet we expect them to make sure every child is reading proficiently at 3rd grade and that 80 percent of kids are graduating from high school?  

Come on people! Our school system is meant to teach, not cure the ills of society.  Teachers will not stop poverty.  Principals cannot clothe and feed homeless children.  Counselors are not probation officers.  Dealing with all these factors is pushing up the price of education, while lowering its quality. 

After reading the Gazette’s education series I’m sure many of you were thinking:  “We can’t pay these people enough!”   And you’re right.  We will never have enough money for education considering the increases in services, high salaries, and generous retirement benefits.  The demand for services may be endless, but our funding isn’t.  

 

 


Construction defect law hurts homeowners and builders

Published: 3/24/2013 6:09:40 PM

Four people have committed suicide, 29 people are under FBI indictment, 11 homeowners boards were swindled, over $100 million dollars was laundered -- all because of Nevada's construction defect law.

This racketeering scheme has become the biggest FBI probe ever in Nevada. In a state with a sordid history of mafia and gambling, it’s rather shocking that the biggest FBI probe in state history has to do with construction defects!

This scam and its high costs of money and lives should be reason enough for our legislature to change this law.   But changing it will also bring down the cost of building a house by about $10,000 (thanks to lower insurance costs) and help spur construction jobs, while protecting homeowners from legitimate construction defects. 

The gist of the scandal is this:  A corrupt attorney, Nancy Quon, who specialized in construction defect law, teamed with a corrupt owner of a construction firm, Leon Benzer, to rig homeowner association elections and then paid the newly elected board members to steer false legal and construction defect claims to them and others.  There was nothing seriously wrong with the homes.  Quon and her lawyer pals got the majority of the millions, while Benzer and other firms involved in the repairs did little, and often shoddy, work and got paid millions for it!  (This will be a movie one day!)

Home Owner Associations (HOAs) can sign up homeowners for construction defect lawsuits without telling homeowners about any problems – or even when they don’t even exist. This unique mechanism is at the heart of the HOA scandal.
Here are more details.  This FBI probe has been going on for five years, and it the death toll stands at four now, all allegedly suicides.  Despite some questioning if the suicides are really that, investigators aren't buying the conspiracy theories circulating about the deaths of these four -- including two prominent attorneys within five days of each other. The first two were former Metro officer Chris Van Cleef who killed himself not long after reports of the FBI/Metro investigation went public last year.  In May of 2011, Robbie Castro, a former board member of the Vistana HOA -- one of the main targets of the conspirators -- died in Northern Nevada from an apparent suicide. 

Attorney David Amesbury was found dead by apparent hanging on March 25, 2012 at his brother’s home near Sacramento -- just five days after lawyer Nancy Quon was found dead in a bathtub of her Henderson condominium.  Quon was the embattled construction defects attorney who was a key target of a federal investigation.   Amesbury pleaded guilty in the homeowners association investigation and was cooperating with federal prosecutors. He was at his brother’s recovering from a brutal assault he endured last fall, several weeks after he had pleaded guilty in the homeowners investigation.  Amesbury was discovered last November badly beaten on a street in a gated Henderson community and suffered two broken ribs, two shattered kneecaps, and facial injuries. (Police say the beating was not related to the investigation but it is rumored it had more to do with a “secret lifestyle” that he had.) Amesbury was among 10 defendants who pleaded guilty and struck deals to cooperate with federal prosecutors looking to charge higher-level players in the massive scheme to profit from the takeover of homeowners associations.  Amesbury also admitted that he participated in a separate scheme to defraud banks while seeking refinancing for the Courthouse Cafe, which he operated with former construction company boss Leon Benzer (who Quon recruited to do the construction work at the HOAs) and another partner, former Las Vegas police Lt. Benjamin Kim. 

According to those involved in the scheme the conspirators at one HOA, Vistana, board members squandered the association's share of a $19 million construction defects settlement they won in 2007.  After lawyers’ fees and expenses were deducted, the homeowners association got about $8.1 million (of the $19 million!) to do repair work.   Most of that money went to Benzer's Silver Lining Construction and his subcontractors, which did limited and even shoddy repairs and produced little required paperwork documenting their work.  DOJ prosecutors are seeking to file charges against higher-level players in the investigation, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers at a dozen homeowners associations. To date there are 29 indictments.  Rumors are that some elected officials are also involved in this mess.  
So see, someday this will be a movie!
Meanwhile millions of dollars were paid by honest business owners and insurance carriers, and insurance premiums were dramatically increased, driving up the cost of construction and closing honest businesses.

Abuse of this law has been going on for years.  In the 1990’s  I was told about a Carson City women used the $10,000 she got in a class action home defects suit to get a breast augmentation, as there was nothing wrong with her house!  That same class action suit caused at least two subcontractors to go out of business.

Construction defect lawyers in Nevada are entitled to fees, even if only minor defects are discovered.  No other state allows that; nor does that apply to any other kind of lawsuit, like personal injury.  Lawyers are entitled to fees even if a homeowner is not made whole -- meaning lawyers often get more than the supposed “victim.”  There are cases where homeowners only got $3000 to fix their defects, but the lawyers requested fees of over $1 million. This law allows attorneys to extort money from contractors and subcontractors, threatening them to write a check or go to court; and court is more expensive whether you are guilty or innocent.

This act is not protecting homeowners; but it has spurred the growth of specialized law firms that abuse the construction defect loopholes.  Over the past 10 years lawyers have grossed between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
Yes, there are construction defects, and home owners deserve a right to repair the defects.  But a new study done by UNLV shows that between 2000 and 2012, new home sales in Nevada decreased by 86% while construction defect claims increased by 355%t. Since 2006, the number of claims per new home in Nevada has been 38 times the national average. 
Under this law a building code violation is a construction defect, even if there is no effect on the habitability of the home.  No other state in the nation has this definition.

There are many other issues that need to be addressed, which is why there are several bills in the legislature to amend this law to protect home owners with legitimate construction defect issues, while stopping the class action suits that have led to over a billion dollars being extorted from construction companies and false insurance claims. 

We don’t have a building problem in Nevada, we have a lawyer problem.  Nevadans deserve a law that protects homeowners and gives them access to resolution.  We also need to protect honest home builders from the Nancy Quons of the world.  
Construction defect law suits are devastating the home construction industry in Nevada.  It's time to change this bad law.
 


Let’s Deal with Immigration Reform

Published: 3/20/2013 1:08:50 PM

Immigration reform has not been a hot button issue for me.  But I interviewed Danny Thompson from the AFL-CIO on Nevada Newsmakers earlier this week and he talked about how the AFL-CIO is now behind immigration reform and it got me thinking.   

Wait! Is the same AFL-CIO that for most of the 20th century wanted to restrict immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia, and Mexico?  Who favored a literacy test as a requirement for an immigrant's entry to reduce unskilled workers?  Who feared that increasing the supply of labor would tilt the balance toward employers, who could use cheaper immigrant labor as strikebreakers, limiting the effectiveness of labor unions to bargain? 

In the 1980’s AFL-CIO’s president Lane Kirkland came to realize that the US was unable to effectively reduce the flow of illegal immigration.  He also saw how the Service Employees International Union started to grow in 1980, from 650,000 members to now over 2 million members, in large part by organizing immigrant labor, many of them illegal.   So it’s not too surprising that labor unions have done a 360 degree turn and now embrace immigration reform.  It is the practical thing to do.

It’s time “conservatives” start being more practical.  Stop saying the word “amnesty.” Millions of people are here illegally, and they aren’t going to leave.  Many of them are working, paying taxes, obeying our laws, and raising families.  They want a better life, and our country offers that.  Shouldn’t we be proud that people want to come here? 

Yes, there are many who are breaking the law and abusing our services.  So let’s start a comprehensive process to get these folks on a path to citizenship so that we can weed out the good from the bad.  

We also need to address the thousands of immigrants who come to our universities, get advanced degrees, and then take their knowledge back home.  Every PhD graduate that leaves the US takes away three jobs that would have been created here had they stayed.  They are also taking advancements in science, technology, manufacturing, health research, and millions if not billions of future revenues back to their country.   We have much to gain by keeping the best and brightest here.  But we need reforms to make that happen. 

Then there is the politically reality.  Danny Thompson talked about the potential voter base that these potential citizens comprise.   Conservatives will not survive politically if we continue to be perceived as the enemy of this growing demographic.

America's business community is concerned with filling jobs and growing the economy.  We can do that with reforms that secure our borders, improve the employment verification system, streamline seasonal immigrant worker programs, provide a path to citizenship for existing illegal immigrants, and teach stronger civic and English-language education programs for immigrants.

These are concepts supported by a majority of Americans and business leaders. Conservatives would be wise to consider a more open-minded approach to the immigration issue; for the sake of honest, hard-working families, and for the future of the Republican Party!


More Money Doesn’t Guarantee Better Schools

Published: 3/18/2013 1:07:18 PM

There was a hearing last week on the teachers’ margins tax, the one that will be on your ballot in 2014.  It is modeled after the very problematic Texas Franchise Tax.   

Texas estimated the tax would raise almost $12 billion in 2008-09, but it has brought in less than $4 billion each year.  In 2009, just three years after the margins tax was put in place, Texas lawmakers heard more than 100 bills to change or repeal the tax.  Even this year there are still bills in the legislature trying to fix it.

Most companies in Texas saw a 100-500 percent increase in taxes.  Even companies that didn’t make a profit saw an increase in their taxes, because the tax is based on gross revenue, not profit.  The Nevada margins tax is twice the rate of the Texas tax, so its impact will be even more damaging.

The teacher union’s bill will also create a Nevada IRS, increasing the cost of government by $12 million annually, and increasing costs to businesses to comply with the complicated tax.

The fact that Nevada does not have a margins tax is actually promoted by the Democratic Secretary of State on his website.  It is a bad tax that you will be hearing about for the next year.

There are many taxing options in place now, such as the payroll tax and sales tax, which do not cause extreme compliance burdens like the margins tax will.  But is there really a need for a tax increase? 

I’m not anti-education, but I’m not buying the teacher union’s claim that education is underfunded.  We spend $70,000 for every child to graduate from high school.   We need to spend what we have now wisely, before we consider increasing the pot.

If we need more money for education then, as a business person, I want to know what I’ll get for my investment .  But at the hearing they didn’t give us that.  They didn’t say more money will improve test scores or graduation rates. Yet they did say that giving them more money is the right thing to do for our kids.  At one point they said more money would create 7500 new teachers jobs.   Oh, so it’s a jobs bill!

There is no guarantee that more money will improve education. For that to happen we need to challenge the status quo.  Our system is failing both teachers and students. One size does not fit all; we need competition.  Kids learn differently and have differing abilities, and it’s okay to put kids with similar ability together.  We need to address how some parents treat school as day care, or that migrant workers pull their kids in and out of school yet expect them to graduate.  Students in Arizona are outperforming ours in both test scores and graduation rates, for less money.  We have examples to follow, and it’s time we do.  

The teacher’s union needs to show us how they will create a better product before we’ll make the investment.


The Media and the Mad Men

Published: 3/11/2013 12:15:01 PM

The Media and the Mad Men

By Randi Thompson

 

When there is a killing of more than two people, is seems the media is there covering it for hours (days) on end.  Yet I can’t help but wonder if the media coverage is actually contributing to the escalation of violence in America.

 

Back in 1999, the Columbine shootings received round-the-clock coverage for days.  Eight days later a 14-year old walked into Canadian school and killed one student.  His family said that he "snapped" after watching coverage of the Columbine massacre.  It was the first fatal high-school shooting in Canada in more than two decades.  Over the next two months there were numerous incidents of kids taking guns to schools and dressing like the Colorado shooters.

 

Within a month of the horrible killings in Newtown CT, there were shootings at schools in California and Georgia.  In LA a 24-year-old was arrested after allegedly making a Facebook threat to kill young school children.

 

The first reported mass shooting of children in the US was 1764. The next one was not until 1850.  Actually, prior to 1989, there were only a handful of incidents in which two or more victims were killed by guns at a school.  Why the jump from 20 shootings in the 1980’s to over 34 in the last 3 years alone?  Yes, we lack good mental health care to prevent people from going “postal”.  Yes there are more guns. But I’ll argue a major contributor is the exhaustive media coverage given to these mad men.

 

The media’s sensationalized coverage is playing into the shooter’s desire for glory and infamy!  And when mentally unstable people see the fame that an Adam Lanza gets, they want it too. 

 

Why do I bring this up now?   Because I see the Nevada media placing a lot of attention on a previously unknown Assemblyman from north Las Vegas who is obviously unstable and in need of mental help.  He had agreed to take a leave of absence from the Assembly, until he came to Carson and was mobbed by the media.  He seems to be enjoying his fame so much that he has reneged on departing and plans to stay in Carson. 

 

Many (not all) of those drawn to politics are power hungry.  Thus, giving a narcissist media attention only feeds his egotistical drive for fame. Well, that attention needs to stop, and Mr. Brooks needs to go home.  If he won’t do it on his own accord, his colleagues will likely vote him out, and that is the best thing that could happen to him and the state. His antics cannot hold up the important work that the Legislature needs to accomplish in the next 114 days.

 

How our state media is clamoring over this man's mental break is a microcosm of what is happening in America.  The more sensationalized the news, the higher the ratings.  But the media needs to recognize that they are feeding the egos of man men, and very likely increasing the violence.  

 

Forget gun control.   We need media control.


Things I wish the Governor had said

Published: 2/2/2013 5:04:10 PM

Things I wish the Governor had said

By Randi Thompson

January 23, 2013

 

Governor Sandoval gave his State of the State speech recently and he did a reasonable job. He gave a speech that didn’t ignite the far right or anger the far left. He presented centrist goals that most Nevadans and Legislators could support.

 

While he said he won’t support any “New Taxes”, he agreed to extend the tax increases that were supposed to sunset in 2011.  One note of appreciation is that he proposed to extend the payroll tax exemption and increase the amount to $85,000 per quarter. This basically adds 2,700 businesses to those which do not now pay the payroll tax; a tax that makes it more expensive for small businesses to hire.  Since 60 percent of net new job growth comes from small business, this change can help our economy grow. 

 

But in exchange for the tax increases that impact all Nevadans, I’d like to see some spending reforms.

 

Here are some of the things I wish he’d said.

 

He spoke of increasing education funding, but he didn’t address the excesses within that giant bureaucracy. Clark County School District’s lobbyist said last session that they could lower the cost of school construction by 30 percent if they didn’t have to pay the inflated union prevailing wages. Paying $70 an hour when the market rate is $20 is outrageous!  No wonder the AFL-CIO is behind the so called “Education Initiative.”   I’m fine with union guys working public works projects, but when we can build four schools for the same price as three, you have to wonder about are our priorities.  

 

He should have said that collective bargaining mandates for city and county public employees hold our local government’s hostage.  Just look at the recent “fire divorce” that is costing us all more money! That did not need to happen if the fire contracts could have been opened and modified.

 

He should have said it’s time to get rid of Nevada’s horrid construction defect laws. These laws extort money from small business subcontractors who likely had nothing whatsoever to do with any real or perceived defect. In Las Vegas, a construction defect scandal has led to FBI indictments of nearly 30 people, four suicides, and millions of dollars stolen from homeowners and innocent contractors -- all made possible by this bad law.

 

Since the Democrats control both houses in the Legislature this session, I know there is little chance of taking on these issues since they’re sacred cows to the Democrats constituents – unions and trial lawyers. But, if one of Nevada’s most popular governors won’t talk about the tough issues, who will? I hope he won’t lull the voters into complacency, because the status quo is not okay.

 

The status quo is failing to educate our kids, straining government budgets, and making a few trial attorneys millionaires by defrauding the public and bankrupting small businesses.  Governor Sandoval can change the trajectory on these issues. If he does, he’ll make Nevada a better place to live for generations to come.


Raise taxes on those greedy rich guys!

Published: 2/2/2013 5:03:41 PM

Raise taxes on those greedy rich guys!

By Randi Thompson

 

The recent video by the California teacher’s union is a new low in the debate about our nation’s economic crisis. The video says, essentially, that there is economic inequality because the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes.  The video’s use of cartoon characters and Ed Asner’s Grinch-style voice is a juvenile attempt to stoke class warfare and vilify the rich at a time when our nation should be having a serious discussion on fiscal policy. 

 

The lack of facts in the video is disturbing, considering it was made by people responsible for teaching our youth.  At one point Asner says the rich were the primary beneficiaries of President Obama’s stimulus bills.  Funny how he fails to say that education got $105 billion of the stimulus package, or that food stamps got $20 billion, or that $39 billion went to unemployment benefits, or that bailing out GM saved thousands of jobs...union jobs! 

 

The union is trying to keep pressure on the Democrats to raise taxes on the rich, as Congress continues to figure out how to reduce our nation’s $16 trillion debt.

 

Ironically, the video caught the media’s attention the same week that the Republicans proposed not increasing taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans – those rich guys who make $250,000 or more – as part of the budget deal.  Another little fact the video avoids: those 2 percent of Americans already pay about 46 percent of all federal taxes! 

 

Despite what the Democrats and unions say, this is not a move by Republicans to protect the rich.  It is a move to protect a large segment of small business owners who employ over 40 percent of private-sector employees in Nevada.

Some of the so-called rich are actually small-business owners who set up their firms as flow-through enterprises.  Flow-through means that business revenues flow through the business to the owner who then pays taxes based on his/her individual tax rate.  Raising their taxes means less money that can be put toward job creation and capital improvements.  About 75 percent of all small businesses are organized this way.  

There are over 210,000 small businesses in Nevada, employing over 440,000 workers.  That represents over 95 percent of all employers and about 40 percent of all private-sector employees.  Raising tax rates on a majority of these businesses, at a time when sales are still down and health care and other costs continue to rise, will only do one thing: kill jobs. 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said that raising the top two income tax rates would cost 200,000 jobs in the U.S. in 2013 alone.  A study by Ernst & Young concluded that increasing the top income tax rates would result in 710,000 fewer small business jobs over a few years, and shrink the economy by 1.3 percent.  In Nevada, that means a loss of 6100 small business jobs and a drop in gross domestic output of $1.7 billion.

 

Small business is critical to Nevada’s economy, accounting for over 60 percent of net new job growth. Increasing individual tax rates will hurt small business and further hamper our state’s anemic recovery.


Resolutions

Published: 2/2/2013 5:03:04 PM

Resolutions

By Randi Thompson

 

It’s that time of year when we assess our goals from last year and see how we can improve on them this year.

 

I’m actually not one for resolutions, as that would require actually making a plan, plotting goals, and tracking them.  I’m lousy at that.  As much as my friend Alice Heiman, the premiere goal planner (www.aliceheiman.com) tries, I’m just not a planner.

 

But we’re never too old to change, right?  So Alice will be pleased to see that I’ve put some effort into actually making some resolutions.  So here we go. 

 

First, despite my frustration, I resolve to stay a Republican!  Even though the party is lacking leadership, vision, a mission, and yes, good presidential candidates, I still believe in the GOP’s core values of less government and more personal responsibility.  I’m resolved to remain active in the Party to show that it’s not the Party of Old Rich Guys!  I’m resolved to coach every male candidate that the word “rape” should never come up in a political campaign. 

 

I resolve to not quickly hit “reply” when I get a nasty email from a reader who questions my objectivity, calls me a mouth piece for the GOP, says my words are trite dribble, claims I skew data to promote my political ideology, or calls me a moron.  I resolve to wait, get a glass of wine, breathe, and calmly thank them for their words.  Then hit delete. 

 

I resolve to not watch another BCS bowl game until they implement the four-team seeded playoff process in 2015.  Sorry Notre Dame fans, but the Irish didn’t deserve that first place spot. That game was an embarrassment to college athletics!  (But I am an Oregon Duck, so consider the source!)

 

I resolve to not watch ESPN until they drop Brent Musburger. ESPN didn’t need to apologize to Katherine Webb for Musburger’s words of flattery; they need to apologize for the multiple stupid statements he made in every bowl game! 

 

I resolve to -- yet again -- lose weight.  Though this year I’m in a much better position, thanks to Dr. Robert Ewing!  Only eight pounds to goal weight now!  Thanks Doc!

 

I resolve to shop locally.  Small businesses are facing more competition from big box stores and the internet, so I will make more of an effort to support them, as they support our community.

 

I resolve to vacation more at home.   With great local theatres, music, skiing, golf, biking, sailing – why travel? (Oh wait, I’m on the Reno Airport board – um, I resolve to fly all I can!)

 

And lastly, I resolve to write columns that while you may not always agree with them, I hope you will find them thought-provoking, inspirational, funny, or bothersome to the point that you just have to send me an angry email.   I will then get a glass of wine, breathe, and calmly thank you for your words, because I got you to think, and I’m okay with that. 

 

Here’s to a better year – despite that fiscal cliff!

 

 


Finding the Funds to Keep the Aces

Published: 2/2/2013 5:01:50 PM

Finding the Funds to Keep the Aces

By Randi Thompson

Special to NNN

 

Years ago the city of Sparks wanted to build a baseball stadium.  The City and the County went to the legislature and secured a small tax on rental cars to help pay for the stadium. But after a few years, Sparks just couldn’t come up with an agreement, freeing up the rental car tax funds for a stadium somewhere else in Washoe County.  The City of Reno seized on the opportunity and sought a private sector partner to build a baseball stadium downtown. They found Jerry Katzoff and Herb Simon who formed SK Baseball. They agreed to build a stadium if the City agreed to help pay for a portion of the construction.  The city agreed to obligate the rental car tax and property revenues from the surrounding area to help pay the loan. Things were going fine until the City couldn’t meet its funding obligations.  So the City sat down with SK to renegotiate a new funding deal so that Reno could meet its contractual obligations and keep the Aces playing. That deal was approved by the old city council last month, but then turned down by the new city council the same day.

 

So now the new City Council is looking at the deal that was negotiated with SK Baseball and seeing if there is a way to keep the team here while not taking a big bite out of the city’s general fund.  While the Council members see the need to keep the park open, there is concern that any of the city’s eight labor unions could use this deal against the city at their next collective bargaining session.  If funds are being spent to “bail out a billionaire” while the cops and firefighters have taken pay cuts…well, you get the picture.  So the council and city management are working to create a deal that will keep baseball in Reno, but not put them in a bad bargaining position down the road with the labor unions. 

 

As we explained in the last update, in the original deal with SK, the city created a tax district around the park and agreed to take $1 million from the property tax revenue in that district for the next 30 years to help pay off the $55 million loan that SK took out to build the park.  When property values dramatically declined, the City was only able to make payments of a few hundred thousand dollars the last few years.  So SK asked the City to come up with a new way to pay the $1 million. 

 

While the “new” deal is still being worked out with the new council, some of the key aspects are that that Herb Simon will personally guarantee the $55 million loan, SK will give up their option to the first floor of the bowling stadium and the RTC’s old bus station, they will pay the $1.6 million in back property taxes, and they will “forgive” the $750,000 annual payment the City is currently making to them for the fire station loan SK gave the City. 

 

By taking that $750,000 and applying it to the $1million payment, which is already in the City’s budget, the City only needs to come up with another $250,000.  About $100,000 of that will come from the taxes collected from the tax district, and when property values come back up, that will go up.  So the only funds that would come from the general fund are about $150,000. 

 

Staff is looking at various ways to come up with that $150,000, including an “excise” tax or additional fee on baseball tickets that would be allocated toward debt financing. 

 

Brian Bonnefant did an economic analysis of the ballpark that shows the park and surrounding retail areas employ about 700 people and has a $21 million annual economic impact.  And that’s before the opening of a major hotel that is being planned for a vacant lot down there – once the city approves this “deal.”

 

Par Tolles of Basin Street Properties is working to bring a hotel to the area that will bring in $35,000 in sales tax revenues, $600,000 in room tax revenues, and $250,000 in property tax revenues per year.  There will be 35 new construction jobs for the 14 month construction period, and 45 hotel operational jobs -- 34 of them full time.  

 

Not making a deal with SK has daunting ramifications.  First, we’ve already seen the letter from the president of the Pacific Coast League saying they’d allow the Aces to leave Reno.  Considering the Aces are the AAA Champions, they would most likely be courted to move to a town more supportive of baseball.

 

Backing out of a deal with SK will likely black-ball Reno by Major League Baseball, so getting another team will be a challenge. SK would continue to own the park, so even if we were able to bring in another team, SK would have to approve. 

 

Then there are the legal costs associated with breaking the deal.  Staff has not estimated those costs fully, but City Manager Andrew Clinger opined that it will probably cost more than to keep them here. Then there would be maintenance costs for tending to an empty stadium, providing enforcement to protect it from vandalism, and potential liability issues associated with people getting hurt or damaging the facility.  The “unknowns” are what worry staff the most!

 

Then there is the loss of momentum that is reshaping that part of town. From new restaurants to new churches, that east side of downtown is seeing a gentrification that will only continue to help all of downtown Reno. The City and many businesses have made a huge financial commitment to the baseball park and surrounding areas, as has SK.  Having the ballpark go dark will close many small businesses and turn a vibrant area into blight.

 

The bottom line is that for a $1 million annual obligation for the next 30 years, the City receives:

 

•     $81 million in property: a $68 million stadium and $6 million of land (original purchase price of the land where the stadium is currently located) and 2 new fire stations worth $7 million. 

•     An economic return of $21 million and 700 jobs

•     A new hotel that will generate thousands in new taxes

•     A vibrant part of downtown that will continue to grow

 

Not a bad return on investment.

 


What does the Fiscal Cliff mean to Nevada and you?

Published: 11/29/2012 12:00:34 PM

The Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed under the political environment of a partisan stalemate, in which Democrats and Republicans could not agree on how to reduce the deficit. It was thought that blunt spending cuts and sharp tax increases would be mutually undesirable to both parties and provide an impetus to bring the sides together to solve the deficit problem.

While the projected effects of these changes have led to calls both in and outside of Congress to extend some or all of the tax cuts, and to replace the across-the-board reductions with more targeted cutbacks, there is movement in the negotiations. President Obama announced last week that he wants $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenue over the next decade, far more than Republicans are likely to accept and double the $800 billion discussed in talks with GOP leaders during the summer of 2011.

The spending cuts would impact over 1,000 programs, from defense to Medicare. The tax increases are broad. They include increasing the payroll tax 2% for workers and shifting the alternative minimum tax to take a larger bite. Federal unemployment benefits would expire. The top two tax rates go from 33 to 36 percent and 35 to 39.6 percent. Higher-income earners (those making over $250,000 a year) would lose several itemized deductions. Dividend income would be treated as ordinary income and could go from 15 percent to over 43 percent.  Capital gains would be subject to a tax rate of 20 percent. A new 3.8 percent Medicare tax will be implemented on investment income -- including flow-through business income, interest, dividends and capital gains – as part of the new health care law.

Increasing the individual tax rates on the “rich” is particularly important to small businesses because 75 percent of them are organized as flow-through entities. This means partners or investors in the business include their allocated share of profits in taxable income under the individual income tax. 

In 2009, the most recent year that such data is available, there were 212,678 small businesses in Nevada, employing 441,075 workers. That represents 95.6 percent of all employers and 42.3 percent of all private-sector employees. In the US in 2009 there were 27.5 million businesses, and small firms with fewer than 500 employees represent 99.9 percent of the total. Sadly the folks who were invited to the White House last week were execs from Big Labor and Fortune 500 companies – not a single representative from small business; the sector that will absorb the biggest brunt of these tax increases.

Another worry for many business owners is the possible rate increase on capital gains and dividends. Fearing these increases, many folks are unloading stocks and businesses before the end of the year, shifting their income to this year from next.

History has shown us that this income-shifting makes revenues more volatile and unpredictable. In 1986, for example, the capital gains tax rate was 20 percent but was scheduled to go up to 28 percent in 1987 as part of President Reagan’s tax overhaul. In 1986, capital gains collections soared to $52 billion – twice the amount as 1985. But the following year, when the higher rate kicked in, capital gains fell by 50 percent.

So while the mantra of “tax the rich” sounds good, it doesn’t necessarily lead to more government revenues.

According to the Tax Policy Center, 2 percent of households earn over $250,000. These “rich” folks, as the Democrats call them, earn 24.1 percent of all income, and already pay 43.6 percent of all personal federal income taxes.

Yet it’s not just the “rich” that will suffer if we fall off the cliff.  Middle income families are expected to pay about $2,000 more next year. Collectively, the tax increases would be the steepest to hit Americans when measured as a percentage of the economy since the 1950’s.

With most of the focus has been on the Cliff’s will impact to upper income earners, I’m worried about one that will hurt many seniors: the increase on dividend income.

Those of us who don’t make $250,000 don’t think an increase in the tax rate on dividend income matters. Isn’t that a tax that only guys like Mitt Romney pay? But if you’re a senior citizen who bought AT&T stock or some other Fortune 500 company 30-40 years ago, you may have done so because the company would pay you a dividend income down the road. You didn’t’ buy and then sell the stock; you chose to give AT&T your money for decades in return for a small income that you could count on when you retired. Now remember that first you had to earn that income, on which you paid taxes, to save enough money to then buy the stock. Essentially, you put your money into AT&T instead of your own bank account. Your money helped AT&T grow, and they thank you by giving you a dividend.

Falling off the cliff will raise the tax rate on dividend income from 15 percent to as much as 43 percent, as it will be based on your income tax rate.

If you’re a senior, living on social security and a dividend check, is it really fair that the government take away as much as 30 percent of the money that you have saved for retirement?

So whether you are rich or middle class, pretty much everyone will be affected by the fiscal cliff.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said that falling off the cliff will cause the loss of over 3 million jobs over time. They also stated that just raising the top two income tax rates would cost 200,000 jobs in 2013 alone. A study by Ernst & Young concluded that increasing the top income tax rates would result in 710,000 fewer small business jobs over a few years, and shrink the economy by 1.3 percent.  In Nevada, that means a loss of 6100 small business jobs and a drop in gross domestic output of $1.7 billion.

On the other hand, the CBO concluded that avoiding across the board tax increases would grow the economy by 1.4 percent and add 1.8 million jobs in 2013.

What is the alternative to tax increases? Cap tax deductions.

Capping deductions was first floated by Mitt Romney as a potential bridge between Democrats who want top earners to pay more and Republicans who want to avoid a tax rate increase. Now the President and Congressional Democrats have taken up the idea. The positive is that limiting deductions to $50,000 will generate close to $800 million in revenue. The $50,000 deduction primarily benefits the middle income citizens who have a home mortgage deduction. For those folks making between $40,000 and $50,000, their taxes go up an average of $790.

The flip side is limiting charitable deductions would destroy the fund-raising ability of cultural and educational institutions. A cap also means the wealthy would bear the brunt, with million-dollar earners seeing an increase of about $97,524, according to the Tax Policy Center. If total deductions are capped at $50,000, those making $200,000 or more account for more than 90 percent of the tax change. If deductions are capped at $25,000, those making more than $200,000 a year would account for 71 percent of the increase.

Obama’s former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said last week that a cap does not generate enough revenue, and will hurt the arts and education community that rely on large private donors. He said a cap based on a percentage of income is preferable. But limiting deductions still has to be combined with a tax increase to get to $1.6 trillion. 

The GOP will likely agree to limit some tax deductions, but it seems some tax hikes are inevitable.

With over $16 trillion of debt, and more being added each day, Congress must do something to rein in spending. But they could start by actually passing a federal budget – something the Senate has refused to do for over 3 years. But just saying to the federal government: “Spend what you spent last year”, which is what Congress has done for the last 3 years, it’s no wonder we’re in such a mess. 

There are lots of reasons we’re in debt. On one side is an increase in spending due to funding expensive wars in the Middle East, a growing federal workforce (look at how huge the TSA is now, and that’s just one agency!), and expanding entitlement programs like food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid. On the flip side, many are saying the “rich” aren’t paying enough to cover all the costs.  

No matter what side you come down on, lowering our debt is going to require a reduction in spending and an increase in taxes; there’s really no way around it. But it also is going to take electing leaders who will stop kicking the can down the road and actually have the courage to take actions that might not be popular, but will put this country back on a path of fiscal soundness. That, my friends, will be our biggest challenge!


We Can Make Reno More Business Friendly

Published: 10/23/2012 11:43:37 AM

Many have said that this is the most business-friendly City Council in decades.

Well, some local business owners don’t quite share that opinion. The high permit fees, long approval delays, inconsistent implementation of regulations, and often antagonistic relationship that city (and county) staff have with developers has made building in the Truckee Meadows very difficult. Owners have told me of project delays lasting over 6 months that cost $500,000. Others had to wait 6 weeks for an inspector, only to be told that his approval wasn’t even needed for the project.

While the council may seem to be business friendly, the day to day operations have proven to be anything but, and that needs to change.

Considering Reno just topped the list as the worst city in the nation to look for a job (according to Careerbliss), it really needs to change quick!

This November there will be four new city council members, and they will have the opportunity to change the strained relationship that business owners have with City staff. They need to lead by example and show that the City appreciates the folks who are paying the bills – the taxpayers and business owners of Reno.

One way the new council can improve its relationship with the business community is to form a Business Working Group. This group of private sector business owners can work with city leaders and staff to review existing regulations and fee structures to see what can be updated, removed and changed to better address the economy of today.

You would think that fees and regulations are reviewed regularly, but they are not. We see this now as the city council plans to vote next week to raise liquor license fees – something they have not done in 15 years! While some fees may not be keeping up with the times, some need to be reviewed because they are based on a much different time! 

The building fee structure that is in place now in the county and cities is one based on a different economy, different attitude, and a different decade -- the 1980’s.

Back then, the mantra was: “Growth must pay for itself.” A loud segment of our population (but not necessarily a majority) voiced their opposition to growth in the Truckee Meadows. Long time residents made it clear they didn’t want to pay more taxes and fees to expand the sewer system and pay for roads they’d never use. In response, local governments implemented higher fees for new construction, because that is what the community wanted. It was a valid argument at the time, and local governments reacted to meet the desires of the community. That is what government should do.

Now it’s 2012, and our community has a new mantra: jobs, jobs, jobs! Our local governments need to react to the changing needs of our community. 

Government won’t create those jobs, but it plays a key role in providing a more cooperative environment for the job creators.

What drove many of the fees and regulations back in the 1980’s was costs associated with an expanding water system, new water treatment facilities, and mandates from the Federal government that the water going back into the Truckee River be just as clean – if not cleaner – than what it was when it left the river upstream.

Of course we all want clean water for fish, fowl and humans, and we are willing to pay for it. But the fee increases in the 1980’s continued to rise over the decades and now they place an unreasonable burden on the price of new construction in 2012. So now it seems only logical that our governments respond to our community and look at the fees and regulations they have implemented over the decades to see if they are reasonable.

Let me relate an example. The current rules say that if a restaurant puts in a dishwasher, the permit will cost 35 “fixture units”, but a three-hole sink that can be substituted for a dishwasher is only 4 units. Each “fixture unit” is $264. Thus, a permit to put in a dishwasher is $9,240. The reasoning back then was likely that a dishwasher would use more water and thus add more of a burden to the water system. But today, high efficiency dishwashers use less than half the water to wash the same amount of dishes than in a sink. So why has no one stopped to ponder that we could actually encourage conservation by lowering the cost of more efficient equipment?

This dishwasher scenario was recently conveyed to some staff at the City of Reno, and they got it.   They are willing to look into sewer and other fees to see if they should be updated to better address technological advancements, But it will take a new city council to really make this happen. 

Unlike the 1980’s, we now see growth as not only beneficial to our way of life, but critical to maintaining it. And the kind of growth we’re seeing is what many call “smart” growth – not building further out, but filling in. Look at how Bernie Carter has transformed old buildings and stale businesses to create MidTown. The McKenzie’s development at SouthCreek turned vacant land near existing retail areas into a vibrant corner that continues to grow. 

But these guys and many others will tell you the cost to build is becoming too prohibitive in this economy….and this economy is not going to change much in the next five years.   That means the number of developers that can afford to build in Reno are going to continue to decline unless we find a way to make it more affordable.   

I have hope the new City Council will find ways to make that happen.


The Cost of Being a Swing State

Published: 10/2/2012 7:28:11 PM

The Cost of Being a Swing State
By Randi Thompson
 
A Presidential visit is a special event. Air Force One is a majestic plane, and seeing a President in person is exciting. I have seen in person every President since Reagan, so I know the thrill, but...
 
An official Presidential visit caters to a small, select crowd; while a campaign event like the one in August only allowed about 1000 “invitees.” These are hardly “community” events. 
 
Unlike our revenue-generating special events, a Presidential visit comes with a steep price tag that we are paying.
 
We are footing the bill for the security and protection that local law enforcement provides for these Presidential visits; unlike the Balloon Races or Street Vibrations that have to pay for law enforcement. (And at least we all get to attend those events!)
 
While a President’s campaign must reimburse the Federal government for the portion of a trip that is deemed political, there is no requirement that they reimburse local governments. 
 
Obama has been here twice “officially” and once for a campaign trip; though I can’t tell a campaign visit from an “official” visit! But I can tell you this: these visits are costing us hundreds of thousands of tax dollars.
 
Let’s start with Federal taxpayer costs. Every time the President flies, Air Force One costs the Air Force (taxpayers) $180,000 per hour to operate, according to a new Congressional Research Service report.  It costs over $60,000 an hour for just one his C-5 cargo planes that carry his limo and other vehicles – and usually there are two planes on his long trips.   
 
But my real concern is what is our cash-strapped community paying for a Presidential visit?
 
Before the plane even lands there are days of meetings and planning the route. The day of, the Washoe County Sherriff provides deputies, bomb dogs, SWAT teams, and their helicopter. Reno Police closes local roads and protect buildings. Nevada Highway patrol blocks off the highways. Airport police provide additional protection around the airport.  Our Fire and REMSA folks are on high alert. 
 
Many of these agencies won’t tell us the cost because of potential back lash, but from what some have told me, it exceeds well over $50,000 in unreimbursed costs every visit. The longer he stays, the more it costs.
 
Then there is the inconvenience of closing air space that forces planes to circle in the sky until the President has left the airport. That’s several thousands in fuel costs to the airlines, adding to a plane’s carbon foot print, and making travelers late.  And how do you like waiting in your car as roads are closed, burning gas (adding more carbon into the environment) and being late for work or appointments?
 
If we were getting something out of these visits, I’d be more supportive. But every time they are here, the national media reminds the nation we’re highest in unemployment and foreclosures, and the President has told the nation twice now to not spend money in Vegas! 
 
“Having the privilege to host the President” is not worth the cost, at least not to this taxpayer.