The state employee union representing Nevada Highway Patrol and hundreds of other state police officers is headed to arbitration over disagreements on pay, body cameras and seniority provisions in the union’s first ever collective bargaining contract with the state.
The Nevada Police Union — which represents the 735 highway patrol troopers, parole and probation officers, university police, public safety workers and other state-employed police included in the Category I Peace Officers category — was the only one of four recognized state worker collective bargaining groups to not reach a deal with the state ahead of the end of the 2021 legislative session last month. Arbitration sessions are scheduled for July.
The three other employee unions representing a different class of state law enforcement officers, firefighters and four bargaining units represented by AFSCME all reached agreements with the state shortly ahead of the end of the 2021 Legislature, locking in a greater pay increase and other benefits beyond the 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment offered to all other non-union state employees.
But the impasse between the state and the Nevada Police Union came over three issues — body cameras, seniority and compensation.
According to a “last best and final offer” filing made by the state and submitted to an arbitrator, the union sought to limit law enforcement supervisor review of body camera footage to only be allowed under “reasonable suspicion” or in the case of a public complaint. The state wrote that the proposal would create an “absurd (and unlawful)” process where supervisors had less of a right to view body camera footage than the general public.
The filing also stated that the union requested that seniority be “the default factor in determining every issue, including scheduling, equipment and training.” Such a proposal, the state said, “blatantly infringes on the State’s inherent management rights and is non-negotiable” under existing law.
The union also sought a 2 percent pay raise, annual longevity bonus payments of $500 and annual education bonuses — $900 annually for any employee with a bachelor’s degree, and $500 annually for any employee with an associate’s degree. The state had offered a 3 percent pay raise.
In a statement, Nevada Police Union spokesman and lobbyist Paul Klein said that the union was seeking additional compensation for state police because of the vast pay disparities between them and local government police agencies — pointing to information from the state Department of Public Safety showing greater than 100 percent turnover in each of the last three years.
“Nevada Police Union is hopeful the collective bargaining process helps improve and professionalize the working environment for the brave women and men of law enforcement that protect Nevadans,” Klein said in an email.
However, the state wrote in its filing that any additional compensation in a collective bargaining agreement would be moot at this point, as the 2021 Legislature adjourned last month and the state “simply does not have the authority to agree to additional direct compensation that has not been appropriated by the Legislature.”
An attorney for the state wrote that final authority on whether to increase pay was a “political decision” for the Legislature, noting that state lawmakers declined to set aside any money or build in any raises for employees in the bargaining unit covered by the Nevada Police Union during the session — even though the union specifically asked for $2.1 million for a 3 percent raise to be set aside for those employees.
The impasse had been pending for months — according to the filing, the state and police union began meeting in November 2020 and met five additional times through February 2021, ultimately declaring an impasse on the three issues. The sides also engaged in six additional mediation sessions from March through May, but “mediation was ultimately unsuccessful” and additional negotiation and mediation dates were allegedly declined by the union.
An attorney for the state wrote that negotiating sessions with the union “proved difficult,” saying the union refused to offer proposals or counter proposals.
Nevada lawmakers in 2019 approved legislation granting collective bargaining rights for state employees, a long-held goal of the labor movement and promised by Gov. Steve Sisolak on the 2018 campaign trail.
The legislation created 11 different groups of state employees, classified by employment, as employee groups that could select bargaining representatives and negotiate with the state over salaries and other benefits. But the legislation also allows the governor to have an effective veto on wages or other monetary compensation regardless of any approved collective bargaining agreement.
In order to be recognized as a bargaining unit and kick-start the collective bargaining process, a potential union has to show that it represents at least 50 percent of employees in any given occupational group before it files for recognition with the state’s Government Employee-Management Relations Board.
Statewide elected officials including Gov. Steve Sisolak have granted preliminary approval of the first ever collective bargaining contract with state employees,
Sisolak and members of the state Board of Examiners (composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state) voted 2-1 on Tuesday to approve the collective bargaining agreement between the state and the union representing around 110 Category II law enforcement officers, a group of positions including criminal investigators and youth parole counselors. Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, voted against the motion.
The approved contract runs through the end of June 2023, covering everything from management and union rights, recordkeeping, leave policies, employee evaluation and compensation. It includes a 2 percent pay raise for all workers in the bargaining unit, plus a one-time bonus — employees with five to 15 years of experience will see a $500 bonus and those with 15 years of experience will receive a $1,000 bonus.
Governor’s Office of Finance Director Susan Brown said during the meeting that the total cost to the state for those enhanced compensation totals will cost the state around $418,000 — the 2 percent pay bump comes with a $277,000 price tag, and the one-time payments costing no more than $141,000. Those costs will now head to the Legislature as budget amendments, which need to be approved before the session ends on May 31.
“Collective bargaining has allowed for state employees to have a larger seat at the table and I’m proud to see the first agreement approved and on its way to the Legislature,” Sisolak said in a statement after the vote.
Cegavske opposed the motion because, she said, she was concerned about cost and said the Department of Administration, which handles the state’s collective bargaining negotiations, did not answer all of her staff’s questions on the proposed contract.
Department of Administration Director Laura Freed — who estimated that members of the state’s bargaining team have spent “well over 400 hours” in negotiations — said the secretary of state’s chief of staff did not respond to invites to two of the three training sessions held by the state, and said the state wanted to keep negotiating teams on the smaller side — noting that the secretary of state’s office only had 6 employees in the bargaining unit.
“We are regretful that the staff with the secretary of state's office feels as they do, but we can demonstrate that we made an effort to include them,” she said.
But the contract approval is only one of four that the state needs to complete over the coming week — representing ongoing negotiations with six additional bargaining units, represented by three other unions. They include:
Faculty across the state’s higher education system are pushing for a new law this year that would expand the state’s nascent public collective bargaining infrastructure to include professors and other professional staff — a sharp break from years of control of the process by the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE).
Though faculty already maintain bargaining rights under NSHE code, they have long complained that any bargaining structure led by their employers — administrators, the Board of Regents and the chancellor — necessarily creates a power imbalance that has favored institutions in the long term.
“That means that management writes the rules for collective bargaining and interprets the rules,” Kent Ervin, vice president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance (NFA) and UNR chemistry professor, said.
Faculty, largely through the NFA, have spearheaded a push to create a “level playing field” through SB373, which would expand collective bargaining laws for public employees to include professional staff employed by the Nevada System of Higher Education.
The measure passed through committee early this month in a 4-1 vote, and now, having been waived through legislative deadlines, awaits a vote on the Senate floor.
Ervin says the push to move collective bargaining out of the hands of the system and under the umbrella of state law comes after years of stop-and-start bargaining from faculty at the College of Southern Nevada that, he said, could have been avoided through a third-party labor board.
“It took them three years to come to contract negotiations with their administration,” Ervin said. “And then with NSHE, it became apparent that the very limited rules which you can find in NSHE code are just not adequate. If either side thinks the other side is not bargaining fairly, there's nobody to go to.”
However, where many collective bargaining fights center in part on issues of salaries and pay equity, faculty who spoke to The Nevada Independent said the primary utility of a measure such as SB373 would be injecting fairness into dispute arbitration and adjudication that is, as of now, handled exclusively by the employer.
“It really provides better due process for the faculty member involved, but also ultimately reduces the possibility of litigation and things escalating to where litigation is a possibility,” Ervin said. “I have seen the Board of Regents when they talk about settlement packages, how much money they're spending every year on settlements. Well, if you nip some of those issues in the bud and work out amicable solutions between the employee and their supervisors, you often could avoid those things.”
Doug Unger, a UNLV English professor and the president of UNLV’s NFA chapter, said that these disputes have become even more common in the wake of the pandemic, and that core of the issue comes in redistributing some of the lingering power that has been entrenched in administrative hands since the very inception of the first universities in medieval Europe.
“You have this medieval authority established in the universities, it’s why we have the names we have — chancellors, deans, provosts, regents — and the idea to elect a regent, someone who has absolute power over a system,” Unger said. “This idea of a medieval authority of an administrator is entrenched in the university system; they don’t want to give it up.”
Expanding the collective bargaining process, Unger said, would serve to chip away at that “medieval” authority by democratizing the process itself.
And though salaries may not be the central issue behind the push for SB373, they still remain top-of-mind for faculty members who have gone more than a decade without a merit-based pay raise outside of promotions.
“The only way to get annual raises is to threaten to leave,” Jeffrey Waddoups, a labor economist and chair of the UNLV economics department, said. “And if you threaten to leave, and it's a credible threat, and they want to keep you around, then they'll give you a raise. And the reason for that is because there's no system set up to give annual raises, and we have no power to establish such a system.”
Efforts to allow merit-based raises through a 1 percent pool of institutional funds have continued outside of efforts to pass SB373. But, Waddoups said, without bargaining power and without a union, efforts to return to pre-Great Recession pay raises would be hampered “because there’s no real way to do it.”
Nevada’s system — where final rules-making authority lies with the higher education employer — is relatively rare in the U.S., according to Risa Lieberwitz, general counsel for the American Association of University Professors.
“Where a state law provides for collective bargaining for public employees that would normally state who's covered, you know, what employees and so if faculty are covered by the state, faculty in the State University are covered, they would either be under that general law, or there could be a separate law, but it would be most unusual to see that the collective bargaining system is controlled by the employer.”
Lieberwitz, who is also a professor of labor and employment law at Cornell and testified in favor of SB373, said that consistency in the way public sector bargaining agreements are carried out generally would broadly “enhance the stability of relationships” between administrators and faculty.
In testimony so far, NSHE has remained formally neutral on the bill. In testifying on the measure on April 7, system General Counsel Joe Reynolds reiterated to lawmakers that NSHE code already provides for collective bargaining, and that they were “still reviewing this complex bill” and “do have questions about its scope, reach into board governance over personnel matters and costs.”
Though Chancellor Melody Rose was unavailable for an interview before publication, she said in a statement late Tuesday that the board's position had not changed from neutral, and that it maintained the same concerns raised by Reynolds two weeks ago.
Still, the issue has so-far been inseparable, among some legislators, from broader issues of higher education governance and funding.
“I think NSHE needs some major, major financial overhauls,” Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said during a committee vote on the measure. “I think those guys have been spending money like drunken sailors with no oversight for decades … I realize this has to do with individuals, but the whole collective bargaining process, especially for those guys — financially, it’s out of control. I think we need to do some serious reining in of how they behave, so I’ll be a no.”
Hansen’s remarks come as multiple legislators have expressed skepticism of the governance of NSHE by the Board of Regents, as well as of a renewed push to approve a constitutional amendment, SJR7, that would remove the board from the Constitution entirely.
Though a similar measure, Question 1, was narrowly rejected by voters last year, legislators have so far broadly approved of SJR7. The measure was passed unanimously out of committee before being passed by the full state Senate, 20-0, last week.
Hansen was opposed to SB373 on the grounds that collective bargaining does not “represent the taxpayer,” saying in an initial hearing on April 7 that the measure — like all public bargaining measures — creates a system in which one government agency collectively bargains with another government agency. His concerns were echoed by the Vegas Chamber, which testified against the bill on the grounds that it would create an undue tax burden, a complaint first leveled against public employee bargaining laws by the group during the 2019 session.
Ultimately, Hansen was alone in opposing SB373 in the Senate Government Affairs Committee, whose three Democratic members all voted in favor. Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) — the committee’s only other Republican — also voted for the bill, though only with a reservation of his right to change his vote when it comes to the Senate floor.
Outside committee Democrats, the bill also found support among a handful of other unions, including the public employee’s union AFSCME, the state teacher’s union NSEA and the service employee’s union SEIU.
Having been waived through legislative deadlines, it is not clear when SB373 will receive its first floor vote in the Senate. Delaying the bill in part: outstanding fiscal notes totaling $1.7 million through the next biennium for the attorney general’s office and the Department of Administration.
Ervin said Tuesday that those notes will likely be removed, however, through a forthcoming amendment that acknowledges NSHE already bears the cost for bargaining infrastructure, and therefore no new costs would be created for the state.
Congressional representatives across the state reported race-leading fundraising hauls this week, positioning each with an early money advantage more than a year in advance of next summer’s primary elections.
Leading all fundraising was Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV), who reported more than $2.3 million in fundraising ahead of what is expected to be a competitive re-election bid. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who is not up for reelection until 2024, reported $341,794.
In the House, District 3 Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) led the state’s delegation with $607,407 raised through the first quarter; District 4’s Steven Horsford (D-NV) followed with $363,210; District 2’s Mark Amodei (R-NV) reported $77,749; and District 1’s Dina Titus (D-NV) reported $48,080.
With so much time left before the formal filing deadline for congressional elections next spring, the field of challengers in each district remains relatively small. Even so, two Republican challengers in the state’s two swing districts reported six-figure fundraising hauls, including Sam Peters in District 4 ($135,000) and April Becker in District 3 ($143,000).
Below are some additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate, broken down by district from greatest cumulative fundraising to least.
Catherine Cortez Masto (D) — incumbent
Ahead of her first-ever bid for re-election as a U.S. senator and as Democrats prepare to defend their razor-thin margin in the Senate, Cortez Masto reported $2.3 million in fundraising, boosting her cash on hand by roughly 55 percent to nearly $4.7 million.
A vast majority of that money, about $1.8 million, came from individual donors, including roughly $1.35 million in itemized contributions and $460,000 in small-dollar unitemized donations. Cortez Masto also raised an even $349,000 from PACs, more than $51,000 from political party committees and nearly $86,500 from other fundraising committee transfers.
With a fundraising total orders of magnitude larger than any other candidate in Nevada through the first quarter, Cortez Masto also has by far the most individual donors of the entire field with thousands of itemized contributions reported, including several dozen contributions of the legal maximum.
By law, individuals can contribute up to $2,900 per candidate per election (i.e. for the primary and for the general) in federal elections, while PACs and other committees can contribute up to $5,000 per election. Major donors will often contribute that maximum twice, once for the primary and again for the general, up front, giving candidates between $5,800 and $10,000.
Among the many donors who maxed out their contribution to Cortez Masto were a handful of Nevada regulars, including businessman and major Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,900 in the first quarter, $5,800 overall) and MGM Resorts International ($5,000).
With nearly $663,000 spent this quarter, no Nevada politician came close to Cortez Masto in outlays. Most of that money, $382,206, went to nine firms involved in fundraising operations, including mailers ($213,406) and online ($168,800).
Jacky Rosen (D) — incumbent
With more than three years before she’ll face voters again, Rosen reported a comparatively modest $341,794 in contributions last quarter, but her campaign has more than $1.85 million in cash on hand.
Of that money, most ($226,165) came from individual contributions, with the rest flowing largely from PACs ($14,000) and authorized committee transfers ($97,600).
Among the several dozen donors giving Rosen the legal maximum were Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun ($5,800) and his wife, Myra Greenspun ($5,800); Niraj Shah, CEO of the furniture retailer Wayfair ($2,900); and a leadership PAC linked to former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, the Seeking Justice PAC ($5,000).
Most of the $137,000 spent by Rosen was for regular operating expenditures, though her campaign twice spent $5,000 for online advertising from New York-based firm Assemble the Agency.
A district that covers much of the southern half of Clark County, including some of the Las Vegas metro’s wealthiest suburbs, District 3 has switched hands between the two major parties three times since its creation in 2002.
For three cycles, that control has been maintained by Democrats, following a narrow win by Rosen in 2016, and subsequent victories by Lee in 2018 and 2020. Still, a narrow victory in the district by Donald Trump in 2016 and small voter registration gaps have marked District 3 as one of a few-dozen nationwide that may become key to deciding which party controls the House after the 2022 midterms.
Susie Lee (D) — incumbent
Frequently the top-fundraiser among Nevada’s House delegation, Susie Lee continued her streak last quarter with $607,407 in contributions. After Lee largely depleted her campaign reserves in a pricey bid to keep her seat last year, that first-quarter fundraising has left her campaign with just over $484,000 in cash on hand.
Nearly all of that money — $493,070 — came from individual contributions, with the remaining $114,000 coming from big-money PAC contributions.
Among those individual donors were several dozen contributing the $2,900 maximum. Those big money donors were largely local business leaders — including Cashman Equipment CEO MaryKaye Cashman, MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle and former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren — though the group also included television showrunner and producer Shonda Rhimes.
Among PACs that contributed the $5,000 maximum were a mix of business interests (including PACs related to Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International), and unions (including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and SMART, the sheet metal and transportation workers union, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.)
Lee reported spending nearly $146,000 last quarter, an amount second only to Cortez Masto among the delegation members. Most of that money went to campaign consulting and staffing costs, with the single largest chunk — $32,000 spread over five payments — going to Washington, D.C.-based digital consulting firm Break Something.
April Becker (R)
After her unsuccessful run for the Legislature in 2020, attorney April Becker is challenging Susie Lee (D) for her seat in Congress. In the first quarter of 2021, Becker raised $143,444 mostly from individual contributors.
Becker received $2,000 from PACs, such as the Stronger Nevada PAC and (although not officially endorsed by) the campaigns for fellow Republican politicians, former Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei.
Several of her big individual contributors included family members; donations from individuals with the last name Becker totaled $29,500, nearly a fifth of the total contributions. Local business owners also contributed to Becker, including some car dealership owners: $5,000 from Gary Ackerman of Gaudin Motor Company; Cliff Findlay and Donna Findlay of Findlay Automotive each donated the maximum of $2,900, totaling $5,800; and Donald Forman of United Nissan Vegas gave $5,800.
Co-owners of the Innovative Pain Care Center, Melissa and Daniel Burkhead, each gave $5,800 totaling $11,600. Other contributors included several medical professionals, real estate investors and attorneys.
In the first quarter, Becker kept most of the money collected, $131,460, reporting spending only $11,983 on more fundraising efforts.
Mark Robertson (R)
Also hoping to challenge Susie Lee, Army veteran Mark Robertson raised $61,631 in his first time running for a political seat. The sum includes $7,451 he loaned his campaign.
Although he collected less than half than Becker in the first quarter, retirees were large contributors to his campaign, some nearly reaching the $5,800 maximum for both the primary and general elections.
Several local architects, engineers and construction contractors were also among the contributors, including $5,000 combined from Kenneth and Michelle Alber of Penta Building Group, $3,000 from Brock Krahenbuhl, a contractor for GTI Landscape and $3,000 from Wayne Horlacher of Horrock Engineers.
Robertson reported spending $25,148, including $5,250 on campaign consulting, $3,138 on office supplies and $3,270 on video and print advertising production services. After the expenditures, Robertson is left with $44,034 cash on hand.
A geographically massive district — larger than some states — that encompasses parts of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and much of the state’s central rural counties, District 4 has been held by Democrats for all but one cycle since its creation in 2011. That exception came in 2014, when Republican Cresent Hardy unseated then-freshman Democrat Steven Horsford in an upset.
Horsford retook the seat in 2018, defeating Hardy in an open race after incumbent Democrat Ruben Kihuen declined to mount his own re-election bid amid a sexual harassment investigation. Horsford later won re-election in 2020, beating Republican Jim Marchant by 5 percentage points.
Steven Horsford (D) — incumbent
With $363,209 in reported fundraising, Horsford boosted his campaign war chest by more than 50 percent last quarter, lifting his cash on hand to $757,142.
That fundraising was driven mostly by $205,883 in individual contributions, though Horsford also brought in a much larger share of PAC contributions ($157,251) than his delegation counterparts.
Among Horsford’s single-largest contributors was Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun and his wife, Myra, who both contributed the $2,900 maximum for the primary and general elections, or $11,600 combined.
Horsford’s biggest PAC contributions came from a mix of political committees linked to the Democratic Party, unions and corporations. That includes $10,000 from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC (of which Horsford is a member), $5,000 from the public employees union AFSCME and $5,000 from MGM Resorts International.
A vast majority of the $102,000 spent by Horsford’s campaign last quarter went to operating costs, salaries and consultants, though — like his fellow incumbents — a sizable portion ($21,000) still flowed to a pair of fundraising and finance compliance consultants.
Sam Peters (R)
After finishing second in last year’s Republican primary for District 4, veteran and local business owner Sam Peters led Republican fundraising efforts in the district this quarter. Peters’ campaign raised more than $135,000, which came entirely from individual contributions.
Those contributions were driven largely by retirees, as two-thirds of the 100 big-money contributions over $200 came from donors listing themselves as retired. Peters’ campaign was also boosted by a few maximum or near-maximum donations, including $5,800 from Frank Suryan Jr., CEO of Lyon Living, a residential development company based in Newport Beach, California, and $5,800 from Suryan’s spouse.
After spending a little more than $24,000, mostly on campaign consulting and fundraising services, Peters ended the quarter with nearly $115,000 in cash on hand, nearly double the amount he had at the end of the first quarter of 2021.
A district that includes Reno and much of rural Northern Nevada, District 2 has for two cycles been the only federal seat in Nevada still held by a Republican. The one-time seat of former Sen. Dean Heller and former Gov. Jim Gibbons, both Republicans, the seat has been held by incumbent Republican Mark Amodei since 2011, when he defeated Democrat Kate Marshall in a special election to replace the outgoing Heller.
Mark Amodei (R) — incumbent
After Amodei spent close to a thousand dollars more than he raised through the first three months of 2021, his campaign war chest sits at $323,347 entering the second quarter.
His fundraising of nearly $78,000 came largely from big-money contributions totaling more than $50,000, including roughly 30 donations between $1,000 and $2,000. But Amodei was also boosted by several maximum or near-maximum donations from Margaret Cavin, owner of plumbing company J&J Mechanical in Reno ($5,600), and Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research ($5,800).
Amodei’s fundraising was also boosted by a few large contributions from political committees, including $5,000 donations from PACs affiliated with MGM Resorts International and New York Life Insurance, $3,500 from a PAC affiliated with the aerospace company Sierra Nevada Corporation and $2,500 from Barrick Gold, a mining company.
Amodei’s spending was distributed across a wide range of categories, as he spent $7,625 on radio advertising, $4,000 on campaign consulting, nearly $20,000 on fundraising consulting, $12,750 on accounting services and more than $7,500 on meals and entertainment for contributor relations — including nearly $700 paid to cigar companies and more than $2,000 spent at Trattoria Alberto, an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Located in the urban center of Las Vegas, the deep blue District 1 has been held by incumbent Democratic Rep. Dina Titus since 2012. Titus won the seat after losing a previous re-election bid in nearby District 3 in 2010, which she had held for one term after a win over Republican Rep. Joe Heck in 2008.
Dina Titus (D) — incumbent
With no clear challengers in the district, Titus finished the first quarter with the least money raised of any Nevada incumbent — she received $48,080, which was $1.85 less than she raised through the same period last year.
More than half of those funds were given by four PACs that contributed a combined $25,000. The American Institute of Architects’ PAC, a PAC associated with the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC gave $5,000 each, a pro-Israel PAC called Desert Caucus donated $10,000.
Titus also received $14,280 from individuals, including a $1,000 contribution from former Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin and a maximum contribution of $5,800 from Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research.
After spending $37,000 in the quarter, Titus brought her cash on hand total to almost $340,000.
Head out to a concert or show on the Las Vegas Strip once the COVID pandemic is over, and the operator of the event will add a 9 percent Live Entertainment Tax (LET) fee to your ticket.
But if a person attends a Vegas Golden Knights or Las Vegas Raiders home game, that fee won’t be assessed.
Since 2015, Nevada has exempted professional sports teams from having to pay the Live Entertainment Tax, but that would change under Sen. Dina Neal’s SB367. The bill was heard Tuesday afternoon in the Senate Revenue and Economic Development Committee.
Neal said the state’s current bottoming out of Live Entertainment Tax revenues during the pandemic presents a golden opportunity for lawmakers to create tax parity and require professional sporting teams to pay the same tax that the state’s gaming industry and other live entertainment events have to pay.
“I can guarantee five years from now, they're not going to willingly walk themselves into a tax base when they're making millions,” she said.
But high-ranking representatives of the Raiders and Golden Knights said the tax would have a disparate impact on their operations, hurt local fans and deter other professional sports teams from relocating to Nevada.
“When the Golden Knights chose Vegas as the place they wanted to come, that was one of the conditions that they were relying on, and that is that there was no tax on that,” Golden Knights Chief Legal Officer Chip Siegel said. “It will be a deterrent effect for NBA, MLB, MSL, etc., who will consider this excise tax when they're making their decisions.”
Nevada’s Live Entertainment Tax was enacted in 2004 and underwent a major revision in 2015. It levies a 9 percent tax based on the admission charge for any facility that provides live entertainment with a minimum occupancy of 200 seats or individuals.
The definition of “live entertainment” is one of the more complex and heavily lobbied terms found anywhere in state law. As it currently stands, live entertainment is defined as “any activity provided for pleasure, enjoyment, recreation, relaxation, diversion or other similar purpose by a person or persons who are physically present when providing an activity to a patron or group of patrons who are physically present.”
That broad definition includes several activities including concerts, dancing (including strip clubs), acting or drama, acrobatics or stunts performed by animals or humans, comedy or magic, a performance by a disc jockey and even a paid escort who is “escorting one or more persons at a location or locations in this State.”
But lawmakers, in amending the tax in 2015, decided to make a narrow exemption for any “athletic or sporting contests, events or exhibitions” provided by a “professional team” based in the state.
Neal — who at the time the bill was passed was a member of the Assembly — said she went back and couldn’t find a reason for the exemption in legislative history. But she said that lawmakers at the time had come to an agreement “behind closed doors” to create the carve-out as a “carrot” to help attract professional sporting teams to the state.
The Democratic lawmaker said she understood the logic at the time, but said the state often runs into an issue where a business receives an incentive and never wants to give it back up.
“I understand the carrot, but they're here,” she said. “And then, I couldn't figure out what would be the legal argument for someone not to pay the live entertainment tax, and you're performing live entertainment.”
The bill itself would remove that exemption for professional sports teams, and a proposed amendment submitted by Neal would again carve out amateur and minor league sports teams. It would also lower the capacity limit in a carveout for live entertainment events hosted by a nonprofit organization, changing the capacity from 7,500 to 5,000 before the live entertainment tax has to be paid.
In the last fiscal year before the pandemic, the LET brought in more than $131 million in tax revenue to the state. But those totals plummeted during the pandemic, down to $6.2 million in fiscal year 2021, or a 93 percent drop.
The measure was lauded by unions and progressive groups, who said it would provide a more diverse and fairer revenue stream for the state going forward.
“There is a real disparity between some groups paying their LET and some being exempted,” AFSCME lobbyist Carter Bundy said. “The more of these exemptions that we can close, the fairer it'll be for everyone.”
But representatives of the state’s two professional sports teams — the NFL’s Raiders and NHL’s Golden Knights — testified in opposition to the bill. Raiders President Marc Badain said the team specifically discussed and included the lack of a direct tax on tickets as part of the team’s decision to move to Nevada, and he said imposing the tax on professional sports teams would be viewed as a negative for leagues and teams considering expanding or moving to Las Vegas.
“Changing the terms of such a negotiated deal before any fans have even attended the game at the stadium is not the spirit of the partnership that brought the team to Nevada,” he said.
According to an analysis by TicketIQ, the estimated price of a ticket purchased on the secondary market for the Raiders in the 2020-21 session was about $1,100, though the team opted to not allow fans in games during the season. The Raiders’ own site lists the cheapest available tickets to be around $500 per seat for direct sales.
State lawmakers in 2016 approved allocating $750 million in hotel room taxes to help the team build a new $1.9 billion stadium in Las Vegas, the largest ever public subsidy in raw dollars granted for a U.S. stadium. The team also negotiated a provision in its stadium lease allowing the team to break the contract if any “targeted tax” is applied and directly or effectively affects the team, stadium, spectators, players or team officials.
Siegel said the Golden Knights — who charge an average ticket price of about $173, according to SeatGeek.com — believed that imposing the tax on hockey games would primarily hurt locals and not tourists, and said the proposal would have a “disparate impact” on the team.
“Vegas Golden Knight ticket sales are overwhelmingly to local buyers, and this tax will ultimately hurt these local fans,” he said. “This is not tourists that are generally going to the games, these are locals.”
Five of the 11 categories of state workers granted collective bargaining rights in 2019, representing nearly 5,400 employees, have reached tentative agreements with the state, one of the last hurdles remaining in organized labor’s decades-long goal to unionize the state government workforce.
In a joint press release issued Tuesday, AFSCME Local 4041 President Harry Schiffman and state Department of Administration Director Laura Freed announced that a tentative collective bargaining agreement including economic and non-economic provisions had been reached for four of the 11 occupational groups represented by the union.
“We are proud of the dedication and determination state employees have shown over the years to make collective bargaining a reality,” Schiffman said in a statement. “This contract lays a strong foundation to improve working conditions for state employees and the services we provide to our communities for generations to come.”
It’s the second such tentative agreement reached between an employee bargaining unit and the state in recent weeks; the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents Category II Peace Officers (positions including criminal investigators and youth parole counselors), announced a tentative agreement late last month.
The collective bargaining contracts now have to be ratified by union members and then approved by the State Board of Examiners (composed of statewide elected officials including the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.) If approved, the governor would then submit the agreement and budget amendments to the Legislature representing any negotiated economic provisions (though the governor, under the 2019 law maintains an effective veto over any negotiated monetary concessions).
Terms of the agreement, as well as any price tag, won’t be released publicly until the tentative contracts are ratified by union members. But state officials said that the tentative agreements were a major step forward
“Both sides worked diligently to find common ground and reach meaningful compromises,” Freed said in a statement. “We absolutely value our state employees and the critical services they provide to Nevadans, and this agreement recognizes that while also honoring the responsibility we have to ensure state programs are administered efficiently and effectively.”
Of the 11 categories of state workers designated in the 2019 legislation, seven have organized and formed exclusive bargaining units to negotiate with the state. They include:
Category I Peace Officers (735), represented by the Nevada Police Union.
Category II Peace Officers (110), represented by the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association.
Firefighters (55), represented by Battle Born Fire Fighters Association.
Not all negotiations are proceeding smoothly — the Nevada Police Union, which represents Category I Peace Officers (about 735 highway patrol troopers, parole and probation officers, fire marshals, detectives, park rangers and university and capitol police) filed a complaint on Monday with the Employee-Management Relations Board alleging state negotiators had engaged in “bad faith bargaining practices.”
The complaint alleges that the state provided “deceitful data” in a document purporting to show how other similar collective bargaining agreements treated policies for paid time for union business, regressive bargaining practices in negotiated leave time and other tactics that “spits in the fact of the Nevada Legislature’s established purpose behind its adoption of state-wide collective bargaining.”
“We are paid approximately 20 to 30 percent less than our counterparts working for a municipal agency. Our benefits and working conditions are well below the state average. We think it is only fair to ask for contractual agreements with the state that every other law-enforcement agency in Nevada provides their police officers,” Nevada Police Union president Matthew Kaplan said in a statement.
In an email, a spokeswoman for the Department of Administration said the agency had 20 days to respond to the complaint and intended to respond, but was disappointed that negotiations had moved to the complaint stage.
“We are disappointed that they felt it was necessary to take this to EMRB, but we look forward to (a) successful resolution of this negotiation to add to the two successful tentative agreements we’ve reached with other unions,” the agency said in a statement. “We are proud of the immense work our team has put in toward reaching agreements, and we are confident that we can ultimately move forward successfully with this one.”
The agency said it is still negotiating a contract with the union representing state-employed firefighters, saying the delay was because that bargaining unit was organized later than the others.
Nevada lawmakers in 2019 approved legislation enacting collective bargaining rights for state employees, a long-held goal of the labor movement and something promised by Gov. Steve Sisolak on the 2018 campaign trail.
The legislation created 11 different groups of state employees, classified by employment, as employee groups that could select bargaining representatives and negotiate with the state over salaries and other benefits. But the legislation also allows the governor to have the final say on wages or other monetary compensation despite any approved collective bargaining agreement.
In order to be recognized as a bargaining unit and kick-start the collective bargaining process, a potential union has to show that it represents at least 50 percent of employees in any given occupational group before it files for recognition with the state’s Government Employee-Management Relations Board.
Updated at 4:26 p.m. on March 9, 2021, to correct the number of affected state employees that would be covered by the collective bargaining agreements.
As in most election years, no single group of political donors was a bigger booster for legislative Democrats than labor unions, which shelled out more than $1 million on legislative campaigns in 2020, of which roughly 94 percent went to Democrats.
Still, it was a sharp drop in contributions from labor groups, which doled out nearly $1.4 million during the 2018 midterm elections and almost $1.7 million in 2016.
In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 contributions of more than $200 made to sitting Nevada lawmakers in 2019 and 2020.
These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending in the two-year cycle, and more broadly show to whom the largest contributions flowed and how much those contributions were worth in the aggregate.
The data in this story represent a slice of the broader whole: 746 unique contributions from 63 donors — from union-controlled political action committees to a handful of individual union leaders — fell into the broad category of unions and labor.
There are, however, some points not captured in these data: 11 sitting legislators did not receive any contributions from union or union-affiliated donors. That group includes two Democrats — Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas) — who were appointed after the 2020 election; one Democratic senator, Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), who was not up for re-election and raised the least of any sitting lawmaker last cycle; and eight Republicans.
Also excluded are any funds spent on losing candidates, a group that includes a handful of well-funded Democratic incumbents and challengers in highly competitive districts in both Reno and Las Vegas.
Breaking down the top contributors
Unlike some other industries, where the largest contributions are clustered among a handful of wealthy donors at the top, labor contributions were largely spread across dozens of unions. Few groups gave lawmakers more than $50,000, and only one gave more than $100,000.
Even so, taken together the top 10 donors still comprise a majority of all labor contributions, roughly 56 percent, with the bottom 53 donors making up the remainder.
Among the smaller labor donors, many unions still gave in relatively large amounts, comparative to small donors in other industries. An additional 17 donors gave between $35,000 and $10,000, and just 13 donors gave less than $2,000.
Below is a donor-by-donor breakdown of the three largest labor contributors.
Leading the pack of PACs was the only six-figure union donor last cycle: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which cumulatively gave 31 legislators — all Democrats — $114,500.
But even among AFSCME contributions given solely to legislators, spending dipped by roughly 25 percent in 2020, down from the $153,000 the union spent in 2018.
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) — who spent much of 2020 locked in a highly competitive re-election campaign — was the only lawmaker to see a maximum $10,000 contribution from AFCSME.
Three other legislators — Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) and Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson) — received $7,500, while the remaining 27 recipients received $6,500 or less.
The Service Employees International Union, which represents service employees and hospital employees, among others, contributed $75,500 to 25 Democrats last cycle, enough to make it the second-largest labor donor.
Even so, SEIU’s legislative campaign spending dropped by nearly 29 percent in 2020, down from $106,000 spent in the 2018 cycle.
Once again, Cannizzaro was the sole legislator to receive the $10,000 maximum from SEIU, with Frierson and Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas) following behind with $7,500 each.
Five legislators — Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas), Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson), Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Claire Thomas (D-North Las Vegas) — received $5,000, while the remaining 17 received $3,000 or less.
The Nevada State Education Association, the statewide teachers union, came up as the third-largest donor last cycle, contributing $73,000 to 29 legislators (all Democrats).
But amid widespread school closures and months of uncertainty over the future of in-person teaching, that topline figure is a sharp drop from similar spending in 2018, when NSEA contributed more than twice as much — $154,500 — spread across 35 lawmakers.
In 2020, no legislator saw the maximum from NSEA, though Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Sparks) — who at one time led the Washoe County Teachers Association union — did receive $9,000. Frierson and Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) followed behind with $5,000, while the remaining 26 recipients received $4,000 or less.
Notably absent from the legislative fundraising rolls is the state’s other major education union: the Clark County Education Association, which gave just $5,000 to Sen. Mo Denis, the chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Instead, much of CCEA’s fundraising — $190,000 in raw contributions and more than $107,000 in additional in-kind contributions — went to Strategic Horizons PAC, a group founded by the union in 2019 with the aim of drastically boosting state funding through tax increases.
Breaking down the top recipients
Though legislative leaders often see more contributions than rank-and-file members, a disproportionately vast share of the union total went to the state’s two Democratic leaders — Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) — who combined to received more than 30 percent of all union contributions last cycle.
Cannizzaro in particular, who led all recipients with more than $196,000 in union and labor contributions, was an outlier among both her fellow senators and all legislators taken together. Of more than $346,000 raised by state senators of both parties from labor groups, nearly 57 percent was raised solely by Cannizzaro.
Overall, nearly all union-related contributions — roughly 94 percent, or more than $970,000 — went to legislative Democrats. Only a handful of public safety-related unions for police and firefighters gave to both Republicans and Democrats, and of those unions, only the Las Vegas Police Protective Association gave more to Republicans ($8,500) than to Democrats ($7,500).
Over the coming weeks, as part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below:
Even amid a crushing global pandemic and the worst economic crisis to hit the state since the Great Recession, more than $10.6 million in big-money campaign contributions flowed to 61 Nevada lawmakers through the two-year 2020 campaign cycle.
Of that money, nearly half — roughly $5.1 million — came from just five industries: real estate and development, unions and labor groups, health care groups, other candidates or politicians and business interests.
Even in Nevada, which boasts a non-professionalized citizen Legislature, legislative candidates routinely raise tens-of-thousands of dollars per cycle, and those in the swingiest districts often raise six-figures or more.
And though candidates tout the many small-dollar gifts to their campaigns, the vast majority of any warchest is filled almost entirely by big-money spending on the part of political action committees, corporations, wealthy individuals and political groups.
To break it all down, The Nevada Independent categorized more than 7,700 individual contributions greater than $200 — a cutoff that excludes most small-dollar individual contributions, but still captures nearly all money raised by Nevada legislators.
This data set does not capture every contour of the state’s campaign finance landscape. Of note, it excludes contributions to losing candidates, as well as those contributions under the $200 threshold.
The data also excludes two lawmakers who were elected in 2020, but resigned before the legislative session began: Sen. Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas), who left to take a post in the Biden Administration's Department of Health and Human Services, and Asm. Alexander Assefa (D-Las Vegas), who resigned amid a criminal probe into alleged campaign funds misuse and a residency issue.
Still, taken as a whole, the data provides a collective picture of how Nevada's biggest industries fund campaigns for state office.
Over the coming weeks, The Nevada Independent will dive deep into the specific spending of each industry — including how that money was spent and on whom.
Below are highlights of the data reflecting contributions and who made them. For toplines on which lawmakers received the most money, you can read the first installment of our Follow the Money series here.
Spending by the biggest industries
Of more than 30 industries, real estate and development companies led by far with a combined $1,346,644 contributed to nearly every lawmaker elected last year. That money was distributed by more than 240 companies, PACs and individuals, who collectively gave 965 contributions to 60 different legislators.
Labor unions and the health care industry were the only other categories to crack the million-dollar threshold.
In total, 63 individual unions, labor groups or related individuals gave 52 lawmakers $1,028,892 — nearly 10 percent of all money contributed through 2020. More than 150 health care companies, PACs and individuals likewise contributed $1,002,401 in total.
Other major industries or donor groups include other candidates or politicians ($931,700), business interests ($841,300), the gaming industry ($769,100) and law firms, lawyers and other legal groups ($607,330).
Among the industries or groups tracked in TheIndy’s analysis, just four gave less than $100,000: Education groups ($98,271), marijuana companies ($86,500), tribal groups ($30,500) and agricultural companies ($10,950).
The biggest single donors
Of the more than $10.6 million donated to Nevada lawmakers through last year, nearly a fifth — about 19 percent — came from the 13 single contributors who gave more than $100,000.
Much like national campaign finance laws, Nevada laws do not limit the amount of money that can be contributed directly to PACs, rather than candidates. As a result, by far the biggest spenders of any given cycle, 2020 included, are industry PACs, themselves funded by dozens of individuals and corporations, both small and large.
The biggest single spender among that group was the Nevada Realtors PAC, which spent $397,000 across 155 contributions to 57 legislators. That sum nearly doubles the next closest single-contributor, the trial lawyer PAC Citizens for Justice Trust, which gave $203,500 to 36 legislators.
The remaining list of big-spenders also includes some of the largest companies in Nevada and a handful of the most powerful nationwide industry groups and unions. Statewide utility NV Energy gave lawmakers $167,500; a PAC associated with health care company HCA gave $142,500; the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA likewise gave $140,500, while Zuffa — parent company to the Ultimate Fighting Championship — gave $128,000.
Who gave the max
In Nevada, single-donor contributions are limited to a maximum of $10,000 per election cycle per candidate, with a further limit of $5,000 per election (i.e. $5,000 each for the primary and the general).
And though these maximum contributions make up just a fraction of the total number of individual donations made — just 529 out of more than 7,700 — they also often make up a sizable portion of any given candidate’s fundraising, especially considering the median legislative fundraising haul of about $117,800 through the 2020 cycle.
Including contributions of both $5,000 and $10,000 lump sums, the Nevada Realtors led the way once more with $5,000 gifts for 12 legislators and $10,000 each for Republican Assembly members Andy Matthews and Heidi Kasama and Sen. Carrie Buck.
Citizens for Justice Trust came next, contributing $5,000 to seven lawmakers, and $10,000 to five, all Democrats: Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Asm. Steve Yeager, Asm. Edgar Flores, Asm. Elaine Marzola and Asm. Howard Watts.
Other major maximum-donors likewise include a number of the biggest overall spenders: Nevada Gold Mines, the Home Building Industry PAC, the Nevada Health Care Association PAC, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, health care corporation HCA and the public employee’s union, AFSCME, all gave at least 10 contributions of $5,000, and all gave at least one $10,000 contribution.
Contributions by party
Though most industries give freely to members from both parties, those contributions are frequently — and predictably — distributed unevenly.
For instance, 25 legislative Republicans received far more money from real estate groups ($810,194 in total) compared to 35 Democrats ($536,450). Likewise, union and labor contributions went almost entirely to Democrats, who received 94 percent of all union contributions.
Other major splits also appeared in health care contributions ($600,601 to Democrats, $401,800 to Republicans); business contributions ($519,350 to Republicans, $321,950 to Democrats); gaming contributions ($426,300 to Republicans, $342,800 to Democrats) and legal industry contributions ($470,450 to Democrats, $136,879 to Republicans).
Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.
Amid a slew of cuts attempting to mitigate projected budget shortfalls in a state largely dependent on tourism and gaming for revenue, state employees are protesting proposed changes that would reduce health care coverage options provided by the state.
The proposed cuts in the Nevada Public Employees' Benefits Program (PEBP) budget would reduce life insurance benefits from $25,000 for an active employee to $15,000 and from $12,500 for a retiree to $7,500, eliminate long-term disability insurance and lower Medicare Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) contributions from $13 to $11 a month per year of service. Though Gov. Steve Sisolak in his State of the State address touted only a 2 percent state budget cut, programs such as PEBP are feeling the cuts more deeply than others.
The proposed cuts will affect worker retention and place an undue burden on essential workers who rely on long-term disability coverage as a safety net, College of Southern Nevada professor Maria Schellhase said during a Monday meeting of a legislative budget subcommittee.
"From September to December of 2020, three full-time faculty members in my department passed away — two related to COVID-19 complications and the other to breast cancer," Schellhase said. "Now is not the time to eliminate or reduce any aspects of faculty health benefits. Any changes affecting the health related quality of life, or well being, of any employee group would be a mistake."
The Nevada Public Employees' Benefits Program (PEBP) offers health plans for state workers, retirees and non-state entities, including municipal government and Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) employees. The program serves 72,000 active or retired employees, and did not take the proposed cuts lightly, according to PEBP Executive Officer Laura Rich.
"No one wants to make these cuts but there's only so much revenue coming into the state. The governor had a lot of really difficult decisions. I mean where do you cut? Do you cut Medicaid? Do you cut education?," Rich told The Nevada Independent. "Unfortunately you have to cut all of them. And there were very, very tough decisions to make."
During initial preparation for the budgeting process, the governor's office called for PEBP and other state agencies to prepare for 12 percent budget cuts that for PEBP would total about $72 million over the two-year budget cycle. However, when state budget projections indicated that the state was on more stable financial footing than expected, PEBP only had to reduce its budget by 6 percent.
But the cuts have received a cold reception from state employee unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents more than 6,000 Nevada state employees, condemned the proposed budget in a public statement released on Friday. State workers were given collective bargaining rights in 2019, but health insurance is excluded from potential negotiations.
“These cuts put Nevada state employees, who don’t have Social Security protections, in real jeopardy,” said Harry Schiffman, an electrician at UNLV and president of AFSCME Local 4041. “These are significant cuts to our health plans, forcing more out-of-pocket costs and putting needed health care services out of reach for thousands of front-line heroes.”
The governor's recommended budget is not finalized and PEBP officials and legislators can still make changes, Rich said.
PEBP board members weighed in on the governor’s recommended budget during a meeting on Thursday, noting that protections to long-term disability insurance are vital for workers, and eliminating the insurance was not in the original proposal submitted to the governor’s office.
Though the board ultimately approved the governor’s recommended budget, members emphasized that PEBP did not have the authority to change the budget proposal and the budget is now in the hands of legislators.
Board members Michelle Kelley, Tom Verducci and Marsha Urban opposed approving the recommended budget. Kelley called the elimination of long-term disability insurance “short sighted” and “premature,” warning that without the support of benefits, vulnerable state employees will end up relying on other state services such as Medicaid.
Kelley also asked staff to research the standard charge to cover every employee at 50 percent up to $5,000 for long-term disability insurance, so that information can be presented to lawmakers in future budget discussions.
Reducing barriers to access to care is at the top of the program's priority list, Rich said, explaining that restored budget items from the prepared 12 percent cuts focused on reinstating "first dollar coverage," or reducing deductibles or premiums that members have to pay right away.
When adding money somewhere, Rich said money will inevitably also have to be subtracted, which is what happened to the long-term disability coverage. That coverage acts as a safety net for employees who, for one reason or another, become disabled and can no longer perform their job duties. There are 117 PEBP enrollees on long-term disability.
Individuals on long-term disability will continue to receive benefits. Still, no new enrollments will be allowed under the current plan, Rich said, adding that the number of people on the long-term disability program usually fluctuates by about 20-25 people and hovers around 100 each year.
"The global perspective here is that by dedicating the dollars to medical coverage during a global pandemic, it helps everybody receive the care they need and it doesn't create additional barriers to accessing medical services," Rich said. "Unfortunately, yes, everything comes at a cost and … long-term disability benefits, there was relatively low utilization ... and it comes at a big cost."
For people who want long-term disability benefits, there is an option to purchase it through a voluntary buy-in option expected to be available by the next open enrollment period, if not sooner, Rich said. Employees can also buy it on their own or tap into PERS' disability retirement benefits as long as they have five years of service.
None of those options are ideal, Rich said, but there is not much choice given the global pandemic.
During public comment at the Monday meeting, workers participating in the program criticized the cuts.
Eliminating long-term disability insurance is "dangerous and cruel" for workers who are not covered by Social Security, said Doug Unger, a member of the Nevada Faculty Alliance and UNLV employee benefits advisory committee.
Buying voluntary insurance will consume about 1 to 3 percent of higher education faculty salaries, Unger estimated. He said there are not many options if someone gets in an accident or becomes sick and is no longer able to work.
"This is asking teachers to do their jobs on a tightrope without a net," Unger said, adding that actuarial statistics about the number of workers on long-term disability may not account for COVID-19 side effects that could have ramifications for workers.
This story was updated at 2:02 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2021 to include details from the Thursday PEBP board meeting.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, closing out the seventh to last day before the election, Kamala Harris had a message for the supporters who had gathered on socially distant red, white and blue picnic blankets at an East Las Vegas park to hear her speak.
“You all are going to decide who is going to be the next president of the United States. You will decide,” the Democratic vice-presidential nominee told the crowd, to hollers and applause. “A path to the White House runs right through this field.”
President Donald Trump, speaking at a rally a day later just over the state line in Bullhead City, Arizona, was equally as bullish on his chances in Nevada.
“Six days from now, we are going to win Arizona, we are going to win Nevada, and we are going to win four more years in our great White House,” Trump told the crowd of thousands who had gathered.
It wasn’t just talk. Nevada, of course, mattered to both campaigns this election cycle. It’s why the Trump campaign focused on building out its Nevada operation long before there was even a Democratic presidential nominee. It’s why Joe Biden’s campaign doubled down on its voter outreach this summer when it felt like the contest was narrowing.
By the time the night of the election rolled around, though, it seemed as if, in many ways, Nevada’s importance had been written off. Polls had Biden several points ahead. The prognosticators anticipated Nevada would lean blue. Both Biden and Trump spent their final days in the battleground states that were ground zero for the 2016 election — states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
When results started rolling in on election night in Nevada, Biden had a sizable, if not overwhelming, 3 to 4 percentage point lead at first, as many had predicted. But by early Wednesday morning, as the votes continued to be tallied, Biden’s lead over Trump had shrunk to 0.6 percentage points, or 7,647 votes.
Suddenly, what had seemed like a sure bet for Democrats in Nevada earlier in the evening, wasn’t anymore, and the Silver State was thrust into the national spotlight as the presidential race here remained too close to call.
Of course, it wasn’t really. Over the span of several days, Biden managed to steadily grow his lead as outstanding mail ballots, most of which were in Clark County, the state’s Democratic stronghold, continued to be counted, as anticipated.
But to the rest of the country, which remained on pins and needles as the presidential race nationally also remained too close to call as votes continued to be counted in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina, Nevada’s vote counting seemed impossibly slow, inspiring countless memes across social media.
Finally, four days later, the race in Nevada was officially called for Biden, just about half an hour after some media outlets called the entire race for the former vice president. Though a small number of ballots still remain to be tallied, Biden’s lead in Nevada stands at 2.39 percentage points, or 33,596 votes, as of Saturday.
From the outside looking in, Biden’s victory in Nevada may seem predictable because Nevada looks like a blue state. Its governor is a Democrat, both of its U.S. senators are Democrats, three out of four of its House members are Democrats and both chambers of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats. But neither Republicans nor Democrats here have been willing to concede that Nevada is, in fact, a blue state.
For Democrats, those victories have all come hard fought, some won by the skin of their teeth. In 2016, Catherine Cortez Masto won her U.S. Senate race and Hillary Clinton won the presidential race both by 2.4 percentage points. Though margins of victory widened two years later with Steve Sisolak’s 4.1 percentage point victory in the gubernatorial race and Jacky Rosen’s 5 point victory in the U.S. Senate, Democrats knew that 2020 would look different.
Republicans knew this too. They knew that Trump voters who didn’t turn out to vote in 2018 would show up this year to vote for the president, and they hoped those voters could also be persuaded to vote Republican all the way down the ticket. They also hoped to persuade moderates that overwhelming Democratic control in Carson City wasn’t a good thing.
On that front, Republicans appear to have succeeded. While Democrats celebrated their win at the top of the ticket, they actually lost ground down the ballot in the Legislature. Three Assembly seats that Democrats had picked up in 2018 returned to Republican hands, meaning that Democrats no longer have a supermajority in that chamber, and they lost a key state Senate seat as well, narrowing their majority.
And while Democrats held onto two competitive congressional seats, their victories were narrower than they were two years ago.
Still, Democrats look at the results of this election and see a blue wall. Even with their losses in the Legislature, they still hold majorities in both chambers. To them, the election once again demonstrates that ensuring Nevada votes blue takes work, and a lot of it.
“It should be crystal clear now that Biden would not have won Nevada but for a well-funded ground game ... We win in Nevada because we leave it all on the field — every cycle,” Rebecca Lambe, a longtime Democratic operative in the state responsible for building the Reid machine, said in an email. “We fund communications, we fund mail, we fund field — we knock doors to push our voters to vote.”
Republicans, however, are hopeful in the wake of this election. They see the narrower margins as a sign of hope for the 2022 election. They also look at specific victories, such as the fact that Heidi Gansert, a Republican, was re-elected to her Washoe County state Senate seat even as the county swung decidedly for Biden, and that educator Carrie Buck flipped a state Senate district that has two Democratic Assembly seats nested beneath it as glimmers of hope for the future of their party — that the state might still be more independent than it has in recent years appeared to be.
"The biggest surprise to me in this election was the historic DNA of Nevada — being independent and looking at the person before the party — reappeared,” said Pete Ernaut, a longtime Republican consultant in Nevada. “The idea that there were ticket-splitters was as refreshing as it was surprising."
How Biden won Nevada
Over the summer, some Democrats fretted that the presidential race in Nevada might be closer than anticipated. The coronavirus pandemic had forced them to toss their usual playbook out the window and, as the Trump campaign returned to knocking doors in person in June, their campaign remained virtual, hindering, in the eyes of some, their ability to effectively connect with voters.
Of course, Democrats had been hosting Zoom events, phone banks and text message drives, utilizing the framework of “relational organizing,” or the principle of having supporters tap into their personal networks to turn voters out to the polls. But the face-to-face connection was missing.
Enter the Culinary Union.
The politically powerful labor union, which represents 60,000 hotel workers across the state, has earned a reputation cycle after cycle for turning the tides in favor of Democrats in close elections, most notably in Harry Reid’s 2010 U.S. Senate race. But its membership was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic: Ninety-eight percent of the union’s members were furloughed this spring, and only about half are back to work.
The union’s finances were hit hard, too. It had no money for a political operation. So, for the first time, they set up a super PAC, Take Back 2020, asked for help, and it came, from the Carpenters Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Operating Engineers, the American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME, and more, D. Taylor, international president of the Culinary’s parent union, UNITE HERE, said.
“If it had not been for other unions, individuals, organizations contributing to us, we never could have done this — ever, ever ever,” Taylor said.
The super PAC raised money nationally for Unite Here’s efforts, which included political operations in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida. But Taylor said the union raised more than $10 million for its Nevada operation alone, which deployed 500 canvassers in the field who knocked 500,000 doors in Las Vegas and Reno and talked to 130,000 voters, including more than 42,000 eligible voters who did not participate in the election four years ago.
“We didn’t have the money,” Taylor said. “Frankly, even if we had had the money, we still probably needed to set up a PAC. Just here in Nevada, Trump’s campaign was much more robust in 2020 than it was in 2016.”
Plus, there was an extra added benefit: The political operation also helped out-of-work union members put food on the table.
“Up in Reno we had folks come in from our locals in California who were laid off too and other locals besides Las Vegas,” Taylor said. “In Las Vegas a lot of folks were laid off workers who got to earn some money and change the country.”
It represented the Culinary Union’s largest — and earliest — political effort to date. When the union started talking to voters at the doors on Aug. 1, it was the only Democratic-aligned organization in the field. For Our Future, a super PAC focused on grassroots Democratic turnout, launched an in-person canvassing operation on Oct. 1, eventually knocking on 150,000 doors, in addition to making 650,000 calls and sending over a million text messages.
Other organizations focused primarily on virtual or non-face-to-face outreach. Mi Familia Vota, for instance, made nearly 100,000 calls and sent more than 80,000 text messages to Latinos in Nevada on Election Day, while One APIA Nevada dropped literature in five Asian languages at 30,000 doors, in addition to making 180,000 phone calls and sending 6,000 text messages.
The Biden campaign, meanwhile, engaged in a mostly virtual campaign until the final three weeks, when it started in-person door knocking as well.
Combined, Democrats report knocking on more than 1.3 million doors across Nevada this election cycle, while the Trump campaign reported knocking more than 1.1 million.
"It is one thing to get the green light to go knock doors. It’s another to move an entire organization to really take on that challenge and do it in a way that’s safe,” said Shelby Wiltz, the Nevada State Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign director. “In 21 days, really, we were able to put together a massive door-knocking operation and lit-dropping operation across multiple counties to talk to voters that we didn’t have phone numbers for, that we hadn’t reached in the first two months of the campaign, including young people and people of color."
The Culinary Union, for its part, attributes its decision to knock doors so early to the conversations that it had with epidemiologists and industrial hygienists around workplace health and safety as it pushed for employee protection legislation in Carson City over the summer. Using that knowledge, union leaders established health and safety protocols canvassers had to adhere to while out in the field, including wearing masks, requiring those they spoke with to wear masks, and practicing social distancing.
“We said if not us, who? There was no other who,” Taylor said. “We did what we do without a lot of bells and whistles and just did the work.”
The Culinary Union engaged in other kinds of voter outreach, too, sending emails and texts to 60,000 members, mailing 5.6 million mail pieces, making 2 million personal calls and 240,000 automated calls and running digital persuasion ads that racked up 11.6 million views — the kind of outreach that other organizations engaged in as well.
But what set the union apart was the size and scope of its door-knocking operation. Taylor said that where the union’s typical contact rate at the door is usually 7 percent, it was more like 30 percent this year.
“I think that’s been proven over and over and over, and we know that it’s a three-legged stool to move folks,” Taylor said. “One, you have to have the TV stuff, two, you have to have the phone bank and text but, three, it’s the actual conversations with folks.”
Taylor, for his part, does not think Biden would have won Nevada without the Culinary Union.
“I know who we turned out and that was the difference in Washoe and Clark,” Taylor said. “I don’t think Joe Biden would’ve won and I don’t think a lot of Democrats would have won.”
Other Democrats in the state painted the election as a team effort, but acknowledged the decisive role that the union played not just in Biden’s victory but in key down ballot races as well, including Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s tight re-election campaign in Senate District 6.
"If Culinary was not out there in a meaningful way starting in August, I think this race would’ve been a lot closer,” said Megan Jones, a longtime Democratic operative in the state. “I think we would’ve eked it out, but we may have lost Nicole’s seat and we would’ve probably lost a couple more Assembly seats."
Democrats believe that Nevada could have easily become the next Wisconsin or Michigan from 2016 if not for the investments in the Culinary Union, For Our Future and other organizations on the independent expenditure side of the campaign, in addition to the Biden campaign’s decision to put canvassers back on doors at the end of the race.
The Biden campaign acknowledges they wouldn’t have been able to win in Nevada if not for the help of those other Democratic-aligned organizations.
"You have to remember that it’s a team effort and that there is institutional knowledge and organizations, like the NV Dems, like the Culinary Union, have been building relationships with voters for many cycles,” said Alana Mounce, Biden’s state director in Nevada.
As far as the tight margin of victory in the presidential race in the state, it doesn’t come as a surprise to Democratic operatives who know Nevada well.
"We knew from very early on that this was going to be a close race. Nevada is a battleground state,” said state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, a senior advisor on Biden’s Nevada team. “The margins haven’t been 5 to 10 point margins, they are 2 to 5 point margins, which means every vote really matters."
Republican gains down the ballot
While Democrats celebrate their success at the top of the ticket, it is Republicans who are finding reasons to be hopeful further down the ballot, including in the four legislative seats that Republicans were able to wrest from Democrats.
To some, it feels like a reset back to the way things were four years ago, before Democrats extended their reach in the last election. The only difference between the makeup in the Assembly this year is that Republicans picked up District 31, giving them one more seat than they had in 2016. In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans have the same split they did in 2016; they have just since swapped control of Senate Districts 5 and 9.
“From the Assembly Republican perspective, we’re happy where we’re at,” said Eric Roberts, executive director of the Assembly Republican Caucus. “We had four seats we were looking at picking up, and we got three of those.”
Perhaps the biggest upset, though, was Republican Carrie Buck’s victory over Democrat Kristee Watson in Senate District 5. Buck had run for the seat four years ago against state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, the term-limited incumbent, and lost by 0.9 percentage points.
This year, Buck won by 0.5 percentage points, even as the two Assembly districts nested beneath the seat swung for Democrats. Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen won her re-election bid in Assembly District 29 by 2.5 percentage points, while newcomer Elaine Marzola won her election in Assembly District 21 by 3.9 percentage points.
“We were fortunate Carrie Buck decided to run again. She ran four years earlier, and it was a close election,” said Greg Bailor, executive director of the Senate Republican Caucus. “Carrie has deep roots in that district being an educator and she really campaigned hard and was able to talk to Democrats and nonpartisans in a way that helped gain that support in the district.”
In many ways, the Republican pickups in the Legislature mirror what happened at the national level, where Democrats lost several key House races to Republicans that they had picked up two years ago.
“Democrats won too much in 2018, if you will. They got farther out than they probably should’ve because there was so much energy on the Democratic side,” said David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV. “In 2020, you didn’t see that. They lost ground or held their own.”
Democrats, for their part, aren’t entirely shocked they weren’t able to replicate their successes from 2018, though the losses still sting. Jones said that, in looking at the data, it is “abundantly clear” that nonpartisans in Clark County did not break for Democrats.
“We're up in Clark County by the amount of Democrats that voted essentially, which means nonpartisans were a wash or we lost a few,” Jones said.
Republicans are also celebrating their successes in Washoe County, including in Senate District 15, where Gansert was able to fend off a challenge from a newcomer Democrat, Wendy Jauregui-Jackins. Gansert won by 3.6 percentage points when Biden won the county by 4.5 percentage points.
“Washoe County as a whole has seen growth and a lot of that growth has come from new constituents and voters that are a little bit more moderate,” Bailor said. “Senator Gansert does have a track record in the community and with her constituents, but she had to reintroduce herself to voters.”
Still, Gansert’s victory this year was narrower than her 11 percentage point victory in 2016, which has some Republicans worried about their prospects down the ballot there moving forward.
“The trend in Washoe is concerning,” Roberts said. “As a Republican, we have to look at that and say, what’s happening here?”
There is also one down-ticket race that political operatives believe was likely specifically affected by the pandemic. Assemblyman Skip Daly, a Democrat, has earned a reputation cycle after cycle for his relentless doorknocking that has allowed him to represent a Republican-leaning district for eight of the last 10 years. But, because of the pandemic, he didn’t door-knock this cycle, and former Assemblywoman Jill Dickman, a Republican, bested Daly by 3.5 percentage points in their fourth head to head in Assembly District 31.
“It’s as close as you can get to a control group of a comparative analysis. Same candidate, same campaign management, it’s the same basic everything from 2018 to 2020,” said Riley Sutton, a Democratic consultant in Washoe County who managed Daly’s race. “The only difference is who is at the top of the ticket and if we knocked doors or we didn’t. Skip didn’t knock doors.”
In the two competitive congressional districts, Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford both faced tighter contests this year than they did in 2018. Lee won by 3 percentage points this year, compared the 9.1 point margin she won by two years ago, while Horsford won by 4.9 points after winning by 8.2 points in 2018.
Republicans attribute the closeness both in the presidential race and down ballot elections, in part, to the decreased Democratic field operation this cycle.
“There still wasn’t the Democrat presence on the doors that I had seen in the past,” Roberts said. “Even when there was, it almost had more of a feel of a lit drop. I didn’t see any Democratic operatives out knocking doors. In past cycles I’ve always seen that.”
But they also point to the successes of an enhanced field operation that they say was boosted by the fact that Chris Carr, a Republican operative with deep ties to Nevada, was political director for the Trump Victory organization this cycle. They also highlight that the Republican operation in Nevada has now existed continuously for four years instead of getting reset cycle after cycle.
“I would say this was the largest field program we’ve had,” Bailor said. “Prior to 2020, 2018 was the largest, and 2016 was the largest before that. We’ve continued to build on that.”
The Trump campaign declined to comment for this article, citing ongoing legal fights. Though it has yet to file a new legal challenge in court since the election, the outcome of any legal battle, even if favorable for the Trump campaign, is unlikely to change the results of the presidential election in Nevada because of Biden’s relatively wide margin of victory in the state. Any legal action could, however, potentially affect close down ballot races.
Trump aside, Republicans believe they’re well-situated headed into the 2022 election, where there will be a competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial election in Nevada.
"Republicans won some close races and Democrats won some close races. I think both sides did a really good job and ran good campaigns,” Ernaut said. “The biggest difference was in the last four cycles the Republicans really hadn’t. They really didn’t have much of a ground game and this time they did — and had a good one."
The biggest puzzle that remains about the election in Nevada isn’t why Biden won or why Republicans succeeded down ballot: It’s why even more voters didn’t turn out to the polls in such a high-interest election and with voting easier than ever before with mail ballots sent to every active registered voter this cycle.
That’s not to say that turnout isn’t significantly up: Turnout in Clark County was about 80 percent this cycle, after subtracting about 75,000 inactive voters who should have been removed from the county’s voter rolls, about 5 percent higher than it was in 2016. Washoe County’s voter turnout was about 83 percent this year, up from 80 percent four years ago, while statewide turnout was about 81 percent, up from 77 percent in the last presidential election.
While those numbers are high, they’re not as high as perhaps some had expected.
“When we came out of the blocks this time with the mail and early voting and numbers were coming in, there was a question of, ‘Could we get to 90 percent turnout?'” Roberts said. “Instead, I think we just saw a pretty major shift in how people vote.”
Democrats had predicted a turnout of about 1.4 million based on vote enthusiasm and turnout in past presidential cycles, which ended up being correct with just a little more than 1.4 million ballots cast in the election.
“Given the challenges Nevada faced in terms of the economic downturn and the pandemic, I don't think it's surprising that we didn't exceed that expectation,” Lambe said.
Damore, the political science professor at UNLV, additionally noted that the best predictors of turnout are residential stability, age and education, factors that don't bode particularly well for high turnout in Nevada.
“It’s just part of our culture,” Damore said. “This isn’t a civic engagement state.”
Another possible reason that the voter turnout percentage wasn’t even higher this year is because there were simply more registered voters who weren’t actually interested in participating in the election, since, for the first time this year, Nevada offered automatic voter registration at the DMV. About 57.4 percent of the voting age eligible population cast ballots in Nevada in 2016, according to the United States Election Project, compared to about 65.3 percent in 2020.
As far as why more people didn’t participate on Election Day, Roberts speculates that there just weren’t that many people left who wanted to vote.
“I think people were fearful of the long lines they saw in the primary, which wasn’t an apples to apples comparison,” Roberts said. “I think people prepared for that.”
And while mail ballots split essentially two to one in favor of Democrats this election cycle — largely the result of Democrats encouraging voters to take advantage of mail voting while Trump cast doubt on the integrity of the process — political observers say there’s no reason it needs to be that way in elections moving forward.
"Everybody has the same opportunity to vote, whether it’s mail ballot or traditional absentee or early voting or Election Day. It shouldn’t favor any party. It’s a matter of your strategy, your organization,” Ernaut said. “If one party did better than another in those areas, it’s either because they worked harder or had a better strategy."
The other surprise was the fact that roughly an equal number of Republicans and Democrats took advantage of the state’s new same-day voter registration law, which was passed during the 2019 legislative session. The policy was expected to offer a boost to Democrats, and was staunchly opposed by Republicans, though in the end 22,701 Democrats and 22,886 Republicans took advantage of the same-day registration process this year.
"Whether or not this cycle proves that those who utilize same day weren’t necessarily our voters, I think in the long term same-day registration benefits democracy by expanding turnout,” Jones said.
For those who know Nevada well, the close election results this year don’t come as a surprise. Greg Ferraro, a Republican consultant in Washoe County, recalled working on President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign when he won Nevada by only 21,500 votes, or 2.6 percentage points, over John Kerry.
“It’s not new that these races continue to be close because Nevada still, I think, is fairly evenly divided despite some of the registration differences,” Ferraro said.
Democrats, however, are still considering this year largely a blue wall year.
“There was no blue wave in 2020 anywhere — in fact, quite the opposite,” Lambe said. “Nevada became part of the Blue Wall that secured a Democratic presidential win against increased turnout and enthusiasm for Trump.”
All the same, Republicans are optimistic.
“I think it was going to be a big lift to completely flip the state,” Bailor said. “So to then see the Nevada Legislature hold Republican seats and pick up seats, I would have to say in Carson City it’s not a wave but we definitely got some Republicans down ticket.”
If this election cycle proved anything, though, it’s that it’s not enough for Republican running statewide to run up the ballot count in the state’s ruby red rural counties if they continue to lose by a wide margin in Clark County and a still sizable margin in Washoe County, as they did in the presidential election this year.
The challenge for Republicans, then, moving forward is to somehow translate those down ballot wins into statewide victories. If they can’t find a way to win across the state, the blue wall will continue.
“The question is where their next statewide candidate is coming from,” Damore said. “They’re going to be in that problem of the primaries, the Dean Heller dance that fell flat in 2018. What’s going to happen in 2022? Are you going to put more hardcore Trump folks in statewide races with Catherine Cortez Masto? That’s probably not going to go well.”
As blue as Nevada has been in recent elections, though, this election served as a reminder to still expect the unexpected.
"Nevada works better when it works like this, when it’s not so partisan and not so polarized,” Ernaut said. “Everyone, regardless of whether their candidate won or lost, should feel a lot better about this election than they have about any of the last few."