Five ways government officials in Nevada are wasting your money

LAS VEGAS — Government officials and bureaucrats in Nevada have no problem wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, so the Nevada Policy Research Institute is once again highlighting some of the most egregious — and sometimes illegal — cases of government squander in the Silver State.

This year’s edition of the biennial Nevada Piglet Book 2014 includes cases of the government playing favorites, excessive vehicle fleets, unaddressed inefficiencies, the ACA implementation saga and many other true stories of Nevada governments wasting residents’ hard-earned money.

Here are five ways Nevada wasted taxpayers’ money over the past two years:

  1. Sending unemployment benefits and welfare payments to dead people

Thanks to its failure to communicate with other agencies, Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation has been sending unemployment checks to the deceased. In one case, the department sent checks for 83 weeks after the recipient’s death, stopping only when the benefits had reached the limit of $33,000.

State prisoners and the deceased drew $241,000 in unemployment benefits in January 2012 alone. Two inmates collected $26,745 each during their incarceration, all the while having their housing, food, clothing and other needs met by the taxpayers of Nevada.

  1. Traffic division employees voiding citations after payment, pocketing the money

Audits reveal that employees with the Traffic Division at the Las Vegas Justice Court were able to improperly access the department’s computer system. Once in the system, at least one employee voided fines after they were paid by motorists and then pocketed the money. Auditors blame the court’s lack of controls for the theft.

  1. The botched, multi-million-dollar Silver State Health Insurance Exchange

Despite tens of millions of dollars worth of funding, Nevada and its contractor, Xerox, were unable to create a website capable of completing sales of the insurance mandated under the Affordable Care Act. Nevada’s Board of Examiners — Gov. Brian Sandoval, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto — gave Xerox a $72 million contract in the summer of 2012 to create the online portal to sell Obamacare-compliant plans.

Though the contract required the website to be fully functional by October 2013, by April 2014 only a fraction of the 45,000 who had selected plans had succeeded in paying for them via the website. Some residents — like Larry Baisch, who had been making payments via the state website since November — were informed, when the time came to use their insurance, that they had none. Baisch, facing a $407,000 hospital bill because of the site’s systemic failure, is among residents who’ve launched a class-action lawsuit on behalf of victims of the state government and its selected contractor.

In May, amid increasing public understanding of the site’s epic failure, Nevada officials canceled their contract with Xerox and abandoned their plans for a state-run health exchange. In the future, the politicians now say, Nevada residents must purchase their insurance through the federal exchange website, HealthCare.gov — cited just last month by the federal Government Accountability Office for continuing “weaknesses” in its “security and privacy protections.”

  1. UMC’s failure to collect payments, while taking in $113 million from taxpayers

Clark County residents, via the county’s general fund, have long been subsidizing the University Medical Center, because the hospital fails to ensure customers pay their hospital bills and to safeguard cash receipts. Now we also know that, regularly, UMC doesn’t even ask customers to pay their bills.

UMC has had a lackadaisical approach to bill collecting, even though it received $113 million from taxpayers between 2011 and 2012. In 2014, the county subsidies of the hospital are set to run about $70 million. Already this year, UMC has taken out $45 million in emergency loans to address its cash-flow shortage.

  1. Parks employees padding their wallets by abusing OT pay

Auditors found that Las Vegas parks department employees have been padding their retirement benefits thanks to lax supervision regarding callback hours and overtime. One employee increased his annual take-home pay this way by $102,000 above his base salary of $71,000.

The audit revealed that department administrators failed to follow city procedures in approving the use of callback pay.

The Nevada Piglet Book 2014, which is published every two years, was produced by NPRI’s director of research and legislative affairs Geoffrey Lawrence and research assistant Cameron Belt. Lawrence issued the following remarks about this year’s edition:

In recent years, Nevada politicians and government bureaucrats have often claimed that they have cut government to the bone, made it as efficient as possible and have no choice but to raise taxes on already drained residents. The Piglet Book 2014 shows otherwise. This edition includes numerous examples of government waste that have continued for years. In many cases, government officials had been made aware of such waste and simply refused to address it.

The Piglet Book is particularly relevant this year as voters will be asked in November to approve a new business tax that will cripple job creation in the state, while enabling the government to continue a mindless waste of taxpayer money. Rewarding a wasteful bureaucracy with even more tax dollars won’t improve government performance. Indeed, it would only encourage more waste.

As always, it was impossible to include all the cases of government waste. The Nevada Piglet Book 2014 is a mere taste of the misuse of public funds that happens on a daily basis in Nevada. Many of the featured examples are laughable, but in reality, they provide a sad picture of a government that has been incredibly unaccountable to the people who fund it.

The Piglet Book is illustrated by NPRI’s senior vice president Steven Miller.

To find out about all the waste stories featured in the 2014 edition of the Nevada Piglet Book, please visit: http://www.npri.org/docLib/20141001_PigletBook2014.pdf.

Note: “Piglet Book” is a registered trademark of Citizens Against Government Waste and is used with permission.

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