NPRI's 'Piglet Book' describes public sector waste

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — A conservative think tank cited unemployment checks to dead people and a public hospital's failure to ask patients for payment as reasons Nevada voters shouldn't approve a tax increase on the November ballot.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute on Thursday released its "Piglet Book," which is based largely on internal state audit findings. The group described the document, which is published every other year, as a list of the most egregious examples of public waste and evidence that politicians shouldn't be trusted with more money.

"Rewarding a wasteful bureaucracy with even more tax dollars won't improve government performance. Indeed, it would only encourage more waste," report authors Geoffrey Lawrence and Cameron Belt said in a statement.

Among the examples cited in the report:

— Auditors found that in January 2012, the state paid $241,000 in unemployment benefits to people who were in jail or prison. They projected that as many as $5 million in benefits might have been paid to inmates in the three years from 2009 through 2011. NPRI faulted the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation for not cross-checking its records with prison rosters. Jeffrey Frischmann, DETR's chief of unemployment insurance operations, acknowledged the errors and noted that a system is now in place to cross-check between his agency and the Department of Corrections. But he said the agency doesn't have arrangements with all jails in the state, meaning some people with shorter stays might continue receiving benefits.

— Auditors found that in 2012, cash-strapped University Medical Center in Las Vegas sometimes failed to arrange payments with patients before they received nonemergency treatment. The medical center is owed millions of dollars from uninsured patients. A follow-up audit in 2013 found that the public hospital was able to collect money in only 2 percent of procedures done for patients paying out-of-pocket. UMC spokeswoman Danita Cohen explained that collections are naturally low because many patients are indigent, but said the hospital has stepped up its collections efforts by adding a discharge desk for that purpose in the emergency department.

— An audit found a traffic division employee in Las Vegas Justice Court had been voiding tickets and pocketing money paid for fines, embezzling a total of $91,502. Court Administrator LaDeana Gamble said court officials requested the audit shortly after receiving an anonymous tip in November 2013. The employee was fired and pleaded guilty this week to two counts of attempted theft. Several recommendations from auditors have already been implemented, Gamble said, and one more — a surveillance system in the work area — is planned.

The group also criticized the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, which suffered major technical issues before the state scrapped its contract with Xerox and decided to use the federal portal, NPRI said the state could have used the federal site to begin with, but wanted to try a state-run exchange and spent $12 million on the ill-fated endeavor.

The group asserts that Gov. Brian Sandoval has passed the buck on the exchange's problems, and said proponents of the health care law placed too much faith in a government-led overhaul rather than letting the private market handle insurance.

Mari St. Martin, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Nevada's uninsured rate has dropped significantly under Sandoval "and he will continue to work toward providing quality, affordable health care to families and individuals across the state."

"The governor is committed to protecting the best interests of the state," she said. "In this case, Xerox failed to perform on its contractual obligations and ending its contract was the best decision for Nevadans."

Proponents of the 2 percent tax on business revenues, also known as the margins tax, Question 3 or The Education Initiative, acknowledged that waste is a problem, but rejected the findings as a premise for opposing the ballot measure that supports schools.

"If there is waste in government, we should look at it, but small measures will not fund education in this state," said Dan Hart, the initiative's campaign coordinator. "We need to find a dedicated, predictable source of revenue."

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