The office of controller may be one of the least understood constitutional offices in the state of Nevada.
The controller is basically the chief fiscal officer, responsible for handling the states accounting system, paying bills and collecting debts efficiently and effectively, while providing accurate financial data to various levels of government, to lawmakers and to the citizens.
This year’s race for the seat is between Republican Ron Knecht, an economist who is a former assemblyman and currently a member of the Board of Regents, and Democrat Andrew Martin, an assemblyman and CPA. Both promise to make the operations of the office as transparent as possible.
The current controller, Kim Wallin, is term limited and running for treasurer.
Knecht says the controller’s 16-year-old computer system is obsolete, but believes he could pay for a new system by reducing personnel. He says a new system would allow him to post the state’s checkbook online.
As a regent, Knecht has been involved in rolling out an even bigger computer system that connects all the state’s university campuses and covering everything from student records to accounting and human resources.
Knecht brings a unique and broad range of education and professional experience as qualifications for the controller office. He has a liberal arts bachelor’s degree, a math major, a master’s degree in engineering economics that includes public finance and policy, plus a law degree. He has 43 years in management in economics and financial and technical analysis in both private and public service. On the regents, he has been active in audits, budget and finance, management and investments.
“I’m a numbers, policy and operations nerd,” Knecht says proudly.
“I have a reliable, dependable, long-term record as a limited government conservative, and frankly, if there is anyplace you want a limited government conservative with prudence, it’s the controller,” he said. He was one of the 15 conservative lawmakers in 2003 that helped stopped the largest tax hike in state history — the gross receipts tax.
While the controller sits on the state transportation committee, Knecht attests that he would favor roads and highway spending over mass transit subsidies.
Andrew Martin was rated one of the worst members of the 2013 Assembly by the Las Vegas newspaper’s anonymous poll of legislators, lobbyists and reporters.
We endorse the principled and conservative candidacy of Ron Knecht.
The office of treasurer is another of this year’s musical chairs.
Treasurer Kate Marshall is term limited from seeking re-election as treasurer, so the seat is being contested for by Democrat Kim Wallin, who is term limited from seeking re-election as controller, and Republican Dan Schwartz, a private businessman with 35 years of financial and investment experience.
Wallin is a graduate of UNLV with a business degree and major in accounting. Schwartz holds an MBA in finance from Columbia and is a member of the Illinois Bar.
The treasurer oversees issuing state-backed bonds, is responsible for returning unclaimed property to its rightful owner, managing scholarship funds such as the Millennium Scholarship and, perhaps most importantly, investing the state’s general fund money that is not needed immediately to pay the bills.
Schwartz points out that Wallin is an accountant and not an expert in investing. “The accountant counts the money, the treasurer invests it …” he said. “Look at what Kate Marshall has done. She’s a lawyer. She actually loses money on the general fund,” noting that her investments don’t generate enough return to cover fees and inflation.
Schwartz said one problem with state investments is that there is a prohibition against investing in the stock market, where money could earn 2 to 9 percent a year, and he would like to see that changed. He noted the state retirement system invests in stocks and earned more than 17 percent this past year.
“We Nevadans are short-changing ourselves,” he said, admitting it could be risky in the short-term but not so much in the long-term.
In a radio debate Wallin and Schwartz took opposite stands on the Silver State Opportunity Fund, a $50 million private equity fund, which invests money from the Nevada Permanent School Fund. Wallin defended the fund as long-term investment. Schwartz derided it as a highly risky short-term boondoggle. He says it might generate $200,000 in revenue but cost $600,000 to $1 million in fees and marketing expenses.
Schwartz, if elected, would shut down the fund and use the money to create a microloan program for Nevada businesses that would create jobs and restore funding for the Millennium Scholarship, which is rapidly running out of money.
We believe Schwartz has the experience and knowledge of the investment world that would better serve the state’s bottom line and encourage voters to act accordingly.