Assembly speaker wants Nevada university system audit

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins wants a legislative audit of Nevada's state university and community college system to make sure it's operating efficiently -- and legally.

Perkins, D-Henderson, said Monday he submitted a bill draft calling for the audit, following up on a similar proposal that was shelved late in the 2001 Legislature.

"Primarily we need an audit because the state spends $1 billion on higher education, and with the discussion of higher taxes we have to make sure we're spending tax dollars as efficiently as possible," he said.

The university's $1 billion budget for the current two-year budget cycle that ends next June amounts to nearly 20 percent of the entire state spending plan. In the coming budget cycle, the system wants to spend $1.26 billion.

The Assembly speaker also said there have been allegations about illegal bid-rigging at the University of Nevada, Reno and some other issues that could be analyzed by auditors.

The last legislative audit of the Nevada University and Community College System was in 1996. By the time a new audit is done, Perkins said the previous audit would be eight years old.

He added that chances of the audit winning approval from the Legislature are good because of the need to justify state expenditures to taxpayers who could face a wide array of new taxes.

Gov. Kenny Guinn is working on a major tax hike plan aimed at generating at least $800 million in new or increased levies in the coming two years.

Perkins also said he expects that the university system would go along with the audit, adding that it would help the system's leaders understand their "strengths and weaknesses."

Earlier this year, the Legislative Commission delayed a requested audit of a program used by UNR to award construction and repair contracts worth millions of dollars -- without open bidding.

Commission members were told that the lawmakers' review could duplicate a review already done by UNR auditors.

However, Sandi Cardinal, UNR's director of internal audits who compiled the university report, told The Associated Press she didn't review more than a dozen no-bid contracts -- totaling nearly $5 million -- that prompted claims of bid-rigging.

Sierra Pacific Power Co. put up the initial money for various energy-saving retrofit projects at UNR. Gardner Engineering of Reno got the contracts and did the work, and UNR repaid the money to Sierra at interest rates of 12 percent to 13 percent.

Bid-rigging allegations were made by Greg MacRenaris, who did several small solar-screening projects at UNR but was turned down when he proposed a $590,000 project for university buildings several years ago.

Jim Gardner of Gardner Engineering has called MacRenaris' allegations "sour grapes" and denied his firm was involved in any wrongdoing.


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