ALAMEDA, Calif. — Nevada Treasurer Kate Marshall is fighting for another term against former state controller Steve Martin.
Martin, the Republican nominee, argues that his background makes him better qualified for the office.
“In contrast to my opponent, who’s a lawyer, I have a financial background,” he said, touting his credentials as a certified public accountant and certified fraud examiner.
Since the 2006 election of Marshall, a Democrat, Nevada has been severely buffeted by the recession. Home prices plummeted, and the state has the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
Marshall said she has helped the treasurer’s office steer a steady course, allowing Nevada to retain double-A-plus ratings despite its economic and budget travails.
“I think that’s quite an achievement,” she said.
Martin said Marshall has mismanaged the office, accusing her of failing to provide adequate information about state investment losses in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.
“In terms of transparency, perhaps he needs to know how to use a website,” Marshall said. “Everything he accuses me of being not transparent about is on the website.”
Martin also cites an April Legislative Counsel Bureau report saying the treasurer’s office’s unclaimed property program didn’t perform enough audits and use its resources effectively.
“I’m familiar with doing audits on a regular basis,” he said. “We’re not getting a good return for the time being spent.”
Martin briefly served as the state’s controller in 2006, after being appointed to fill the remaining months of Kathy Augustine’s term after her murder. He lost his bid for a full term that November.
Last year, Gov. Jim Gibbons, a fellow Republican, appointed Martin to the Nevada Board of Finance, which oversees state investments and approves bond sales.
Whoever wins the treasurer’s race this November isn’t likely to have many general obligation bonds to sell.
Nevada GOs are backed by a property tax, and the state’s plunging home values have reduced its GO debt capacity.
Marshall said she has worked with her staff to review potential refinancing opportunities that would allow the state to issue about $100 million of GOs in the next two-year budget for Nevada’s most pressing capital priorities.
Her office has also developed a plan that would give Nevada the option to issue bonds to finance the large deficit in its unemployment insurance program.
Bonding would be cost-effective if interest rates are lower than those the federal government would charge to finance the unemployment fund’s deficit, Marshall said.
“I believe the capital markets will give us a way to refinance that at a lower rate for a longer period of time,” she said.
“One of the things that has bothered me a little bit of late is that for every crisis we have in Nevada, our current treasurer thinks we can bond our way out of it,” Martin said.
He went on to say that his accounting background would help the treasurer’s office find more bonding capacity, as well as help the state’s next governor analyze financial options such as the sale and lease-back of state properties.
“I can be a good resource for the governor and Legislature in providing detail and other information on what we can do with the budget,” he said.
Marshall said she is already doing a good job of offering prudent financial advice to Nevada’s decision makers.
“Sometimes when they’ve considered poor financial options, I’ve had to move them away from that, such as borrowing for operating funds,” she said. “Nevada’s never done that. And I don’t like that.”
Martin had a slight lead in the most recent public poll on the treasurer’s race, in September, though there was a high level of undecided voters.
Nevada political journalist and commentator Jon Ralston said it’s hard for Nevada’s voters to pay attention to lower-profile contests such as the treasurer’s race during the state’s U.S. Senate battle royale between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tea Party hardliner Sharron Angle.
“The U.S. Senate race has essentially sucked the oxygen out of the entire state,” Ralston said.
The state will have a new governor: Gibbons was ousted in the Republican primary.
Ralston said GOP nominee Brian Sandoval is a lock to win the race against Rory Reid, Harry Reid’s son.
Nevada budget director Andrew Clinger has said the state faces a $3 billion structural deficit in its next two-year budget cycle, on revenue of about $5 billion.
“The governor’s candidates have essentially avoided the topic,” Ralston said.
Democrats currently control both houses of the Legislature. That is likely to remain so after November, though Democrats are likely to lose seats in the Assembly, where they have had a veto-proof two-thirds majority, Ralston said.