Augustine defends trip to Taiwan

Controller Kathy Augustine says her opponent, John Lee, didn't know the facts when he criticized her for taking a trip to Taiwan last week.

First, she said, it didn't cost the state of Nevada any money: "not one red cent." She said the Taiwan government paid for the entire trip for her and a group of legislators who took the four-day tour.

All expenses were paid by the Taiwan government, everything," she said. "Air, food, lodging. And they've been doing this for years."

She said in recent years, numerous legislators have taken the annual trip including Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, Speaker Emeritus Joe Dini, D-Yerington, and Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville.

Lee discovered she was on the trip when he went by her office after filing as her opponent. He said he was outraged and questioned what possible good it does for Nevada's controller to go to Taiwan.

"Economics," said Augustine. "(Nevada) is one of the top exporters of computer components to Taiwan. They're a trading partner with us."

Augustine also rejected Lee's criticism of her other travel. She was the subject of criticism by legislative auditors a year ago over some of her trips, but she said that involved in-state travel.

She said she doesn't need to use any public money when she travels because, as a retired Delta Airlines employee, she can ride on almost any airline as a standby passenger for free or 10 percent of the normal fare.

She said she expects criticism from the challenger as she and Lee battle over the office.

"I think a challenger to an incumbent cannot raise their own positives," she said adding challengers haven't been in the office and don't have a track record.

"So they have to raise the incumbent's negatives," she said.

As for Lee's comments that she's not a team player, she said, "the state controller isn't meant to be a team player. The state controller is supposed to be the watchdog of state government financial management."

She said she will emphasize the positives of her first term including establishing a much stronger debt collection system for the state.

"Nobody was doing it until I got into this office," she said.

She said Lee's idea of doing it in-house instead of hiring debt collection services sounds good but would cost the state more money because it would require hiring staff. She said it's worth paying a company a percentage to collect bad debts for the state.

The state's primary contract for debt collection pays 11.5 percent. But the contract for major debts in excess of $25,000 pays the collector as much as 50 percent of the amount collected.

Augustine said it's still a good deal "since it's money we didn't have before."

Finally, she responded to comments that date to her first run for the office four years ago that she doesn't have the training to do the job.

"It's the same thing they said about me, that she's not an accountant," she said. "Well, Lee's a plumber."

Lee owns several businesses including a plumbing company.


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