2010 YEAR IN REVIEW: Economy, unemployment top Nevada news stories

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The story that affected the most Nevadans during 2010 was the recession. The continuing collapse of the construction industry and a national economic slump that dried up the stream of tourists feeding Nevada's resorts drove the state's unemployment to 14.4 percent - highest in the nation and highest ever reported in Nevada. Thousands of small businesses shut their doors while many remaining business cut back staff.

In mid- to late-2010, state employment officials say there were nearly 200,000 out of work and looking for a job. When those who had given up looking after more than two years are added in, Employment Security economist Bill Anderson said the real jobless rate was in excess of 20 percent, nearly rivaling the Great Depression.

In addition, Nevada has the highest foreclosure rate in the nation with one in 79 homes in some stage of the foreclosure process. That is more than three times the national rate.

The two biggest hits for Nevada's economy were construction and tourism.

The collapse of the housing market caused construction employment to freefall until, by November, the industry was below 60,000 jobs for the first time in 15 years. Home prices plummeted, leaving nearly everyone who bought within the past decade upside down on their mortgage.

At the same time, the recession raised national unemployment to nearly 10 percent. A large percentage of Nevada's tourist customers stopped coming and hunkered down trying to survive. Major resorts joined the list of businesses forced to cut staffs back, adding thousands more to the list of the unemployed.

By November, unemployment was stabilizing, although not yet getting much better. Gaming officials said high rollers were starting to come back, but that the return of the average gambler and the recovery of the locals markets would be slow.

It was Nevada's top story in 2010.

State's budget crisis

As a result of the ongoing recession, state government's financial crisis remained high in the headlines during 2010. In raw numbers, it would take nearly $3.25 billion more revenue than projected for the coming two-year budget cycle just to maintain existing programs and spending.

State workers, already grumpy over the 4.6 percent pay cuts they took in 2009 in the form of monthly furloughs, were told to expect more reductions. Agencies were told to plan for at least 10 percent added cuts and to bring their budgets back down to 2007 levels - a practical impossibility in many cases because of inflation which increased costs in areas the state can't control, such as Medicaid drug prescription costs.

The state's woes also have local governments worried since their revenue streams are at the mercy of a state government that would rather tap them than take the political fallout for raising taxes. Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval has said repeatedly raising taxes isn't an option.

But shifting state responsibilities - and costs - to counties and cities or cannibalizing their existing revenues might be politically more appealing for Sandoval and the 2011 Legislature.

Harry Reid's unlikely win

In what may be the best run campaign in Nevada history, Harry Reid defied the odds and the pundits to win a fifth six-year term in the U.S. Senate Nov. 2.

Battered by the GOP on every front for two years, facing a year when a broad spectrum of Nevadans were blaming Democratic leadership for the national recession, Reid was given only a small chance of surviving against a viable opponent.

His campaign to do that began long before the primary vote with a concentrated effort to make sure his opponent was the least viable choice in a double-digit list of GOP challengers. Reid's strategy was to do as much damage as possible to Sue Lowden, the choice of mainstream Republican leadership both in Nevada and nationally. He was helped by Lowden's own gaffes such as her statements that people should control health care costs by bartering with their doctor, trading chickens for check-ups like folks did in the Depression.

Reid used that and other Lowden missteps in a relentless TV campaign to assist Sharron Angle's quest for the GOP nomination.

Once Angle won and removed Lowden from the race, Reid went to work painting Angle as an extremist, a radical without the ability to work with others and get things done in Washington, D.C.

That task was remarkably easy because of Angle's history of getting very little done as a Nevada Assemblywoman combined with radical or just off-the-wall legislative proposals such as a program using backrubs and spa treatments to help rehabilitate inmates.

She helped him along with new verbal errors, such as saying if the right didn't win this season, the public might have to resort to "Second Amendment remedies."

At the same time, Reid rounded up endorsements from dozens of high-ranking Republicans, including former Gov. Kenny Guinn, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and longtime state Senate leader Bill Raggio.

His TV ads, meanwhile, pounded home the jobs, funding and other benefits he brought the state as Senate Majority Leader.

While poll after poll showed the race a toss-up, Reid's team remained calm, smiling at questions as though they knew something no one else knew. They did. When the ballots were counted, Reid was the victor not by a potentially recountable hair but by 40,000 votes, a full 5 percent of the total cast.

Not unexpectedly, it also was the most expensive campaign in state history, with each side spending in excess of $20 million.

Gibbons crashes and burns

The political demise of Gov. Jim Gibbons was a key if not surprising story in 2010. He became the first incumbent governor to be defeated in his own party primary since statehood. Gibbons lost to Brian Sandoval June 8 in what seems an almost fitting halfway point of his final year in office. The year started on a sour note - his divorce from wife Dawn in December 2009. It ended on a painful note - a broken pelvis when he was thrown from a horse in September.

Gov. Kenny Guinn dies

Thousands of Nevadans mourned the July 22 death of Kenny Guinn, one of the most popular governors in recent Nevada history. The personable 73-year-old had a stellar career during which he rose from school teacher and coach to superintendent of the Clark County School District, interim president of UNLV, president of PriMerit Bank and CEO of Southwest Gas before becoming governor. His reputation was as a pragmatic leader and skilled political negotiator who could get things done. As governor, one of his most memorable accomplishments was creation of the Millennium Scholarship program. Guinn died in a fall from the roof of his Las Vegas home while cleaning leaves from the shingles and gutters.

City Center project

The Carson City Center project got a lot of attention in the capital in 2010 as it works it way through to a finalized plan for the Board of Supervisors to vote on. Promoted by Steve Neighbors, president of the Carson City Nugget, and funded by the Hop and Mae Adams Foundation, the plan calls for a major redevelopment of downtown Carson City centering around a new library and digital media lab. The latest plan includes a hotel and convention and events space.

The $87 million project also includes a business incubator. The draw, according to consultant Mark Lewis, is its proximity to the state Capitol, which would help attract organizations that work with state government.

But details have yet to be worked out - including the potential for a controversial city commitment of a 1/8-cent sales tax to build the library.

To close or not to close?

The threatened closure of the old Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street - unceremoniously killed off in the 2007 and 2009 sessions of the Legislature - continued to come back to life in 2010. The plan was raised again during February's special session of the Legislature.

Supporters, including now-retired Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik, say it would save the state upwards of $12 million a year because the 19th century prison is grossly inefficient by modern standards, requiring many more officers to safely staff and much higher utility bills.

But opponents have gained traction to keep the prison by pointing out it provides 170 or so solid jobs in the capital in addition to helping support local businesses that supply and service the old prison and its inmates.


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