On the Record: Ellen Spiegel wants to collect debts, help aspiring business owners as controller
This is an installment in a series of "On the Record" pieces highlighting the policy stances of candidates running for major offices in the 2022 Nevada election. Check back in the coming days and weeks for additional coverage.
Former five-term Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel says she has a big vision for the less well-known position of state controller, which includes adding “quality control measures” to improve the timeliness and accuracy of transactions processed.
The controller is an accounting-focused member of the executive branch who functions as a chief fiscal officer of the state. The position carries a four-year term and is responsible for processing and recording the state's financial transactions, registering vendors, settling claims against the state and collecting debts owed to the state.
Spiegel is a small-business owner, holds a degree in consumer economics from Cornell University, has a long history of working in financial services and helped with the development of e-commerce in the 1980s.
While in the Assembly, Spiegel served on the ways and means and taxation committees, which she said gave her a valuable perspective on handling the state’s money. She also sponsored two anti-gender discrimination bills, aimed at protecting equal pay for equal work, which were signed into state law in 2017. She also authored a bill in 2019 that mandates health coverage for pre-existing conditions and gives consumers better access to specialists.
“[In the Assembly] I would talk to everybody to understand their issues, and to see what we could do to reach some kind of consensus. So that we could be moving Nevada forward, and we could be doing the right thing for Nevadans,” Spiegel told The Nevada Independent in an interview. “That's not a very easy thing to do. But I was able to learn a lot during my decade in office. And those are the kinds of things that will be very helpful.”
In the November general election, she will face Republican Andy Matthews, who is in his first term in the Assembly. Below is a summary of her interview with The Nevada Independent:
If elected controller, Spiegel said she hopes that she could make recommendations and propose programs that will help the state better use its assets.
One of her plans is the “Right Track Program,” which was an idea born after she saw some of her constituents struggling with unemployment and wanting to open their own businesses but not having the funding available.
“There were many times that I was at people's doors and saying to them, ‘If you can't find a job … You might need to think about starting your own company, so that you're creating your own opportunity,’” she said. “But the thing is, if you're unemployed or underemployed, you don't even have the money for a business license.”
The “Right Track Program,” she said, would grant a free provisional business license for six months, provided business owners agree to be part of mentoring where they can be advised and have a “greater likelihood of being successful.”
“In the meantime, people who are starting businesses won't have to be reliant on getting unemployment benefits,” she said. “They won't need to be on Medicaid. They won't need any kinds of social services or many social services that they might otherwise need.”
A year ago, Spiegel announced her bid for the secretary of state position, but, by February, she had changed her mind and switched to the controller race. Spiegel said she realized the “Right Track Program” would have a greater benefit in the controller’s office.
“When I started thinking about it and started thinking about how important it is for the state to have a strong CFO, it just became something that really dovetailed with my experience,” Spiegel said. “And it is a place where I can really be adding a lot of value.”
Spiegel said that she wants to ensure the state has the resources it needs and enough funding for them, which can come from collecting debts owed to the state. When it comes to enforcement of paying dues, the 2021 Legislature passed AB482, which allows the secretary of state’s office to suspend the business license of a person who owes money to the state.
The controller hopeful said it comes down to the privilege of doing business in Nevada.
“I also would be working with the attorney general's office to make sure that we're taking care of what has to be taken care of and that the force of law is actually enacted,” she said. “Just saying to somebody ‘pretty please pay your debts,’ that hasn't really been working.”
She said increasing the collection of monies owed to the state could pay dividends — literally — by providing more money for state priorities without raising taxes.
When asked if she believes Nevada is prepared in the case of a recession, as the Federal Reserve attempts to get ahold of inflation by increasing interest rates, Spiegel said “it depends.”
She explained that there's still a lot of pent-up tourism demand — the state’s economy remains largely reliant on tourism — and month after month, tourism and gaming numbers keep breaking records. If it keeps up, it will allow the state to have a “rainy day fund” to help in the event of a recession, she said.
“But at the same time, the state also needs to be able to live within its own budget needs,” Spiegel added. “[We need to] see how we can better manage the funds that we have, because we don't have enough funds to meet state's needs.”
As controller, Spiegel said she would have roundtables with business owners, whether in person or virtual, to directly ask them how the state can better serve businesses and what they need.
“This is not telling them what we're going to do for them. It's asking them so that we can be responsive,” she said. “Really getting an understanding … Because you have different issues in Northern Nevada versus Southern Nevada and rural Nevada. And the thing is, that we have to make Nevada work for everybody.”
Spiegel is also hoping to use her experience in technology to upgrade the controller’s state vendor portal, which she considers difficult to use, antiquated and cumbersome.
“You always have to think about the user experience,” she said, whether it's reaching out to the community to pass legislation or making the vendor experience easier with an updated portal. “I always went out to my constituents and asked them what was important to them … And I think that the government has to be responsive to Nevadans’ needs.”