The closing of a stimulus-funded solar plant in North Las Vegas set off a finger-pointing contest Wednesday between U.S. Senate opponents Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Shelley Berkley.
Heller's Republican campaign put out a press release saying Amonix' shuttering amounted to "yet another account of how Shelley Berkley's stimulus has failed Nevada."
The plant closed after only 14 months and after receiving $6 million in federal tax credits that Berkley, a Democrat, had touted. It also got a $15.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. At one point, the Amonix plant had 700 workers, although a series of layoffs this year signaled the maker of photovoltaic solar power systems was about to go under.
The Heller campaign cited Amonix as an example of how President Barack Obama's $831 billion stimulus didn't create jobs or boost the economy as promised.
“Congresswoman Berkley, when you voted for the trillion dollar stimulus, you promised it would create 34,000 jobs in Nevada," said Chandler Smith, a Heller campaign spokesman, in a statement.
"Nevada lost jobs. Congresswoman Berkley, you pushed $6 million in funding to a company that has created zero long-term jobs for Nevada. Congresswoman, it’s time. It’s time for you to admit the stimulus -- and your policies --aren’t working."
The Berkley campaign responded within less than an hour, slamming Heller for not acknowledging that Nevadans had lost their jobs with the Amonix closure. The campaign also noted that Republican Gov Brian Sandoval praied the company when it opened in May 2011. In fact, he spoke at its ribbon cutting ceremony with Berkley on hand as well.
“Shame on Senator Dean Heller," said Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director of Berkley's campaign. "While Shelley Berkley and Republican Governor Brian Sandoval are working to make Nevada the clean energy jobs capital of America, Senator Heller is cheering the fact that hundreds of Nevadans have just lost their jobs because he thinks it will help his political campaign."
The Berkley campaign didn't defend the stimulus spending -- which has had mixed results -- but tried to shift the focus to Heller who like other Republicans advocates free market competition to stimulate the private economy to create jobs.
"Heller’s rooting for failure should come as no surprise to Nevada’s middle-class given his track record protecting tax breaks for corporations that ship American jobs overseas and defending China’s unfair trade policies that are cheating Nevada workers out of thousands of good paying jobs," Hinojosa said. "It’s time for Heller to put Nevada first by joining Shelley Berkley and Republican Governor Sandoval to find solutions that put people back to work. Those who are unemployed deserve more from their senator.”
Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 11.6 percent, which is several points higher than the national average. Sandoval, in office for two years, has set a goal of creating 50,000 new jobs by 2014. He said recently the state is half-way there. A fiscal conservative, Sandoval has pushed private enterprise like Heller, yet as governor he's counting on any job growth he can get.
Sandoval's spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner, issued a statement expressing regret.
"After the tragic loss of their CEO late last year, today’s news is a sad ending for Amonix," Kinner said. "The Governor supported a company which was expanding to Nevada and creating jobs in a targeted economic development sector, which is a priority for him. While we are disappointed that Amonix has closed, Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation’s rapid response team is doing all it can to assist displaced workers in finding new employment."
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also weighed in on the Amonix closure, suggesting it shouldn't become political fodder. Reid is a big booster of Berkley, counting on her to win the Senate seat and help him maintain Democratic Party control of the Senate and his majority leader's job,
“Last year, Amonix CEO Brian Robertson was tragically killed in a plane crash and unfortunately the company was unable to recover from this difficult time," Reid said in a statement. "Some people will be tempted to use today’s unfortunate news for political gain. But I am hopeful that the bipartisan support for this project and the public-private partnership that helped make this and many other projects possible will not be degraded by dirty energy supporters for their own profit or political gain.
The clean energy sector is too important to Nevada’s future and I hope that those that publicly acknowledge this will continue to strengthen the bipartisan support for renewable energy programs and incentives that exists in Nevada.”