Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday made $673,000 available for Nevada to spend on road projects by the end of the year. It was part of the administration's effort to free up $473 million in "orphaned earmarks," money set aside by Congress at one point or another but never spent by the intended recipients.
Nevada's share -- money left over from building the "Henderson Spaghetti Bowl interchange at Interstates 215 and 515" -- was not particularly large. That speaks in part to the state's efficiency in spending whatever extra road money the state's congressional delegation (read that Sen. Harry Reid) was able to secure on Capitol Hill back when lawmakers were doling out earmarks.
But for Nevada another, much bigger chunk of money has been left on the table.
In 2005, Congress earmarked $45 million to help build a magnetic levitation rail line between Las Vegas and Anaheim, Calif. But the money got tied up after Reid abandoned his support for the project in 2009.
Reid tried but failed this year to get Congress to allow the Nevada Department of Transportation to repurpose the funds to upgrade the Interstate 215 connector to McCarran International Airport. Republicans protested the unspent maglev money, if anything, should be returned to the Treasury.
When LaHood on Friday made the election year announcement that the Obama administration was making millions of extra dollars available for governors to boost infrastructure and create jobs, he was stumped when asked why the orphaned $45 million for Nevada was not on the list.
Late in the day, Transportation Department officials came up with the answer. LaHood has legal authority to repurpose only orphaned earmarks that Congress had placed in its annual appropriations bills, they said. The maglev funding had originated through an authorization bill, a separate type of legislation.
It appears an act of Congress still will be needed to free up the funds.