Pot of Nevada revenues eyed for needed public works projects

CARSON CITY - Most Nevadans probably will be watching Gov. Brian Sandoval's State of the State address tonight to find out about funding for education or mental health.

But for at least one state lawmaker and an emerging coalition of Nevadans, the focus will be on one specific pot of revenue that could provide funding for much-needed public works projects that would help put people back to work.

The pot of money, worth about $61 million a year, could be used to back bonds for several state and local government public works projects, from school renovations to highway improvements. With a bonding rate of about 10 times the revenue stream, more than $600 million could be generated for construction.

The source of the funding would be revenue being generated by changes made to the governmental services tax by lawmakers in 2009. The additional money has been used for the past four years to help balance the general fund budget.

Sandoval on Monday declined to say what his plans for the money are, telling a reporter to wait until his speech.

But for those interested in fixing old schools, replacing leaking county courthouse roofs or finding money to fund road projects, the additional money paid by people registering their vehicles with the DMV could go a long way to taking care of some state and local government infrastructure needs.

Under one scenario, more than $500 million could be directed to projects in Clark County.

State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said he has a bill being drafted to use the pot of money to bond for highway projects primarily to get people employed. But Atkinson said he is open to the idea of using the money for other types of public works projects.

He has asked that his bill be drafted quickly so hearings can start early on how to put the money to work in Nevada to create jobs.

"Everyone keeps saying jobs are our No. 1 priority, both Democrats and Republicans, so for me, it's time to put up or shut up," Atkinson said. "We need to do things to put people back to work now."

Nevada has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 10.8 percent as of November.

John Madole, executive director of the Nevada Chapter of the Associated General Contractors, in July asked the state Transportation Department Board of Directors, including Sandoval, to allow the tax money to flow to the highway fund for road projects starting on July 1, 2013.

But since then, a group calling itself the Invest in Nevada coalition, including construction industry representatives and parents concerned about the condition of their schools, is floating a new concept, he said.

The idea, which is in its formative stages, would be to take the $61 million from the general services tax and add another $9 million from a state levied car rental fee to bond for $700 million for local government public works projects. Local governments would need to provide a 25 percent match, he said. The money would be divided among the counties based on population and could be used for school renovations or other much needed projects, Madole said.

"The vision here is not to use the money for new buildings but to take care of needs that have been neglected," Madole said.

Such a building program would create 28,500 jobs, one-third of them directly in construction, which has been one of the hardest hit sectors in recession-wracked Nevada, he said.

"It would take care of critical needs and get our economy moving," he said. "Construction is on sale for about 70 cents on the dollar so it makes a lot of economic sense."

Contact reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@review journal.com or 775-687-3900.