Construction workers rally for job creation

RENO -- Construction workers bearing the brunt of a recession that has ravaged the Nevada economy rallied in Reno and Las Vegas on Thursday and demanded lawmakers spend more public money on building projects.

The rallies, coordinated by the Building Jobs Coalition, were timed in advance of the 2011 session of the Legislature to put pressure on lawmakers who promised to make creating jobs a priority.

The Building Jobs Coalition, which represents iron workers, laborers, electricians, contractors and building groups, proposes that lawmakers dedicate $100 million in funds to back construction bonds that could support as much as $1.2 billion in projects.

It also wants the state to change the motor vehicle fuel tax from a flat rate to one that is indexed to the price of gasoline, which would produce more revenue; increase the amount of money set aside for maintenance of public buildings to match the rate of depreciation, and eliminate the sunset provisions for taxes that support capital projects.

More than 100 workers, many unemployed, turned out in a parking lot at the Atlantis Casino in Reno to voice dissatisfaction with the condition of the economy. A similar event was held at The Orleans in Las Vegas.

"There is nothing to do, look for work, that's about it," said laborer John Keller, 48, of Sparks.

Keller said he hasn't been eligible for unemployment benefits for a year and his most recent work was a recently-completed 13-day stint on a natural gas pipeline project in Northern Nevada.

Statewide, the official unemployment rate in Nevada is 14.3 percent.

Among construction workers the rate is as much as 50 percent, said Steve Holloway, executive vice president of the Las Vegas chapter of the Associated General Contractors.

"People have dipped into their savings, they dipped into their 401(k)s, they have sold their equipment," architect Pat Puisch told workers at the Reno gathering. "This is our third year (of recession); we have to get our legislative people moving forward."

While the coalition has support from powerful building and union groups, it is facing an uphill battle in Carson City to enact its agenda, which it says would create 100,000 jobs.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval was elected in November in part because of a promise to oppose any tax increases, including the extension of taxes which are set to expire, or sunset.

Sandoval says the state should survive the 2011-13 biennium with a general fund that spends about $5.3 billion, the amount the Economic Forum projects the state will collect in general fund revenue for the period.

Many of the measures the jobs group proposed call for some sort of increases in taxes, spending or both at a time when state agencies and departments are bracing for consolidation, layoffs and double-digit percentage budget cuts.

"New taxes are going to be a tough sell, and redirection means that further budget holes are created," said Josh Hicks, a Carson City attorney and former chief of staff and general counsel for former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, who made anti-tax pledges similar to Sandoval.

Sandoval spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner in a written statement expressed skepticism toward the proposals. She said Sandoval supports job creation but that it would best be accomplished by private sector growth.

"The strategy of spending public money we don't have may yield short-term gains for some, but do long-term damage to the economy as a whole," she wrote.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at or 702-477-3861.