Republicans criticize Reid, say Nevada shortchanged in stimulus bill


CARSON CITY -- Assembly Republican leaders said Wednesday that Sen. Harry Reid should have secured more funds for Nevada in the $787 billion economic stimulus package signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said their analysis was that Nevada was shortchanged in what it received from the stimulus bill. Nevada state government will secure about $1.5 billion in stimulus funds.

"Our state is far below the average state based on population," Gansert said.

"I wish we would have gotten more," added Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, the assistant minority leader from Henderson.

They both said they were not fans of the stimulus package in the first place. But Stewart said that according to his analysis based on population, Nevada should be getting closer to $8 billion.

They offered no further details.

The Republicans made their comments after Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader from Nevada, made a 15-minute address to the state Legislature.

They weren't the first to complain. ProPublica, an investigative journalism organization, reported Tuesday that states with high unemployment rates such as Nevada were being shortchanged in highway funds from the stimulus plan.

It said Nevada's $270 million in total transportation funds from the stimulus was $2,369 per unemployed worker. That is the worst return per unemployed worker in the nation.

In contrast, Nebraska, with less than half the unemployment of Nevada, will receive $278 million, or $7,644 per unemployed worker.

During a news conference after his speech, Reid said the Republican leaders "don't know what they are talking about."

He contended Nevada did better than any other state on a percentage basis through its receipt of nearly $500 million in additional Medicaid funds.

Reid said he served on the House-Senate conference committee that finalized the stimulus bill and that he made sure that sections in the House bill that helped Nevada on Medicaid appeared in the final version.

"I am very satisfied in what I was able to do to help Nevada," Reid said.

He added that the additional Medicaid funds "can be used for anything" by state government leaders.

A small group of demonstrators, most of them senior citizens, protested Reid's appearance at the Legislature.

One of them, Cathy Tierney of Carson City, said the stimulus bill doesn't help people "who work, but redistributes money to people who have done nothing in their lives."

She held a "Send Harry Back to Searchlight" sign.

Another protester, Shawnda Drudge, also of Carson City, said Congress should have done no tinkering with the economy. She said she opposed President George W. Bush's $700 billion Wall Street bailout and the stimulus plan.

"They should have just left everything alone," she said. "Let businesses fail or succeed."

Reid said in his news conferences that Nevadans will observe "noticeable" positive economic changes within six months because of the stimulus package.

"I am confident that history will report that yesterday and today is the time recovery began," Reid said in the speech.

He said the stimulus law, a $75 billion housing relief plan announced Wednesday by Obama and a coming move in Congress to fix "the broken banking system" represent a three-legged stool to stabilize the economy.

The stimulus plan will create 34,000 jobs in Nevada, 90 percent of them in the private sector, he said.

Reid's comments on the economy were received politely, but he drew a standing ovation from legislators of both parties when he said, "We should finally see the Yucca (Mountain) project come to a close."

However, he ruffled Gov. Jim Gibbons when he said it is not the time for Nevada "to back off by cutting funding for the legal battles that are still being fought."

In his budget, Gibbons proposes cutting the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects' staff from five members to two.

Gibbons, who attended the Reid speech, said he has not cut the legal funding for the battle against the proposed nuclear waste repository.

"We are keeping $10 million for it, the same as last session," Gibbons said. "I have always been against Yucca Mountain."

Reid defended the decision by Congress to retain a clause in the stimulus law that requires states that seek education grants to show they are funding education today at least at 2005-06 levels.

"Here on the state level, it is not meant to plug every budget hole to let leaders at the state and local levels avoid their responsibilities," Reid told legislators.

Under Gibbons' budget, support for higher education would be cut by 36 percent. Funds for public education would drop 2.6 percent.

Because of the stimulus bill's requirement, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, estimated Monday that state government must put $265 million more in the education budget before the state qualifies for about $400 million in federal education grants.

She estimated Wednesday that $450 million to $500 million of the stimulus funds can be used to plug holes in the state budget.

But the Gibbons administration has calculated that state funding would have to be increased by $1.8 billion beyond what the governor proposes in his budget to fund services at the same levels as 2007.

In his news conference, Reid said it made no sense for the state to fund education today at levels less than three years ago.

"You have had hundreds and hundreds of students moving to Nevada," he said. "It doesn't seem like too overwhelming to do it (fund education) at more than 2005-06 levels."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

 

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