Reid breaks news to Nevada leaders: Forget earmarks

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid on Thursday put out the word once and for all to Nevada officials from the community level to the state Legislature: There will be no pork barrel in the massive economic stimulus bill.

Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, held a conference call with more than two dozen state officials to lay out Democratic plans for the recovery package that President-elect Barack Obama promoted in a speech earlier in the day.

Separately, Reid held a similar conversation with Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons on Wednesday night, Capitol Hill aides said.

Gibbons' spokesman, Dan Burns, confirmed the call but said it was a "private conversation. Part of the conversation was they agreed they would not publicly discuss what they were talking about."

In the speech he gave at George Mason University, Obama repeated his vow to keep "earmarks and pet projects" out of the package.

Obama said the goal wasn't a "slew of new government programs," but a "foundation for long-term economic growth."

In his calls, Reid, who normally is a champion of earmarks, passed on the word to Nevada leaders what might be in the stimulus bill. He also told them what won't be in the bill, namely, money that is specifically directed to state or local projects.

"The catalyst is he has been getting a lot of calls from a number of people in the state asking for help through the economic recovery package," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said. "He explained to them no earmarks."

Instead, money will be distributed through customary federal agency formulas.

"This will help them recalibrate their approaches now on how to get that funding," Summers said of the Nevada cities and counties.

"Honestly, we had a list," said Tim Hacker, the city manager of Mesquite who took part in the call.

His community was seeking funds for two interchanges along Interstate 15, but the chance of getting the projects that would cost $22 million to $25 million apiece is "slim or better" without a specific earmark.

Hacker said he understood Obama's desire to avoid earmarks. "I don't think that is problematic in this initial round. Hopefully in the future, if there is more money, we can get to some of these projects that have local benefit."

The stimulus is expected to spend $750 billion or more over two years on a number of strategies aimed at creating or saving jobs, including road and bridge repairs, programs to build industries centered on renewable energy, tax cuts for employers and middle-income families and assistance to states for health care.

Reid reportedly told the Nevadans he could not say how much money will be made available or how it might break down.

Among those called were Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who has spoken of obtaining money through the stimulus for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a new city hall, and the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, better known as the Mob Museum.

Before he got on the phone with Reid, Goodman defended the museum funding. Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have mocked it as an example of frivolous spending.

"I'm not going to apologize for it," Goodman said. "The studies show ... 250,000 people coming into our downtown to visit the Mob Museum. It's going to bring tons of money down here. Some senator from Kentucky who nobody knows takes a cheap shot? I don't need it."

Others taking part included Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, and managers from Clark County, Nye County, Henderson, North Las Vegas, Reno, Sparks and Carson City.

Review-Journal writer Alan Choate contributed to this report. Contact Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.