Titus, Berkley take Gibbons to task over stimulus spending

Two Nevada congresswomen asked the governor today why Nevada ranks so low in the spending of federal stimulus dollars designated for highway work and designed to create jobs.

A study conducted by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee showed Nevada is lagging behind most of the nation when it comes to taking advantage of the funding created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In a letter sent to Gov. Jim Gibbons, Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Shelley Berkley question why Nevada, which at 12.5 percent has the third-worst unemployment rate in the country, ranks 46th in the use of stimulus monies by each state.

“This funding was meant to be spent quickly and efficiently to maximize its job-creating potential,” the letter states.

“We respectfully request that you provide us with a detailed explanation of why Nevada has performed so poorly thus far and the steps you plan to take to improve upon this performance in the future,” it states.

The state has put out to bid projects totaling 35 percent of the $201 million in stimulus funding allocated to Nevada, according to the representatives’ letter. It has under contract projects totaling 25.6 percent of the pot, and work has begun on projects totaling 23 percent of the funding.

In contrast, Wyoming, which tops the money-spending list, has spent 94.6 percent of its funding.

In the letter, Titus and Berkley tell Gibbons they are “disappointed” in the state’s use of the money and call the number of projects under way “unacceptable.”

Congress passed the act “to save and create jobs, help states and municipalities meet pressing fiscal challenges, and get our economy moving again,” the letter states. “We were particularly pleased to support this legislation because of the significant investment it made in Nevada’s infrastructure.”

When state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, emerged from a meeting today between Gibbons and legislative leaders, he said the governor told lawmakers he is doing everything possible to spend the stimulus dollars quickly.

Horsford also explained that he has met twice with state Transportation Director Susan Martinovich, who said the low rankings might be due to the funds being passed along to local governments.

Neither response appeared to appease Horsford.

“Unfortunately there are not many state projects,” he said. “We are dead last in so many things that it is pathetic. There are jobs available if we can just get those contracts out.”

Daniel Burns, the governor’s communications director, said Nevada’s ranking might appear to be low because the Nevada Department of Transportation opted to funnel some of the funds to regional transportation authorities in Clark and Washoe counties.

Burns also said the rankings might be out of whack because the state Transportation Department decided to spend much of the money on smaller highway preservation projects throughout the state rather than on one capital project that might have cost $200 million.

Burns speculated that there might have been bottlenecks in how these expenditures were reported to the federal government, falsely giving the impression that Nevada was 46th in the nation.

Martinovich was unavailable for comment today. Kent Cooper, an assistant director at the Transportation Department, did not return calls.

In Clark County, the Regional Transportation Commission received $33.6 million in stimulus money directly from the Federal Transit Administration. With that funding, the commission is building the Bonneville Transit Center downtown and the Centennial Hills park-and-ride facility. The remainder of that money will be used to construct the ACE bus green line along Boulder Highway.

An additional $39.1 million was awarded to the Nevada Department of Transportation by the Federal Highway Administration. That money travels through a bureaucratic process but will ultimately be delivered to the county and all the cities in the Las Vegas Valley to improve their roadways, said Tracy Bower of the Clark County Regional Transportation Commission.

Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at apacker@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.