In politics, some decisions are difficult, even wrenching.
The decision about whether Clark County should offer the Las Vegas Monorail a $4.5 million line of credit, however, is not one of those.
In fact, this should be the easiest call the seven commissioners will ever make.
The answer is not only no, but hell no.
Still, there was longtime monorail CEO Curtis Myles at the government center this week, very nearly demanding money in order to extend the monorail’s line to the Mandalay Bay convention center.
“Frankly, we’re at a point where we need to know whether or not we’re going to be able to finance this project before we can continue to spend money on it,” Myles told commissioners. He added later: “The project is only possible if we have this county commitment. And we’re at the stage in developing this project where to be able to go forward and continue to spend money on it, to develop it, we need to have some level of confidence that we’ll be able to go to the market and actually fund the project.”
Oh, well in that case, no. Hell no.
A trio of skeptical commissioners — Steve Sisolak, Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Chris Giunchigliani — were on the right track with pointed questions about the the route and the financing. “I’ve never seen such creative financing, and I’ve been in the Legislature,” said Kirkpatrick, a former Assembly speaker.
But there’s an even more basic issue they should consider: The taxpayers didn’t create the problems that bedevil the monorail, and they shouldn’t be asked to bail out the troubled system.
Taxpayers didn’t abandon the original idea for the monorail as a public transit system. That was the casino owners who quit the public process in order to build a private train to ferry customers to their own properties.
Taxpayers didn’t sell potential bond-buyers on radically inflated ridership estimates. (Even the harshest public critics of the train overestimated its use.)
Taxpayers didn’t select the company that built the monorail, which was plagued with mechanical problems early in its life.
Taxpayers didn’t create the dual for-profit/non-profit corporate structure that allowed the monorail to get state-issued bonds while shielding hefty salaries paid to original monorail executives from the public.
Taxpayers didn’t agree to grant the monorail tax exemptions that cost the county treasury money.
And taxpayers didn’t make the corporate decisions that led the monorail inevitably to bankruptcy court, where it legally stiffed bond-buyers to the tune of millions of dollars.
That, by the way, is the reason Myles had to ask the county for money.
In fairness, the monorail is marginally useful for moving people between convention centers during big gatherings. It would increase that marginal utility with an extension to Mandalay Bay.
But not at taxpayer expense. The taxpayers have already given the monorail enough.
During the hearing, Myles earnestly pledged to commissioners that gross revenues will cover all operations and maintenance as well as debt service. We’ve heard that from monorail officials before, and it was flatly untrue. Myles’ remark that the system would probably never draw down on the $4.5 million credit is as credible as an incorrigible teen’s promise to mom and dad that he’d never even consider throwing a party while they’re away on vacation.
“In my mind, it just doesn’t make sense,” Giunchigliani said of the monorail proposal. She’s speaking for many of her constituents.
If the monorail can’t convince private bond markets to loan it money without picking the taxpayer’s pockets, then the county’s answer must be a simple, firm and resounding no.
Hell no, in fact.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.