If there were any good news in Nevada's estimated $8 billion highway funding shortfall, it's that the Department of Transportation won't have any problem spending the state's $201 million share of federal stimulus funding.
President Obama's borrowing spree requires that the money be used on so-called "shovel-ready" projects -- improvements that have cleared lengthy planning and environmental reviews and can be put out to bid almost at once. Because Nevada has so many pressing road projects on a waiting list, about $1 billion worth of work qualifies for the federal money.
The Legislature got the news from NDOT Director Susan Martinovich during a Tuesday meeting of the Assembly and Senate Transportation Committees, the same day the president signed the $787 billion stimulus into law. Ms. Martinovich said the department is moving quickly to ensure work on some Nevada projects can begin within 10 to 12 weeks, and that her agency is positioning itself to qualify for even more stimulus funding if other states can't run through their allocations.
NDOT plans to use most of the stimulus money on highway maintenance and resurfacing projects. The state has a $600 million backlog of such work, which, if not completed in a timely fashion, can lead to significantly more expensive repairs.
President Obama's plan removes the regional politics of the Legislature from much of the debate on which projects get stimulus funding. The law mandates that money be spread across states, ensuring that rural areas get a proportional benefit.
That said, never underestimate lawmakers' ability to make deals to profit their constituents at the expense of others. Clark County legislators need to keep a watchful eye over Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and any others who would deny the Las Vegas Valley its rightful share of this money.
President Obama's stimulus plan has been financed with an IOU against taxes to be paid by our children. Nevadans shouldn't delude themselves with the notion that this is "free" federal money. We will most certainly pay for it for a very long time.
But this travesty is law, and Nevada's government is ready to do what it does best -- spend your money. As far as that goes, NDOT's plan to make the most of this windfall appears sound.