Because Congress doesn’t do earmarks anymore, at least not overtly, business leaders from Arizona and Nevada were urged last week in Washington to make sure they have all their ducks in a row to compete for federal funding to build Interstate 11.
“That’s the reality,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev. “It’s about priority of competitive funding.”
He said matching funds raised in the states and the completion of technical, economic and environmental studies are crucial so that whenever Congress replenishes the Highway Trust Fund, “this project will be one of the projects that meets the criteria” for construction grants.
Horsford, who co-leads a House caucus on I-11, spoke at a meeting organized by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce during its annual fly-in to the nation’s capital. The gathering included representatives of the Nevada and Arizona departments of transportation, the Las Vegas Regional Transportation Commission and the Arizona State Chamber of Commerce.
The proposal to upgrade the road network connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas to interstate quality has emerged as the No. 1 goal of business leaders in the states. They say the connector will be critical to economic growth in the Southwest and the eventual spooling of the interstate south to Mexico and north to Canada.
Brian McAnallen, vice president of government affairs of the Las Vegas Chamber, said local officials are well- aware of the changed landscape. He said the gathering last week was the first time all of the key interests from the two states were in the same room to strategize.
“We have to think about this in a different way, and we’re all aware of that,” he said. “I don’t think we’re getting a free ride out of a big cookie jar like maybe you could do in the 1970s and 1980s.”
Nevada has committed $380 million for a relatively short 15-mile stretch from Las Vegas whose main component will be the Boulder City Bypass. It’s in Arizona where the money might get tricky. Kevin Biesty of the Arizona Department of Transportation said state officials are considering a range of strategies to fund 400 miles of highway whose price tag has yet to be determined but certainly will be in the billions of dollars.
“No matter what the cost is, nobody seems to have it right now, and that’s why we all need to continue working together,” Biesty told the group.
Congress is reauthorizing major highway law this year and is struggling to refuel the Highway Trust Fund without raising gasoline taxes. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., noted she is the only Nevadan to sit on the House Transportation Committee working on the bill.
Titus compared I-11 to the construction of Boulder Dam some 80 years ago. Both, she said, “combine government, science and manpower to create something pretty spectacular to change the economy of a whole region.”
Unable to stick line items overtly into the highway bill, the role of congressional advocates for specific projects has shifted. Now, the task is to try to build the trust fund as big as possible, then pressure bureaucrats and policymakers at the Department of Transportation that their favorite projects are technically solid, a strong investment and worthy to receive grants.
Horsford said members of Congress supporting Interstate 11 have lines into the Department of Transportation and hope to arrange a briefing for Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx “so he and the decision-makers at the DOT understand why this project is so important.”
— Steve Tetreault
THE PRICE OF NEGOTIATIONS
The word “frantic” doesn’t quite do justice to the pace of two daylong bargaining sessions that culminated in a long-awaited $7.7 million settlement between North Las Vegas and its bargaining groups last week.
City, state and union negotiators needed seven hours to strike two deals reached under a self-imposed quarantine at the Sawyer Building on Wednesday.
They needed another nine hours to hash out two layoff-saving deals with city police unions Thursday at North Las Vegas City Hall.
Officials met behind closed doors in both instances.
A Review-Journal reporter witnessed one restroom break and no lunch breaks during the first day of talks.
Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick managed to slip downstairs only once, reputedly on a smoke break.
She also footed the three-digit bill for lunch: a stack of pizzas taller than the guy who delivered them.
The marathon negotiations stopped for no one, including one city official who hammered out details of a $4.2 million settlement with city police officers via cellphone on his way to MountainView Hospital, where his wife was about to go into induced labor.
“I must tell you it was sort of fun negotiating final deal points with (Police Officers Association President Mike) Yarter on the way to the hospital — that is multitasking!” the source said via text message on Thursday.
His wife’s reaction wasn’t quite so enthusiastic.
“She was sitting beside me and when I hung up, she asked if I was ready to negotiate my vasectomy.”
— James DeHaven
FBI AGENT RECOLLECTIONS
In Las Vegas, it was dubbed “G-Sting,” and in San Diego it was “Strippergate,” but in both cities of sunshine, the targets were corrupt politicians.
A recent story out of the San Diego U-T about the retirement of the FBI agent who led the public corruption squad there talked about the intertwined cases. After 24 years with the FBI, Leonard Davey was asked how the case began.
He answered: “It started in Cheetah’s. The strip club owner, Mike Galardi, was tied into organized crime. We had an informant in the strip club who came out one day and told us the manager took all the strippers, 25 of them, and asked them to go out to their car and get their checkbooks. He lined them up, had them write checks to a candidate, then he’d reimburse them. We learned all the sudden this strip club had an interest in our local politics. We had no idea why, but they were.
“We got probable cause to intercept on the strip club phone. We got a bug in the back office, and we soon learned there was a policy in San Diego, called the no-touch policy, where strippers couldn’t touch their patrons. And the owner, Galardi, thought he was losing money by doing that, so he brought in a quasi-lobbyist to meet with the politicians here and overturn that policy. So they engaged in bribing our local officials to do that.”
Three San Diego city councilmen were caught, and one won on appeal.
In Las Vegas, the numbers were larger. Three sitting county commissioners and one former county commissioner were caught around 2006. Commissioners Dario Herrera and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey went to trial in Las Vegas and were convicted, while Erin Kenny pleaded guilty.
Former Commissioner Lance Malone was Galardi’s bagman in San Diego and Las Vegas. He was convicted in Las Vegas and pleaded guilty in San Diego.
Galardi pleaded guilty and testified against the others.
All of the corrupt politicians in the cases are now out of prison.
— Jane Ann Morrison
Contact Jane Ann Morrison at email@example.com or 702-383-0275. Contact Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC. Contact James DeHaven at email@example.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.