WASHINGTON — Thursday’s White House conference on stimulus spending was “a good start,” but a top aide to Gov. Jim Gibbons could not say how it may affect his decision whether to accept all of the federal money being offered to the state.
Deputy chief of staff Mendy Elliott said the Obama administration has yet to issue all its guidelines for how state shares of the $787 billion stimulus package should be managed. That could affect the governor’s decision.
Depending on the federal department, spending rules may come out on average in another 30 days, she said.
“I need to take the information back,” Elliott said on her way to the airport. She said the governor’s stimulus working group ultimately will make a recommendation to Gibbons, who wrote to President Barack Obama this week that he may turn back some of the $1.5 billion allocated to Nevada.
Gibbons complained to Obama that “strings” attached to pots of stimulus funding will cause states to grow their governments but then be forced to pare back benefits or raise taxes when the federal money runs out in two years.
At issue specifically are funds in the stimulus law to increase the scope of benefits for the unemployed.
Gibbons traded barbs with Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., last week after the congresswoman said it would be foolish for Nevada to turn down additional funding for unemployment benefits.
Gibbons responded Berkley would “bow down to the federal government … in a mad grab to claim every last penny of stimulus dollars.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who has been designated the chief stimulus monitor, hosted 125 state officials at the day-long meeting. All states were represented except Idaho.
The officials, who were sent by their governors, quizzed representatives from the White House and various agencies about the nuts and bolts of the stimulus package.
Obama stopped by for about five minutes. He gave the visitors a pep talk, but also warned them “to make sure that every single dollar is well spent.”
“If we see money being misspent, we’re going to put a stop to it, and we will call it out and we will publicize it,” Obama said.
“The message was sent loud and clear that this spending has to be seamless, transparent and accountable.” Elliott said. “The expectations are very high. (The administration) wants to understand how the dollars are invested and the number of jobs that are created.”
Elliott said she made the Energy Department aware of Nevada’s interest in competing for green energy grants.
She said she also learned there is a pot of $2 billion that is being made available to priority states with severe foreclosure problems, of which Nevada is one.
On unemployment benefits, Elliott said Louisiana had concerns similar to those raised by Gibbons. Would acceptance of the additional funding now bind a state from readjusting benefits if necessary in two years or any point in the future? There was no immediate answer, she said.
Obama officials did discuss “maintenance of effort” waivers that could be requested by states unable to meet requirements to tap into certain pots.
Besides Nevada’s possible interest in a waiver to collect education funds, Elliot said the state may qualify to obtain law enforcement grants even if it cannot meet a 25 percent match. The conference “was a good start,” Elliott said.
“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered and as we move along the people who represented the agencies for the most part were pretty receptive.”
“Nevada looks forward to putting this money to use,” Elliott said.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@ stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.