Gov. Jim Gibbons responded angrily Wednesday to Democrats in Nevada’s congressional delegation who questioned his reluctance to allow the state to qualify for increased unemployment assistance from the federal stimulus law.
Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus have said Gibbons should not turn down the money, which would only come with a change in state statute. Some other Republican governors have vowed to reject it on the grounds that it could put states on the hook for more spending down the road.
“What is truly foolish is Berkley’s cavalier attitude that Nevada should bow down to the federal government and give up its own state sovereignty in a mad grab to claim every last penny of stimulus dollars,” Gibbons said in a news release Wednesday.
Despite his angry words, Gibbons has not decided whether to accept the funds, according to the release
At issue are funds in the stimulus law to increase the scope of benefits for the unemployed through 2011. Once the federal money stops, the state would either have to provide benefits itself at the higher level or cut benefits back to their pre-stimulus level.
The stimulus provision doesn’t require the state to spend any money in the current budget or to commit to spend money after 2011, according to legislators. Nevada’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate is the fifth highest in the nation.
Gibbons criticized the state’s congressional delegation for not getting Nevada more funding in the stimulus bill. Out of 51 states and the District of Columbia, Nevada ranked 50th in per-person direct aid from the stimulus.
“Congresswomen Berkley and Titus need to stop being led around by lobbyists and put the interests of Nevada citizens first,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons spokesman Daniel Burns said that comment wasn’t intended to imply that the representatives fell prey to special interests lobbying on behalf of the unemployed.
“It’s just a general comment on the culture in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
The state already accepts plenty of federal dollars that come with conditions, such as matching funds for various programs that require the state to contribute a share. But Gibbons, a former member of the House, said accepting the unemployment funding would constitute a disastrous surrender of Nevada’s very sovereignty.
“As it is, these two (Berkley and Titus) are now griping about an unemployment program that doesn’t have federal strings attached; it has federal chains attached. I will not sell out our state’s sovereignty,” the governor said.
The budget drafted by Gibbons is now in the hands of the state Legislature, where Democratic leaders estimate the state stands to gain $40 million to $50 million from the unemployment provision in the stimulus legislation.
Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, accused Gibbons of offering only knee-jerk rejection rather than constructive policies.
“It is time for us to say, ‘Our people, our citizens, are hurting: What can we do to help?’ ” said Carlton, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee. “Not, ‘No, we can’t.’ A blanket ‘No’ doesn’t solve any problems. That’s what leadership is all about.”
A spokesman for Titus, who narrowly lost the 2006 governor’s race to Gibbons, called the governor’s comments short-sighted.
“The governor’s ill-advised proposal to leave money on the table for unemployed Nevadans rather than consider temporary changes to unemployment coverage shows just how out of touch he really is,” Andrew Stoddard said.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.