Stimulus money won’t go far

Stimulus? Schmimulus!

I think the economic stimulus package was poorly named.

Instead of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” it should’ve been called “The Great Pothole Bill of the 21st Century.” Or maybe, the “We’re Going to Give the Least Amount of Money to the States with the Highest Unemployment Act.”

That’s pretty much what the stimulus package means to transportation and infrastructure in Nevada.

We’ve learned a few things since President Barack Obama signed the bill early last week, including that Nevada, with the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, will receive about $270 million, or .27 percent, of the $100 billion set aside for transportation and infrastructure projects.

In fact, the higher a state’s unemployment rate, the less money it received per unemployed worker, according to a statistical breakdown of the stimulus package by ProPublica.org, an online nonprofit journalism corporation.

And the Silver State will receive less money for transportation, about $2,370 per unemployed Nevada, than any other state in the nation, including the District of Columbia.

Wyoming, with an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, will receive the highest amount of money per unemployed worker, about $20,126, ProPublica.org reported.

And it gets worse. Nevada, the 17th smallest state in the union by population including the District of Columbia, received less money for transportation and infrastructure projects than New Mexico, West Virginia and Nebraska, all smaller states, each of which have an unemployment rate about half that of Nevada’s.

But state transportation officials aren’t complaining.

They prefer not to look a gift horse in the mouth, no matter how bad its breath stinks.

“Any amount of money we get is a good impact,” said Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation. “We’ve always made sure never to bring up criticism when they were developing the bill, because we didn’t want them to go: ‘Then you guys can’t spend it.'”

The transportation portion of the stimulus package was based on the regular formula that allocates federal highway funding to the states.

Martinovich explained to me the factors the formula uses to determine how the money is allocated.

They include growth, the size of our urban areas and the amount of federal lands in the state. Nevada does well in those areas.

Other factors hurt Nevada, including the state’s overall population, the number of actual road miles (which is small compared to other states) and lack of congestion throughout the state.

The formula was used to avoid a stimulus package full of political earmarks.

The problem is the decision makers in Washington did not adjust the formula to include the unemployment numbers from each state.

Out of the $270 million, about $200 million will be used directly for transportation projects. The remaining $70 million will be split up for transit and water infrastructure projects.

According to the requirements of the stimulus package, the Transportation Department can use about $140 million in their purview.

The remaining funding must be split around the state. About $40 million will go to Clark County and divided up by the Regional Transportation Commission. About $10 million will go to Washoe County. Finally, about $3 million to $12 million will be used in areas with populations less than 5,000.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s a lot of money to be spread around.

To me and you it might be. But to the Transportation Department it really isn’t that much dough.

In fact, the $140 million that the state can use on any project isn’t enough to fund a top priority project that’s ready to go: widening U.S. Highway 95 from Ann Road to the Rainbow Curve. The price tag for that is about $155 million.

The state actually has a list of much needed projects that adds up to more than $5 billion.

Although some of the money probably will be spent on some smaller new construction projects, most of it will likely be spent on repaving Nevada’s roadways.

In essence, the stimulus package will become a pothole bill.

Transportation officials say that’s a good thing.

“Pavement preservation … it’s something we haven’t been able to spend a lot of money on, because of the need to address capacity because of the growth in Las Vegas,” said Rudy Malfabon, the Transportation Department’s deputy director for Southern Nevada.

While the repaving projects are helpful, I don’t believe the stimulus package goes far enough to address Nevada’s climbing unemployment rate.

Transportation projects are an easy way to create new jobs.

Here we are with billions of dollars in projects ready to go, and we’re given $200 million. And states with lower unemployment and population rates are given more money.

There’s just something that strikes me as ridiculous about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, there has already been talk of a second stimulus package. If that will happen, nobody knows.

Martinovich said some states may ask that the formulas used to allocate stimulus funding be adjusted to include unemployment rates.

I hope our congressional delegation makes sure Nevada is one of those states.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 702-387-2904, or e-mail him at roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number.

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