Lawmakers ponder Yucca Mountain costs
State lawmakers raised questions Monday about how much money Nevada might need to provide for legal costs in the fight against federal efforts to open a high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto told the Senate Finance Committee she needs about $5 million for legal costs in dealing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is considering a licensing application for the dump.
The state’s NRC-related costs could double that amount, Cortez Masto added.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford asked Cortez Masto whether her office would have adequate resources to wage the legal fight, and Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio said she must ensure oversight is provided over outside counsel hired by the state.
"Let’s assume it’s $10 million. How do we get the $10 million? You know, I’m really kind of at a loss on all this," Raggio said. "I hear all of these statements, our senior senator says this project is dead, the president’s office says it dead, and yet we’re going through this process. We could be expending $20 million. What’s going on?"
"The fact of life is these attorneys who’ve been working on this for over a decade pretty much have a blank check. I mean what kind of monitoring is there to how this money is spent?" Raggio said.
Asked after the hearing about Raggio’s comments, Cortez Masto said she has an obligation to continue defending the state.
"From my perspective though, it’s not dead. I mean, I’m still moving forward, and I have to," Cortez Masto said. "I have to be prepared with the court cases, and I have to be prepared to proceed through the administrative process."
Buckley aims to boost state’s ‘rainy day’ fund
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley pushed Monday for a bill that would revamp the state’s "rainy day" fund and ensure that more money is set aside in the event of future fiscal crises.
"In a national economic meltdown like we have today, having a larger ‘rainy day’ fund would have helped cushion some of that blow," Buckley said. The state’s rainy day fund is depleted.
AB165, which Buckley outlined to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, would require the governor and Legislature to set aside 1 percent of the state’s total anticipated revenue in a savings account. The bill would increase the credit to the fund at the end of the year, reducing the amount paid out to agencies for operating costs.
Currently, state’s contributions to the rainy day fund are capped at 15 percent of general fund operating appropriations. The bill would raise that cap to 20 percent.
She said that as she traveled around the state talking with Nevadans about how to solve the budget crisis, many lamented that staff would be cut for state programs that recently were created. Some said they would rather grow slowly than to see well-staffed programs face layoffs.
"The purpose of this is to end our boom-and-bust cycle, where we build up programs only to tear them down when there’s a downturn in the economy," Buckley said.