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August 21, 2014

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STIMULUS NEGOTIATIONS :

Two Nevadans in House press to restore aid to state

They want to boost final bill’s education money, tax breaks for constituents

BY THE NUMBERS

4.6% — Percentage drop in the Dow Jones industrial average Tuesday after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outlined his plan for financial stability.

56% — According to a Gallup poll, Americans think education funding should be a priority in the stimulus bill, with 56 percent of respondents rating it as “most important” and 32 percent as “important.” Tax cuts for families came in second with 51 percent rating it “most important.”

Click to enlarge photo

Dina Titus

Click to enlarge photo

Shelley Berkley

As House and Senate negotiators begin to resolve differences in their versions of President Barack Obama’s economic recovery bill, Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers in the House are pressing to bring more aid to the state and reinstate funding slashed in the Senate package.

In several key areas, Nevada’s lawmakers are pushing to preserve Nevada’s cut.

Rep. Dina Titus is taking the lead on education funding, urging House leaders to provide a waiver so Nevada and other hard-hit states can qualify for federal funding even if they can’t meet the required state match.

“A waiver of this nature will give states like Nevada the best chance to receive the state funding that they so desperately need,” Titus wrote Tuesday in a letter to party leaders.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley co-signed the letter and wants to see House spending levels restored on various fronts.

Berkley wants to make more tax filers eligible for the $500 personal income tax cuts ($1,000 for couples) that would flow to nearly 1 million Nevadans. The Senate version trims back those who qualify by beginning to phase out the credit for those making $70,000 annually, rather than $75,000, as was passed in the House ($150,000 for couples).

Berkley also wants to reinstate a Medicaid spending formula in the House version that is tilted more heavily toward Nevada and other states with high unemployment. Additionally, she signed on to a letter Tuesday urging House leaders to reinstate $4.2 billion for communities to buy foreclosed properties — funding cut from the Senate version of the bill.

“She’s definitely in that camp of people saying, ‘Why are we chipping away here, chipping away there,’ ” Berkley spokesman David Cherry said. “I don’t think there’s anything she wouldn’t want to see funded to the full extent.”

Democratic lawmakers from Nevada stand in contrast to their Republican colleagues who have opposed the president’s stimulus package — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — as excessive. Rep. Dean Heller joined every other Republican lawmaker in the House in voting against the bill last month. However, Heller said at the time he was hopeful the Senate version would bring changes he could support.

Similarly, Sen. John Ensign has helped lead his party’s efforts against the legislation, suggesting it was so flawed Congress should “start over.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to more than $100 billion in cuts to appease Senate moderates and draw Republican support. The bill passed the Senate on Tuesday 61-37, with three Republicans voting yes. Ensign voted no.

Reid now must balance that compromise with factions in the Democratic-controlled House — some of whom will support the more moderate measures while others will press for more government spending to create jobs and to retain social spending cuts pushed for by Senate Republicans.

Education was among the hardest hit in the compromise, as the Senate virtually halved the $79 billion the House included in aid to the states, much of which would go for education.

Nevada schools stood to gain $312 million for operating expenses in the House version of the bill, but that was cut to $250 million in the Senate version.

The Senate also zeroed out $20 billion in school construction and modernization money that Obama said in his prime-time address on Monday remains a priority.

“Why wouldn’t we want to build state-of-the-art schools with science labs that are teaching our kids the skills they need for the 21st century, that will enhance our economy and, by the way, right now will create jobs?” Obama said.

The powerful chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller of California, said at least 315,000 more jobs in school construction would be created in the House bill compared with the Senate version.

But in both the House and Senate bills, education funding comes with strings that states must maintain school funding at 2006 levels to qualify. The requirement means Nevada potentially could leave the education money untouched. State lawmakers who are considering slashing state spending by one-third to balance the budget shortfall say it would be difficult to meet the federal requirement.

The Senate, however, created a waiver that would allow Nevada and other hard-hit states to seek an exemption from the requirement from the education secretary.

Titus is pressing to have that waiver included in the final version of the bill.

“In a crisis situation, you have to be more realistic,” Titus said. “I’m not saying it’s a blank check. You do need some flexibility.”

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