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August 28, 2014

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Carson City:

NDOT reboots after stimulus plans leaked

The Nevada Department of Transportation’s board of directors will hold a special meeting March 12 to discuss economic stimulus projects, according to Gov. Jim Gibbons’ spokesman.

The meeting follows disclosure of an internal list of projects that showed Clark County would get just $19 million of $140 million in statewide discretionary stimulus spending.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas, sent out a scathing e-mail Friday.

“Like all other Las Vegans, I was profoundly disappointed to see NDOT’s proposed distribution ... by county,” she said in the news release.

Almost all of the money was to be spent in the district of Rep. Dean Heller, R-Carson City, who voted against the stimulus bill. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Henderson, voted for the stimulus.

Transportation Department officials said the project list was not complete and not intended for circulation.

It accounted for all $140 million of the discretionary money, however. The document was also dated eight days after Director Susan Martinovich told a joint meeting of the Assembly and Senate Transportation committees that she expected to have a final list of projects in two weeks.

The project list will go through the chairmen of the transportation committees, according to a letter obtained Friday by Sun columnist Jon Ralston. It’s unclear how much power to change the list the two chairmen, both Vegas Democrats, will have.

Dan Burns, spokesman for Gibbons, said the final decisions will remain with the Transportation Department’s board of directors.

•••

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, floated a plan Friday to address the proposed higher education funding cuts.

Buckley’s idea: The federal stimulus will grant additional money to the state’s Medicaid program without the usual requirement of state matching funding. Freeing up some of those matching dollars could provide the state university system with matching funding to get a bigger share of the stimulus.

Dan Klaich, executive vice chancellor of higher ed, told the joint Assembly and Senate budget committees that to receive stimulus money, the university’s budget must be at 2006 levels. The system would therefore need $267 million to qualify for stimulus money, he said.

Klaich said federal law is silent on whether state Medicaid money can be tapped to help the university system.

The system faces a 36 percent cut under Gibbons’ budget. If his budget is adopted, an estimated 2,000 of the 7,500 state-funded employees in the university system would be laid off, Klaich said.

But Buckley and Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, noted that stimulus money is one-shot. They questioned how the state would fund the system in fiscal 2010 and 2011.

“With the outlook that the economy is not likely to improve that quickly, we are building ourselves some major, major problems,” Raggio said.

•••

Raggio’s proposal for an appointed Board of Regents to govern the higher education system drew fire this week.

The lawmaker is pushing for a constitutional amendment to have the Legislature set terms and qualifications for regents. The governor would make the appointments. The measure passed the 2007 Legislature and must be approved this session before voters are asked to decide the issue.

Ryan Crowell, student body president of Nevada State College, told the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee that students see “no reason not to vest the power in the community.” The state has “had bad boards of regents before and we have had bad governors.”

Jessica Lucero, president of the graduate and professional student association at UNLV, said the regents “are at odds with the governor and disagreement is a good thing. It’s fine the way it is.”

James Leavitt, a regent, opposed the proposal because appointment by the governor would disqualify 99 percent of people from serving, he said.

The only support came from attorney David Russell of Reno, son of former Gov. Charles Russell. He said elections haven’t “always produced the best regent,” but past appointments support the idea that high-quality people would be named.

Voters in 2006 defeated a proposed amendment to elect one regent from each of the three congressional districts, with the governor appointing the remainder of the board.

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