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December 19, 2014

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The Economy:

Stimulus flow starting here as a trickle

Nevada slated to get at least $1.5 billion in funds

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David Zalubowski / Associated Press FILE PHOTOS

Nevada will receive approximately $1.5 billion in stimulus money, $225 million of which has already arrived. Last week $26 million was released in latest installment of state unemployment funds.

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Beyond the Sun

In the 16 weeks since President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion federal stimulus bill on Feb. 17, not a single jobs-creating project has begun in Clark County, in a state where the unemployment rate is more than a percentage point higher than the national rate.

Nevada is expected to get at least $1.5 billion of the grand total and maybe more, depending on how well the state stacks up against other government agencies when they compete for stimulus money not yet assigned.

More than $255 million already has arrived in Nevada, for education and social programs, including increased unemployment benefits.

But although the pace is consistent with what state officials predicted, it also has confirmed Republican projections while debating the bill: Much of the money intended to stimulate the receding economy would not reach states’ coffers before the latter half of the year. And the competition for some of the money hasn’t even begun yet.

“It was neither timely, targeted or temporary, which is what Democrats used to say a stimulus was,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Responded Jon Summers, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.: “Let’s not discount that we have this funding for unemployment. Without that, families don’t have a way to get by. That helps the economy.”

When Obama trumpeted the 100-day mark of the bill’s signing, he did so in Nevada, a state that had received little money for major projects and only $145,000 in federal contracts (for emergency sewer line repair at the VA Medical Center in Reno).

On Friday, the Labor Department released about $26 million to Nevada, the state’s latest installment in unemployment money, according to a U.S. Senate staff member.

Republicans chided the president for boasting about the bill in a state whose jobless rate is over 10 percent and that has received only a trickle of money, on the day after headlining a fundraiser for Reid.

“While Harry Reid was busy throwing a blowout Hollywood party for himself at Caesars Palace, Nevadans are still struggling to get a piece of the massive stimulus bill that Sen. Reid rammed through Congress,” Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a blast to reporters.

Summers argues that “if it was up to the same critics, Nevada wouldn’t be getting anything at all because they didn’t even support the economic recovery act to begin with.”

Mendy Elliott, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Jim Gibbons, said her boss is content with how the stimulus money disbursements are being handled.

“These are one-shot moneys, and it’s important they’re spent wisely and appropriately,” said Elliott, who is heading the state’s economic recovery team. “If we had taken the money and thrown it against the wall, I think it’d be a poor use of taxpayer money. It’s not my money.”

That echoes Reid’s view.

“You’ve got to create allocation mechanisms, iron out the application process, all those things,” Summers said. “That couldn’t be set up until after the bill passed.”

A White House spokeswoman noted that while states have yet to receive their entire allotments, states’ officials can create budgets with that money in mind.

Elliott acknowledged that the process might be slower in Nevada because the state could not afford to create an economic recovery office, a bureaucracy other states established after the bill passed. This could explain why Nevada has yet to launch a working page on its Web site detailing how stimulus money is being spent, as is required under the bill beginning this fall.

“But we’re a small state so everyone can and does pitch in,” Elliott said, noting that weekly meetings she supervises include leaders from several agencies and areas, including transportation; employment, training and rehabilitation; health and human services; K-12; higher education; public safety; budget; weatherization; and information technology.

Among the stimulus projects in store for Nevada, rural areas will probably qualify for the first round of about $15.6 million in water projects, officials say. Clark and Washoe projects are on the priority list and likely will get money in the second round of project approvals.

Some of the stimulus money for transportation and transit projects is being funneled through the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Among its projects:

• A $17 million transit hub at Bonneville Avenue and Casino Center Boulevard, of which $5.5 million will be funded with stimulus money. Construction should begin this month with completion expected in late 2010.

• A $14.8 million contract for park-and-rides at U.S. 95 and Durango Drive in the Centennial Hills area and at Summerlin Parkway and Durango. About $8.8 million of stimulus money is for the park-and-ride at U.S. 95 and Durango.

• Another $19 million in stimulus dollars could be used for the ACE Boulder Highway project, a direct bus route with dedicated lanes linking downtown Las Vegas and downtown Henderson.

The state transportation department will control about $135 million of the $201 million in state roads-related stimulus funding, of which about $70 million needs to be obligated by month’s end.

A chunk of the remaining roads money — including $40 million managed by the RTC — must be appropriated by February. Much of the $40 million is expected to be used for maintenance projects, including road resurfacing. According to tentative plans, the county will spend $16.4 million of it, Las Vegas $10.2 million, North Las Vegas $4.9 million, Henderson $6.3 million, and Boulder City and Mesquite $1 million apiece.

Local road-preservation projects directed by state officials probably will include a 17-mile stretch of I-15 beginning at the California border, a section of I-15 near Mesquite, and U.S. 95 from Kyle Canyon Road to Lee Canyon Road. And officials could approve the landscaping along U.S. 95 from Martin Luther King Boulevard to the Rainbow Boulevard curve. None of these projects has been put to bid; officials anticipate they could cost $69 million.

Nevada will also compete for stimulus money reserved for projects costing $20 million to $300 million. The state will seek money for four projects, including $250 million to widen Interstate 15 between Blue Diamond Road and Tropicana Avenue.

The county is getting about $3.2 million for homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing and expects another $2.1 million more in block grants for improvements to parks. Officials hope to add a jogging path at Bob Price Park and build shade structures at five parks.

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