Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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NEVADA’S ECONOMY:

From receiving end, earmarks look good

Lawmakers of both parties say the special spending projects help the state

It’s starting to make sense why Nevada’s lawmakers have been such fans of earmarks.

There are essentially two ways for the state to get dollars from the federal government: through the normal federal formula allocation process and through earmarks — special project money requested by members of Congress.

Earmarks have become a toxic asset in Washington, a sign of excessive government spending — aka pork. As the number of earmarks skyrocketed over the past decade, fiscally conservative Republicans and now Democratic President Barack Obama have found kinship in trying to eliminate them completely.

Yet when asked whether Gov. Jim Gibbons, a no-new-taxes Republican, would support federal earmarks coming to Nevada, his spokesman responded unequivocally: “Absolutely.”

Republican Sen. John Ensign, one of his party’s most fiscally conservative voices in the Senate, said, “I’m not against the idea of earmarks.”

In a state like Nevada, which has long complained that federal funding formulas can’t keep pace with the state’s rapid growth, earmarks have filled the gap as supplemental income.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been a longtime champion of earmarks — even going so far as to say he doesn’t mind the word “pork.”

Even though Reid is likely to be pounded by his Republican opponents for what they will say is the larding up of a federal spending bill with pet projects, Reid announced he had secured another $100 million last week for Nevada in the legislation.

Reid boasted of millions of dollars that will benefit the spectrum of Nevada society — including money to upgrade Las Vegas freeways, modernize McCarran International Airport, fund mobile mammogram vehicles, contain the hepatitis C outbreak, restore the cutthroat trout in Northern Nevada and improve law enforcement facilities.

“Sen. Reid knows what Nevada’s needs are better than a federal employee sitting behind a desk in Washington, D.C., that doesn’t know anything about the state,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.

Ensign, too, included several special projects in the bill, including grants for a Washoe County crime lab and a University of Nevada, Reno, arid rangeland program he secured with Reid.

“I’ve never put out an earmark I couldn’t get on the senate floor and defend,” Ensign said. “I’m against ridiculous earmarks.”

Berkley similarly announced money for projects she helped secure in Nevada and said the ban on earmarks in future budgets will mean less aid for the state.

“I love those earmarks,” Berkley said. “The earmarks were keeping us competitive. I know they are a dirty word, but look at the reality is — look at Nevada and what we have brought it.”

Perhaps Berkley’s proudest earmark is the Veterans Affairs complex being built as Southern Nevada’s first vets hospital.

“The fact that we’re cutting down or eliminating earmarks, or that there were no earmarks in the stimulus, hurt Nevada,” Berkley said.

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