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October 31, 2014

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Five ways Nevada will benefit from the budget deal

The deal Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell struck Wednesday will end the federal government shutdown, raise the debt limit until February and leave the Affordable Care Act relatively intact.

It will also interest Nevadans in a handful of other ways.

Though the measure was billed largely as a “clean CR” — Congress-speak for a budget bill that makes no alterations to the budget as compared to the previous fiscal year’s spending — there are a few changes in the proposed legislation that will have a particular impact in Nevada.

Here are the top five items tucked into the budget bill that will resonate in the Silver State.

    • Wildfire money

      Nevada’s lawmakers have been scrambling to come up with money for wildfire fighting and prevention, as they stare down a deadline for when the Environmental Protection Agency will have to list the sage grouse as an endangered species. Wildfires are destroying the bird’s habitat, which is so broad that if the bird is designated an endangered species, it could hamstring much of Nevada’s economy.

      “The sage grouse is going to be listed unless the federal government gives these agencies some money to do their job,” Reid told the Sun this summer.

      "Their job" is fighting and preventing wildfires. The agencies in question are the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service — both of which receive extra funding under this deal specifically for the purpose of wildfire suppression.

      The U.S. Forest Service gets $600 million. The Department of the Interior gets an extra $36 million. Both figures are larger than what Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., had been arguing was the minimum amount necessary for the agencies to enact proper, effective fire suppression plans across the state.

    • Veterans Affairs backlog money

      Nevada’s veterans have experienced some of the nation’s worst backlogs as the Department of Veterans Affairs struggles to dig out from a mountain of past claims and appeals awaiting case rulings. The Nevada congressional delegation has taken particular notice, with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., using their positions of authority on the Senate and House Veterans Affairs committees to put extra pressure on VA officials to expedite their work.

      The budget and debt ceiling deal includes an extra $2.455 billion for the administrative and operational costs of the VA. While the bill’s language does not directly guarantee any sort of mitigation of claims backlogs, a draft summary being circulated among members of Congress on Wednesday afternoon indicated that the funds are expressly meant “to reduce backlog of disabilities claims.”

    • Reimbursement of state government expenditures

      While the federal government was without a budget, the state had to step in and foot the bill for some of the important services that didn’t get the official “essential” waiver to keep federal funding flowing.

      Nevada stepped in to help pay some of the operating expenses of the National Guard, as well as helping pay the workers who process unemployment checks.

      The state’s going to get paid back.

      The language in the bill itself is a bit fraught with legalese, so we’ll quote from the draft summary members received: “The Federal Government would reimburse States and grantees for the costs that States incurred during execution of Federal programs that would normally be paid by Federal appropriations.”

      It applies to the entire period of the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1 and will end when President Barack Obama signs the bill Congress passed Wednesday.

    • Back pay for furloughed workers

      If you are one of the 11,000 to 12,000 civilian federal workers in Nevada who were furloughed during the shutdown, good news: Whether you were forced to work without pay, or forced to sit at home and twiddle your fingers, you’re going to get back pay for the period the government should have been up and running, keeping you normally employed. The bill does not say exactly how, but the back pay will likely show up in the next paycheck.

    • Limitations on conferences

      Ever since the General Services Administration’s Western Division blew too much money on a magician and bike-building exercise at the M Resort, the federal government has had its eye on curtailing the cost of conferences. The budget deal doesn’t put any new restrictions on conferences, but it does require that the federal government submit reports detailing expenses for any conference that costs taxpayers more than $100,000, and submit notifications for conferences costing more than $20,000. It’s the exact same provision that was in effect during the last fiscal year.

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