Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2017

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Committee vote delays $10M in stimulus money

Sun Coverage

More than $10 million in federal stimulus spending will be delayed at least 45 days after a legislative committee on Monday rejected a state plan to weatherize homes.

The state Housing Division wanted to spend $10.5 million -- the first portion of more than $38 million due to Nevada under the American Recovery and Relief Act for weatherization -- through five nonprofits that have existing contracts with the state.

The head of the state's housing division said that new groups, including union apprentice programs being formulated, could bid for the balance of the money in the future.

But Democrats, who make up the majority of the Interim Finance Committee, wanted all of the money to be open to new groups, and said that a new state law requires weatherization workers to go through more rigorous training programs.

Outraged Republican lawmakers said Democrats prevented money from being put on the street quickly to create jobs and lower the energy bills for low and moderate income people.

"This is all about unions taking over," said Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno. "To delay this, when people are out of work and projects are shovel-ready, I'm just perplexed."

Danny Thompson, head of the state's AFL-CIO, testified in favor of the delay.

The vote to award the money was delayed until the next Interim Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 17.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said "I'm sensitive to the fact we're delaying these funds." But, he said, the Senate bill that passed the Legislature and was signed by the governor was necessary to ensure workers are properly trained.

"The law was passed," he said. "There was not a disagreement over semantics. They don't want to follow state law."

Charles Horsey, administrator of the state housing division, said the state had to get its plan approved and identify potential vendors to the federal government in May, before the bill became law.

"We wanted to get started with the weatherization program, have the money out there stimulating the economy," he said.

Horsford said the bill passed this past session aimed to create a more comprehensive weatherization program than the state had in place.

"The program model we’re seeking going forward would provide a long-term career path for individuals," he said. He wanted all of the money to be opened up to more companies so "small businesses and contractors who are struggling to find business now can do work on weatherization programs."

He also disputed the notion that this was a benefit for union companies, pointing out that non-union groups, like the Associated Business Contractors, were starting apprenticeship programs.

Horsey said the existing contractors do a good job, and worried that too many delays would leave Nevada's funding at risk.

"If we don't show sufficient progress, we run the risk that there will be pressure in Washington D.C. to take the money earmarked for Nevada and spend it in another state," he said.

Robin Reedy, Gibbons' chief of staff, said she was "completely offended" that lawmakers would accuse state employees of breaking the law.

The Interim Finance Committee also approved three additional positions for the state's Energy Office, to help it adminster and track energy stimulus money.

The two top positions will make about $93,000, and the third will make about $85,000.

The state will also start putting out requests for proposals to spend about $3 million on retrofitting state buildings and schools to make them more energy efficient, among other renewable energy projects.

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