By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Major legislation for infrastructure and another round of stimulus funding will be priorities for Nevada’s First U.S. House District Rep. Dina Titus when Congress returns to work Monday, she said on Nevada Newsmakers.
“My goal when we go back is to address the infrastructure package and to be sure that travel and tourism have a seat at the table,” Titus, D-Las Vegas, told host Sam Shad.
When talk turned to a second stimulus package, she added: “When we go back for the lame-duck session that starts on Monday, there will still be a big push to try to get it through.”
Infrastructure funding was, at times, a priority for President Trump. House Democrats pushed for a second stimulus package before the election. Yet nothing was accomplished.
Titus, however, sees a window for an infrastructure plan with a new presidential administration.
“I think it will be key,” Titus said about an infrastructure package in the lame-duck Congress.
“Trump never got it done,” she added. “The House has a bill called Moving Forward that we passed. Our chairman, DeFazio (Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee), has already talked to the Biden transition team and they say they are going to make it a priority because it is not ideological. Everybody needs bridges and roads.”
Titus’ district includes the Las Vegas Strip, so the inclusion of the travel and tourism industry would have a major impact on her district. It would also impact the overall economic health of Nevada since The Strip is the state’s No. 1 revenue producer.
“There’s a good chance we can get it through and it puts people to work as well as products to market, and in our case, people to market,” she said.
Hopefully, jobs that have been lost in tourism can be offset with new jobs in construction and renewable energy, Titus said.
“Joe Biden has said he wants to create 10 million new jobs in renewable energy,” she said. “Nevada is always listed in the top five states in potential of sustainability and renewable energy, so I see a lot of those jobs being right here. That would be great because they are good jobs with good benefits.”
Solar farms usually don’t have large work forces so Titus would like to see increased solar panel manufacturing around Las Vegas to also boost jobs.
U.S. Senate Republicans, who retain the majority in the Upper House during the lame-duck session, are in no hurry to seriously discuss another stimulus package, Titus said.
“They have come with another proposal, I think it is about $1.5 trillion, which is up from their $600 billion (proposal),” Titus said. “So we (House Democrats) want to do something but they say they’re just going to wait until the new year, so we will see.”
Senate Republicans’ prior $500 billion stimulus plan did not include another $1,200 check to American taxpayers. The $2.2 trillion bill passed by the U.S. House included the $1,200 check to taxpayers. The U.S. House approved the $2.2 trillion plan before the election but it was not taken up in the Senate.
Yet another $1,200 check for many taxpayers will not be the key issue in any future stimulus negotiations, Titus said.
“The big sticking point is the money for local and state governments,” she said. “And that is to help them not have to cut the budget to pay for front-line responders (needed for Covid crisis).”
Titus, who was the Minority Leader in the state Senate before advancing to Congress, said Nevada’s state government is facing serious budget cuts because of Covid-19 economics.
She noted Gov. Steve Sisolak has requested major budget-cutting proposals from state agencies when they submit budget plans for 2021 and 2022.
“We saw Gov. Sisolak say we might have to look at 12 percent cuts across the board when we do the budget for the next legislative session,” she said. “The university system is talking about cuts, the school districts are. But if we can get that funding from the federal government to help with that, then that would certainly make a huge difference. We are not getting the (state) tax revenue than when we did before, from sales tax or gaming tax because of the economic downturn that has resulted from this virus.”
The Covid economy has caused a drop in Las Vegas visitorship, lower gaming revenues, smaller state and local tax collections and cancellations of lucrative midweek conventions. That has strained state and local government services, including unemployment insurance and education funding.
Economic experts, speaking at Nevada’s Economic Forum last week, predicted it would take Nevada’s economy about two years to recover from Covid-19 challenges.
Yet a vaccine for the virus would change all that. Last week, Pfizer announced it is developing a vaccine with a 90-percent success rate in clinical trials. It could be available later this year, the company said, although storage and logistics surrounding it distribution would be issues.
On Monday, major media outlets reported Moderna also announced a Covid vaccine. Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5 percent effective, according to preliminary data.
“This news about the vaccine is very promising,” Titus said. “That will make a big difference. Pfizer is certainly a reputable company. “President-elect Biden said he wants it to be available to people for free.”
Titus said a readily-available vaccine would help “skyrocket” Nevada’s economy.
“People want to come and as soon as it (vaccine) is available, you will see things skyrocket here in Las Vegas with the new convention center, new big hotels on The Strip, and the new Raiders stadium. All the sports teams will draw people back once they feel like it is safe to come.”