Guinn picks his battle
LAS VEGAS – Gov. Kenny Guinn said he won’t pressure the Bush administration to back down from a proposal to divert federal land sales profits out of Nevada and environmental projects at Lake Tahoe.
Guinn, in Washington, D.C., for a National Governors Association meeting, said Monday the issue of protecting the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998 was best left to the state’s five-member congressional delegation.
“I believe our congressional delegation is strong enough in this city to protect this,” Guinn said, adding that most of his focus at the conference has been on Medicaid and education issues.
State officials are organizing to oppose a provision in President Bush’s 2006 budget that would divert into the U.S. Treasury 70 percent of the revenue generated by the sale of federal land around Las Vegas.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., told the Tahoe Daily Tribune last month that he will do whatever he can to stop the budget proposal from being approved.
“I will be working aggressively to kill any effort to take money out because that just has been an awesome program for our state,” Ensign said. “It was Nevada first of all that made the land worth anything in the first place, and the original intent of the bill was to keep the money in the state of Nevada.”
All the money is currently spent in the state under a formula setting aside 5 percent of auction receipts for schools, 10 percent for water infrastructure and most of the remaining 85 percent for environmentally sensitive lands including Lake Tahoe.
The Nevada delegation also has ideas for channeling profits from federal land sales. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., has proposed directing 35 percent of public land profits into the state education fund.
White House officials say the land sales have generated revenues far greater than expected, and land sales in 2006 are projected to bring in 17 times more than original estimates, roughly $1.2 billion.
Nevada’s legislature passed a resolution asking Bush to reverse his position on taking the land sale money, or alternatively, asking Congress to reject his plan.
Senate minority leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, was a primary sponsor of the joint resolution. In remarks to the Douglas County Democratic Women on Monday, Titus, who plans to run for governor next year, referred to Guinn as being “on vacation” the last few years. Her remarks were general land not specifically related to the land sale issue.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton said a portion of that money would be better spent paying down the federal deficit, and some GOP lawmakers are intrigued by the overflowing Nevada land account.
Governors met with Bush on Monday. Guinn said questions were limited to education and health care. Guinn said that if he had the chance, he would have inquired about the land proposal.
“That’s a serious concern to us in Nevada, and hopefully it will not come about,” the governor said.
– Tribune staff writer Gregory Crofton contributed to this report.
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