Nevada senators declare victory |

Nevada senators declare victory

Staff and wire reports

The Bush administration’s plan to use money generated by the sale of federal land in Nevada to close the budget deficit was rebuffed by the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday.

Nevada’s senators, who fought to kill the plan, declared it dead. But a spokesman for Bush’s budget office said the administration remained committed to the proposal, which could affect the $300 million federal agencies in the Lake Tahoe Basin are to receive each year for environmental restoration projects.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., left the plan to tap the land sales proceeds out of the budget proposal his committee was taking up Wednesday. Gregg’s move followed lobbying by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., a budget committee member.

“We feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to stop it from here on out because they really needed to have it in the chairman’s (budget proposal) to be successful,” Ensign spokesman Jack Finn said. Reviving the plan “would take an unbelievable turn of events,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also opposed the proposal.

The plan to siphon off 70 percent of proceeds from sales under the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act was included in Bush’s $2.57 trillion budget proposal.

The money from auctioning federally controlled land to developers is used by the Interior Department for environmental and educational purposes in Nevada. Bush would use the money for federal programs elsewhere.

Bush justified the proposal by noting that the 1998 act has raised far more money than anticipated. While the Congressional Budget Office anticipated $70 million in sales each year, proceeds for 2005 will top $1 billion.

Ensign and Reid claimed sufficient support in the Senate to block the plan regardless of what happens in the House, where the Budget Committee also was taking up a budget proposal Wednesday.

The plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, also leaves out the land sales plan, but it asks the Resources Committee to provide a certain amount of money from funding sources. The Nevada land sales plan is among the biggest revenue sources in the budget areas under the Resource Committee’s jurisdiction.

A Bush administration official said the proposal was still alive because lawmakers, faced with an unusually tight budget, are going to be looking with interest at all plans that raise revenues.

“We think this proposal is very much in play,” said Noam Neusner, communications director for the Office of Management and Budget. “It is a sensible and sound proposal which we will work with the Congress on to see it enacted. We feel this is an appropriate policy proposal to make sure that federal land sales benefit federal taxpayers.”

– Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter Greg Crofton contributed to this report

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