Tahoe funding in peril | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe funding in peril

Elizabeth White
Cathleen Allison/Tribune News Service/ John Singlaub, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency executive director, talks in Carson City on Wednesday.

CARSON CITY – Nevada legislators heard Wednesday that grants and federal funding to support preservation efforts at Lake Tahoe are in jeopardy.

John Singlaub, executive director of the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency which controls development at Tahoe, said nearly 35 percent of the agency’s budget comes from grants through measures like the Clean Water Act.

But money from the grants plus other fees and contributions is expected to decrease over the next two years, from $6.1 million in the current fiscal year to $3.9 million in fiscal 2007, Singlaub said.

“The money we can count on from those grants is declining,” Singlaub told a Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee, adding, “We can’t count on them but we’re still hoping we can gain grants.”

Singlaub also told lawmakers that $300 million committed by the federal government in 2003 for the lake is in question.

The 1998 Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act allows auctions of Bureau of Land Management property to developers, with proceeds used by the Interior Department for park improvements, conservation projects, education and the purchase of environmentally sensitive land across the state. The federal act was amended in 2003 to dedicate $37.5 million of the revenues each year for eight years for improvements, science and research at Lake Tahoe.

But Singlaub said the Bush administration now wants to put 70 percent of the act’s profits in the federal treasury, a plan opposed by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

An alternative plan being considered by the House Resources Committee would allocate 35 percent of revenues for the U.S. Treasury, 30 percent to Nevada for educational purposes, 25 percent to the federal Bureau of Land Management and 10 percent to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Saturday.

Singlaub said Bush is justifying his proposal because the act has raised much more money than originally planned.

While the Congressional Budget Office initially expected $70 million in sales each year, proceeds for 2005 will top $1 billion. And the BLM says federal land auctions, sales, leases and exchanges in southern Nevada have generated $1.6 billion since November 1999.

“This is Nevada’s money,” Singlaub said after the meeting, summarizing Ensign’s argument against the plan. “We’re selling land, the result of sales of that land is development. And therefore we should be spending that money in Nevada to mitigate the impact of that development.”

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., also opposes the plan, though he has proposed putting the money from the act used for purchasing environmentally sensitive land on education instead. The move would increase from 5 percent to 35 percent the amount of proceeds earmarked for education.

“Those dollars were raised in Nevada and should remain in Nevada,” Gibbons said in a statement last week.

Ensign also has proposed spending about $200 million of the proceeds on a turf-buying program that would pay schools and public agencies to rip out grass to conserve water.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, asked Singlaub if the state is doing anything else to protest the siphoning off of the Tahoe funding, and Singlaub said the agency will send a resolution to Washington, D.C. in April in hopes of maintaining the $300 million promised.

Besides federal funds, grants and other contributions, California and Nevada also contribute 45 percent of the TRPA’s budget. California gives $2 for every $1 from Nevada. For the coming two-year budget cycle, Singlaub said Gov. Kenny Guinn’s budget includes a request for $3.9 million in state funds. California, if it can resolve its budget woes, will contribute $3.7 million in the coming fiscal year and $4.3 million in the 2007 fiscal year.

However, Singlaub said the 2007 California funding is in question because its Legislature meets more often than Nevada’s biennial Legislature and isn’t looking that far ahead.

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