ISTEA Reauthorization
March 28, 1997

Thank you very much, Senator Reid, and let me say that Nevadans are indebted to you for your leadership as a very senior member of this committee. We greatly appreciate your having requested our friend, Senator Chafee, to join us here in Nevada for what we know as another day in paradise.

Mr. Chairman, it's nice to have you here. I might just say as an aside, I've just returned with Senator Graham from Panama, Columbia and Mexico under the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Committee, which we serve on together, and I will be very interested in sharing with you, when you have a chance, some of our observations from that recent trip.

Mr. Chairman, if I might, direct an opening comment to you to put this in some context. There are a few things that dominate the news in Nevada like our infrastructure needs. The population growth in Nevada continues to be staggering, and despite the efforts of all levels of government, State and local as well, we simply have been unable to get ahead of our infrastructure needs.

Just as one indicator of the kind of growth that we're experiencing here in southern Nevada, a new elementary school must open every 30 days -- I'm talking about new classrooms -- an entire elementary school must open every 30 days for the foreseeable future to accommodate the needs of educating our youngsters in the public school system here in Clark County. I think that is without precedent anywhere in America throughout the history of our country if that continues.

Having served as Chairman of the State Transportation Board for a number of years, I understand the challenges facing our transportation planners. While our Federal and State highway funding has increased in recent years, size, scope and cost of these projects currently being planned would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

By way of example, we considered ourselves very fortunate during the first ISTEA authorization at the request of Senator Reid and the Congressional delegation to obtain almost $60 million to rebuild a major Las Vegas interchange known here as the "Spaghetti Bowl." Now, to put that into some context, the funding today the Governor has outlined included projects that cost over $300 million each. Among those that he has cited is the widening of U.S. 95, the extension of 395-south between Reno and Carson City, the Boulder Dam bypass, widening our highways between here and State lines on U.S. Interstate 15, and other highway priorities that we have.

I understand working with you as a part of that budget coalition on which you've provided so much leadership for our us at the national level in trying to work out a bipartisan budget agreement which enables us to realistically and honestly balance the budget by the year 2002 that you understand the pressures that we're all feeling in Washington to balance our budget. But I must say that we also have a responsibility, in my judgment, to increase the Federal commitment to a national transportation system.

Most of the attention on ISTEA has understandably been focused on the formula; that is, how we divide those Federal funds that are collected by way of our gas taxes that are paid in and joining our Nevada delegation. I'll be participating in making sure that Nevada receives its fair share, but in a larger sense, we need to find a way to increase the overall level of funding; that is, to provide a larger pie so that each of us may enjoy a larger piece. We all pay gas taxes into the highway trust fund. In theory, these funds are supposed to be spent on transportation improvements. The Governor made reference just a moment ago in his opening testimony to a rather bizarre type of accounting practice that exist only at the Federal level, to my knowledge. All of the revenues collected through this gas tax revenue are not expended for purposes of our transportation needs. There is currently a $12 billion surplus in the trust fund.

One of the first things that I did arriving as a newly elected member of the United States Senate in 1989 was introduce legislation with fully committed monies in the highway trust fund to be spent for transportation purposes. That legislation, as you know, did not proceed, but, hopefully, it is an idea whose time has come.

I suspect that the greatest battle, of course, will revolve around the donor-donee question; that is, whether or not a State will receive as much from the highway trust fund as it, and its citizens and visitors contribute by way of gas taxes paid within that State.

Nevada, as you aware, Mr. Chairman, and Senator Reid certainly knows, is in a fairly unique position. Historically, we've been a donor State -- or rather a donee State. We have received more money coming in than we've paid out. As recently as 1990 when we first began considering ISTEA, Nevada was receiving $1.35 for every dollar paid into the highway trust fund. Last year for the first time, maybe an aberration, but Nevada for the first time became a donor State; that is, we receive less than we pay into in terms of gas taxes, approximately 97 cents to the dollar.

Let me just offer suggestions that I think would be constructive.

Number one, the Federal Highway Trust Program must recognize the very special needs of high growth States. From 1990, the occasion of our last census, to 1998 Nevada's population will have grown by 50 percent, 1.2 million to 1.8 million. Relying on the 1990 census database, obviously, puts us behind reality that we confront those who are part of our transportation planning at the State level, under Governor Miller's leadership, and with the local government as well. We need to consider some type of a formula in terms of the population that will more realistically reflect the size of the population and the States that are affected.

Number two, let me also say to you, Mr. Chairman -- I know that Senator Reid will be supportive of this as well -- and that is that the I-4R discretionary program has been very helpful, and we have benefitted from that. There's been some talk about eliminating that program. It has helped us in Nevada to avail ourselves of some discretionary funding, which we have been fortunate in securing, and I would hope that we could maintain that as well.

Because the State of Nevada, as Governor Miller indicated, 87 percent is under the jurisdiction or ownership of the Federal Government, public lands and highway programs have been very helpful, and Senator Reid has played a key role in securing the improvements to S.R. 160 -- that's our highway to Pakrump, which is one of the fastest growing areas in the southern part of the State, and to some extent has almost become a suburb of the Las Vegas metropolitan area.

I also suggest that there be some consideration in the reauthorization of the level of effort expended by individual States. Often times States and local government abuse the Federal Government by asking the Federal Government to provide more while they are providing less. Nevada is providing more, local governments are providing more; in fact, in terms of the total spending for highway needs, the State of Nevada spends more than the Federal share coming to us, and I am told, although I have not validated that, that perhaps Clark County as well spends more in terms of its highway commitments than the money it receives from the Federal Government.

My point being that we are stepping up to the plate and paying our fair share at the local level, and some factor ought to be worked into the formula rewarding States who themselves are doing what needs to be done at the local level.

And, finally, I would hope, Mr. Chairman, that the committee will resist the temptation to rely too heavily on Federal gas tax revenues as a factor in highway distribution formulas. This is, in my judgment, a poor approximation of needs for highway improvements, and equally inaccurate in relying on gas tax revenues is a factor in highway distribution. For example, there are innovative and competitive ideas to reduce fuel consumption and consequently improve air quality, which would be penalized if the gas tax revenue would be a lone criteria.

Again, welcome to southern Nevada. Thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule, and look forward as always to working with you as one of our colleagues. You know you are one of our favorites, and we are very grateful for what you've done not only in terms of your national leadership, but the help you've provided us in Nevada with an issue that is of increasing importance to us, and that is the nuclear waste issue.