I appreciate the challenges facing the largely rural communities of Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, northern Washoe, Pershing, and White Pine Counties. I am committed to doing everything I can to help them improve the quality of life of the citizens of northern Nevada. I have been working on a number of initiatives to promote economic development, to expand and improve health care, to support education, to enhance the environment, and to improve transportation services throughout northern Nevada.
As the son of a hardrock miner, I understand first-hand the importance of mining to our state and particularly to northern Nevada. Mining was the reason that cities throughout Nevada began to sprout up and it became known as a place where the American dream could be pursued, and realized. Mining is of course still very important in Nevada. Today, by itself, Nevada is the third largest gold producer in the world and mining in Nevada employs about 12,000 people who earn on average $65,000 a year.
In the Senate, I have led the fight to protect the mining industry from attempts to impose excessive taxes and overly burdensome regulations. I am proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with senators from both parties to defend the mining industry, mining families, and their communities. I am committed to policies that enable the mining industry to grow and invest in the future. I believe that protecting the environment and providing a predictable business climate are equally important challenges. Reasonable and protective environmental regulation provides the foundation for a safer, cleaner, and more profitable mining industry. It is essential that we develop a mining policy for today and for our future that updates the 1872 Mining Law. To succeed, any revision of our nation's mining law must ensure a stable supply of strategic minerals, reasonable compensation for the use of federal lands, business certainty for mining companies, and legitimate and enforceable reclamation assurances.
I also have been a leading advocate of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which helps ensure that our local governments are fairly compensated for losses to their tax base that result from the presence of federal land in their communities. This program provides assistance to local governments to provide critical services to their citizens and gives them the resources to invest in their economic future. Last year, I helped secure $1.78 million for Elko County, $1.44 for Eureka County, $859,000 for Humboldt County, $477,000 for Lander County, $536,000 for Pershing County, $1.9 million for Washoe County, and 625,000 for White Pine County.
I am also working to maintain rural Nevada post offices, which often serve as the economic and social anchor of towns. I have introduced legislation to provide economic development assistance to rural communities where post offices have been closed. I heard from many concerned Ely residents when the Postal Service closed their historic downtown post office, and I am pleased that after I took the issue to the Postmaster General, the Postal Service agreed to lease the Old Ely Post Office to White Pine County for one dollar per year.
I believe that it is also important that we invest in the tourist industry so that it can strengthen and diversify northern Nevada’s economy. That is why I secured $4.5 million for the California Trail Interpretive Center near Elko. When completed, the Center will chronicle the 19th century overland journal of more than 300,000 settlers and will be an important tourist destination in northern Nevada. I also have introduced legislation that will designate the Great Basin Heritage Route. This legislation will not only celebrate the rich historical, environmental, and cultural heritage of the Great Basin but also support tourism-based economic development in White Pine County.
In 2005, I worked closely with members from both parties to pass legislation (S. 339) that reaffirmed each state’s right to regulate hunting and fishing. I led this effort because a previous court ruling attempted to undermine the traditional role that states have in regulating its hunting and fishing laws. I respect the authority of states to enact laws to protect their legitimate interests in conserving fish and game, as well as providing opportunities for in-state and out-of-state residents to hunt and fish. This legislation was signed into law in May, and it will help ensure that Nevada sportsmen continue to enjoy the sporting opportunities that our state offers.
Fairness for Nevada Taxpayers
Since 1986, residents in states like Nevada have been penalized by virtue of Nevada’s lack of a state income tax. Last year, this discrimination was rectified with passage of the Jobs Creation Act of 2004 which allowed residents of states with no income tax to deduct the state sales taxes they pay. That relief - a matter of fairness, really - expires at the end of this year. That's why I cosponsored legislation (S. 27) that extends the state sales tax deduction permanently.
Improving Northern Nevada's Health Care System
I want to make better health care available to every Nevadan by cutting costs, improving quality, and expanding access. Discussed below are just a few examples of my recent efforts to improve health care in northern Nevada.
All Americans deserve access to quality, affordable health care, but over 19,000 residents in Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Pershing, and White Pine counties -- including 5,700 children -- do not have health coverage. I am determined to pass legislation to cover all children as a first step to ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable health care coverage. Given that many small businesses, which employ 50 percent of Nevada's workers, are especially struggling to provide health insurance to their employees, I am also committed to finding solutions that will work for small employers and their employees while maintaining important consumer protections. A bill I cosponsored this year, the Small Employers Health Benefits Program Act (S. 2510), will make that happen by offering the same kind of coverage options Members of Congress enjoy.
I have consistently supported federal programs that play a critical role in sustaining and improving the fragile health care infrastructure common in Nevada's rural communities. I fought against the recent federal budget cuts for vital programs like the Title VII Health Professions Program and Rural Outreach Grants, and I will keep fighting for their funding in the future. I am also committed to supporting the programs that have real impact on the health and quality of life of everyone in northern Nevada, such as the state's Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. I am especially proud of my long and strong record of securing specific health care funding, including the $500,000 I recently directed to Nevada Rural Hospital Partners' telemedicine program. This initiative will enable thousands more rural Nevadans to consult with doctors in Reno, Las Vegas, and around the country without leaving their local hospitals.
As another example, I am working in the Senate to make the Medicare program truly work for our seniors and people with disabilities. Over 4,100 residents in Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Pershing, and White Pine counties now get their prescription coverage from Medicare. I had long supported adding drug coverage to Medicare, so that our seniors can access the affordable medicines they need, but I have been greatly concerned about the deeply flawed Medicare legislation (Public Law 108-173) that created the new Part D benefit being implemented now. Throughout the enrollment period and still today, I continue to hear from beneficiaries who are forced to deal with an unnecessarily complicated program that was written for the powerful special interests -- at the expense of ordinary citizens. That is why I am fighting to enact legislation that would fix the implementation problems, phase out gimmicks like the "donut hole" coverage gap, clean out the Medicare law's billion dollar giveaways to special interests, and allow Medicare to use its massive bargaining power to negotiate bulk discounts on prescription drugs.
Expanding Education Opportunities
As someone whose life was transformed by education, I am strongly committed to providing a high quality education to all of our children. I understand the unique educational challenges facing Nevada’s rural communities. During a meeting earlier this year with school superintendents from around the state, I heard that rural counties desperately need new school buses so I introduced a bill that will pay 75 percent of the cost of new buses for rural school systems. I also have been working hard to expand computer access for rural students. Students increasingly need computer skills to compete for jobs, but rural schools often do not have access to high technology. I was pleased to secure federal funding to supply laptop computers to McDermitt Combined School. These computers are available for students to use at school and at home and will ensure that these Humboldt County students have the skills to succeed in our increasingly technologically-based economy.
Protecting Nevada's Rich Natural Heritage
Our state has a rich natural heritage that must be protected for the enjoyment of current and future generations of Nevadans. I was proud to help pass legislation to establish the 77,180-acre Great Basin National Park in White Pine County, Nevada’s first national park. I also have always worked hard to ensure that federal policy remains sensitive to local concerns. With local input from residents of Humboldt and Pershing Counties, I was able to pass improvements to the Black Rock Desert legislation to ensure public access to well-used roads and wilderness areas.
We must be vigilant in protecting our state from Mormon crickets, invasive species, and other threats. For example, in an effort to help rural Nevada end its worst infestation in 40 years, I secured $20 million in emergency spending to control and eradicate Mormon crickets in Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. This money will give rural counties the support they need to protect their communities from future infestations. Several years ago, I also helped establish the Nevada Arid Rangeland Initiative through the University of Nevada, Reno, to control invasive species and weeds in Nevada. UNR has become a leader in the West in addressing the issues affecting our rangelands, helping ensure the environmental and economic health of many communities throughout the state.
I grew up in rural Nevada and I appreciate the transportation challenges that are facing small communities throughout northern Nevada. In the Highway bill that I helped guide through Congress last year, I was proud to support funding that authorized approximately $18 million for road construction projects throughout Fernley and Churchill County. I was also proud to support $2 million in funding for railroad construction in Ely and $2 million for improved access for the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko. I have also strongly supported Nevada’s rural airports, and I have helped provide funds to improve service at the Ely and Elko airports.
I was also particularly proud that I helped to ensure a provision was included that will require the Department of Transportation to account for population growth in the new transit funding formula. As a result, Nevada’s funding will increase 152 percent over the original 1998 Highway bill. In addition, this bill did not raise taxes and will not increase the deficit – the funds were set aside from previous federal fuel taxes.
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