Western Nevada encompasses Carson, Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral, Storey, and southern Washoe Counties. The region diversely mixes urban and rural communities and features some of the fastest-growing parts of the state from the Biggest Little City in the World to the rapidly reemerging ghost town of Dayton. It also boasts the state capital and Lake Tahoe.
Improving Western 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 western Nevada.
All Americans deserve access to quality, affordable health care, but 84,000 residents of Carson, Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral, Storey, and Washoe counties -- including 24,000 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. Legislation that I cosponsored, 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.
With the Fallon cancer cluster on many Nevadans' minds, I also have been working with the local community to jump-start independent research into the cluster's possible causes and provide the necessary federal research dollars. In addition, I introduced the Coordinated Environmental Health Network Act (S. 1442) to establish a national network to track and correlate chronic diseases and environmental exposure so that clusters may be identified. Due to my efforts, over $100 million has been secured for Nevada and a number of other states to begin the process of establishing tracking and response programs called for in this legislation. For the meantime, I secured $12 million to fund Fallon’s state-of-the art drinking water facility to remove arsenic from the area drinking water and helped to provide safe bottled water to children at area schools.
I have consistently supported federal programs that have real impact on the health and quality of life of western Nevadans. For example, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes it possible for Nevada to fund the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, the Nevada Environmental Public Health Tracking System, and the Women's Health Connection free breast and cervical cancer screening program. I also fought against the recent federal budget cuts for rural health 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 especially proud of my long and strong record of securing specific funding to benefit Nevada, 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 35,000 residents in western Nevada 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 first 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 Educational 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 have been working to secure Nevada’s fair share of federal funding, and I was pleased to be able to secure $1.3 million last year for the University of Nevada, Reno. It is also critical that the doors to UNR and other great universities are not blocked by financial barriers, which is why I have strongly supported the Pell Grant, the Perkins Loan program, and other federal financial aid programs.
I recognize 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.
It is also important 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 technology. I was glad to secure more than $420,000 in funding to supply laptop computers to Hawthorne Elementary/Junior High and Schurz Elementary Schools. These computers are available for students to use at school and at home and will ensure that these Mineral County students have the skills to succeed in our increasingly technologically-based economy.
Throughout my career, I have supported policies that have helped to advance gaming in Nevada. As Nevada’s Gaming Commissioner in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I worked to rid the industry of crime, making it more attractive to tourists and Nevadans. As a senator, I have also protected casino workers’ tips from increased taxes, worked to repeal industry taxes, and supported programs to train new workers.
In 2003 when the Administration was poised to impose a doubling or tripling of federal taxes on casino workers’ tips; I worked with Senator Ensign to block the plan. Subsequently, the casinos negotiated an extension of the current tip-tax system, avoiding an increase in taxes. I also made sure to amend a proposal to repeal the excise tax on Indian gaming so that it would also benefit all of Nevada’s casinos.
I believe that it is also important that I support policies in Washington to diversify and expand economic development throughout western Nevada. I have consistently supported policies and helped secure funds that have supported the development of renewable energy, emerging technologies, and improvements to our transportation infrastructure that are important to economic development. I am looking forward to continuing to work on policies that will help to enlarge diversified economic development throughout western Nevada.
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 $20,000 for Storey County, $67,000 for Carson City, $390,000 for Douglas County, $442,000 for Mineral County, $1.2 million for Churchill County, and $1.9 million for Washoe County.
Lake Tahoe is the jewel of the Sierras. That is why I have been working for many years to restore Lake Tahoe to its fabled clarity. I am proud to have convened the first Lake Tahoe Summit in 1997 to draw national attention to the declining health and clarity of the lake. Then-President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore accepted my invitation to attend the event and helped bring much needed attention to the problems facing the Lake Tahoe Basin.
In 2000, I worked closely with other members of Congress to pass the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which authorized $300 million over ten years for restoration efforts at the Lake. This funding supports land acquisition, erosion control, forest management, fire suppression, and efforts to improve water quality. This year alone, the federal government will invest over $38 million at Lake Tahoe. I’ll keep fighting every year to make sure Lake Tahoe gets the federal funding and attention it needs and deserves.
The large size of our state and the rapid growth throughout western Nevada demands that we invest strongly in our airports and highways. We must protect our investments and ensure that our surface transportation system continues to serve our communities and businesses. Roads with potholes and congested interstates threaten safety, diminish our quality of life, and obstruct economic productivity. Nevada's rapid population growth and important tourism industry make these challenges even more important, which is why I place a high priority on improving our transportation system.
I have been proud to help steer millions of federal dollars to finance improvements at the Reno-Tahoe airport and have secured additional assistance for our state’s smaller airports, including Minden. These investments have improved the safety and quality of transportation of system throughout western Nevada which have helped to spur tourism and encourage economic growth. For example, I set aside $12.3 million for projects at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, including a terminal air-traffic control tower, a sound insulation program to protect nearby homes, and a second-floor concourse. I also secured $2.3 million for runway and taxiway improvements at the Reno Stead Airport.
It is also critical that we invest in public transit to reduce congestion in our cities and expand transportation options throughout our rural communities. I secured $25 million for the Interstate 580/Interstate 80 extension from Reno to Carson City and $3 million for the US 395 lane widening. I directed an additional $2 million for the enhancement of the Carson City Bypass. These projects will help mitigate traffic congestion in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area.
I also appreciate the transportation challenges facing rural communities throughout western Nevada. I strongly support rural transportation programs and I helped to obtain nearly $48 million to support small urban and rural public transportation needs in Nevada.
I was very pleased that I was able to fund arrangements in the 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations Act that will provide flood control improvements on the Truckee River. Flooding that has taken place on the Truckee River over the last several years has had serious economic and environmental impacts throughout western Nevada. The funding arrangements that I helped to secure will go a long way to providing much of the local share of funds that will be necessary to ensure that western Nevada is protected from floods along the Truckee River.
Although wildfires play an important role in naturally-functioning rangelands and forests, if they burn out of control, they can devastate our communities. That is why I have supported funding for removing hazardous fuels and eradicating fire-prone invasive species across Nevada.
Our fire fighters also need the best equipment available so that they can aggressively attack wildfires, keep the fires small, and protect communities at risk from catastrophic wildfire. In order to meet these ongoing demands I helped to bring a helitanker to Minden, Nevada that will provide service for the Lake Tahoe Basin for the 2005 fire season. I will continue to do all that I can to protect Nevadans, their homes, and their livelihoods.
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. Among Nevada’s most beautiful treasures is Lake Tahoe. It promises visitors wishing to hike, ski, or fish an experience unmatched by any other setting in the nation. Senator Ensign and I have worked together successfully each year to secure millions of dollars each year to help restore Lake Tahoe to its fabled clarity.
I also have worked to save Walker Lake, one of only six freshwater terminal lakes in the world and an essential economic hub for Mineral County. I have helped provide millions of dollars to reverse the Lake’s falling water levels and increasing salinity. I also have provided substantial assistance to the Lahontan Basin Project, which helps ensure safe and dependable drinking water for Lyon County and will support the continuing operations of the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery.