Beating the bushes for money

George W. Bush, anxiously seeking ways to pay off the deficit he and Congress have run up, is once again looking hungrily at a fund based in Nevada.

Bush is seeking to dip into the money from federal land sales in Nevada under the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. Current law requires that all the money—more than a billion dollars this year—be spent inside Nevada.

Previous efforts to crack the fund have been blocked in Congress, where there is unified opposition from every member of the Nevada delegation—including Harry Reid, who will become Democratic Senate floor leader in January.

In March 2005, Gov. Kenny Guinn did not even bother lobbying Congress or the Bush administration because there was so little prospect of the administration succeeding. “I believe our congressional delegation is strong enough in this city to protect this,” Guinn said on a D.C. trip, and he was right. It is not clear why Bush would undertake another attempt in light of Reid’s ascension, but the Washington Times reported on Nov. 12 that the administration “is trying to get its hands on millions of dollars generated from sales of federally owned land in Nevada in order to help pay down the deficit.”

The story in the Times, published by the Unification Church, gave signs of having been planted to portray the expenditures in Nevada as frivolous by selective use of appropriations—"to help pay for a $52 million public golf course, $25 million in outdoor toilets, a $38 million park and to provide a safe habitat for the endangered Moapa dace, a fish that is a member of the carp family.”

The story also quoted a Republican congressional staffer saying, “It’s like the Nevada delegation pulled a lever on the slot machine, and the coins keep dumping out. The Nevada delegation has hit the jackpot.”

The fund is a lineal descendent of a measure called the Santini/Burton Act, under which money from sales of federal land in Southern Nevada could be used for preservation and protection of the Lake Tahoe basin. That mechanism was later expanded into the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act.

Former Nevada House member James Santini, now an Alexandria, Va., attorney and tourism industry lobbyist, sponsored the legislation that created the fund. “It’s a rape of the fund, is what it is,” he said during a previous attempt to tap the fund ("Trains for Nevada but not the nation,” Feb. 17, 2005). , not siphoned off into some general fund sinkhole or to some other agency.”