Gibbons Defends Highway Funding Plan

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Nevada drivers can get the road projects they need without paying more in taxes, Gov. Jim Gibbons insisted Monday as he presented a list of projects to be built under his plan to reallocate hotel room and entertainment taxes.

"I'm willing to consider some alternative ideas, if they've got some," said Gibbons. "But I will not consider going out and raising gas taxes or weight-distance taxes, or taxes on vehicle registration, or driver's license taxes. That's just not going to be in this process."

The governor's plan would reallocate about $424 million a year from Las Vegas-area room taxes, and $360 million a year from statewide vehicle sales taxes and live entertainment taxes.

Those reallocations would pay for $2.87 billion in new road projects over the next eight years. In the first two years, state transportation planners would start adding extra lanes to Interstate 15, as well as U.S. 95 from Washington to Craig in the Las Vegas area.

The Assembly Ways and Means committee is still considering AB544, a bill that would add an additional $216 million, mostly from the state's general fund, for work on I-15.

The tax-reallocation plan has come under fire from gambling and business interests, who have said that raiding funds used to promote tourism in Nevada is shortsighted and will hurt the economy.

The governor said he's working with legislators, but said critics should come forward with an alternative plan, rather than simply taking shots at his. Gibbons had met privately with some legislative leaders in advance of his news conference on the road projects.

"We think we'll have a bill both in the Assembly and the Senate, that perhaps is a compromise bill on all this," said Gibbons. "We're hoping for that to be sooner rather than later. We're giving them the opportunity to share their ideas, bring forward their concerns."

The projects Gibbons wants to build represent about two-thirds of the projects that were suggested by a blue-ribbon task force, which found the state had a $3.8 billion shortfall in highway funding.

The reallocated money is apart from projects funded by the state Department of Transportation's general two-year budget. That $1.4
billion budget was closed by the Senate Finance Committee on Monday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)