Workers wearing union T-shirts and baseball caps filled a hearing room Wednesday to tell senators just how devastating Nevada's construction meltdown has been.
One woman, a pipefitter, said her family has to leave the state in the summer to seek work. A man said he resorted to donating plasma to make ends meet. Another asked senators to "give us the dignity so we can look ourselves in the mirror."
"I'll pay my own way. I want to be able to provide for myself and my family," said Pat Sanderson, a lobbyist for Laborers International Union Local 872.
The testimony came at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Economic Growth and Employment, after workers marched around the
Capitol grounds behind a banner that read "Not worked in 18 months."
Some at the hearing said that number was more like three years.
Construction boomed when Nevada was the fastest-growing state in the U.S., but became one of the hardest hit industries during the recent recession, shedding about 77,000 jobs in urban areas of Nevada in the past three years.
Experts said recovery in Nevada, which leads the nation in unemployment at 14.5 percent, will be slow at best.
"There is no `next big project,"' said economic analyst Jeremy Aguero. "There will be no new casinos on the Strip for the next seven or eight years."
A glut of homes on the market - analysts said the 50,000 homes constitute years' worth of inventory - indicate homebuilding will crawl along.
Job creation ideas are coming at lawmakers from all sides. The Building Jobs Coalition of Nevada, which organized the pre-hearing rally, is offering a plan they say would create 27,000 jobs in 18 months.
Their strategies include creating a "Nevada Job Bonds Support Fund" dedicated to infrastructure improvements. A 20-year bond, funded by an increase in sales or property tax or a vehicle surcharge, could create 11,500 jobs and stimulate $1.6 billion in economic activity, coalition leaders said.
Other strategies include mandating state and local governments to set aside funds for capital improvement projects, preventing them from sweeping those funds to balance their operating budgets, and restructuring fuel tax rates to raise money for transportation projects.
The group's ideas promise to be a tough sell among Republican legislators who have aligned behind Gov. Brian Sandoval and his stance not to raise taxes or fees.
"I don't think this is the time to raise taxes," said select committee member Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. "But the legislative session is about listening to all the ideas on the table."
Legislators mainly listened at the Wednesday hearing, the select committee's first meeting, and said specific reports and decisions will come in future meetings.
"I think this hearing explained what we already knew - that our No. 1 priority is job creation," said Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, the panel's chairman. "There are different groups working on proposals, and they are bipartisan or nonpartisan. ... This is not a Democratic or Republican issue."