Virginia & Truckee Railway officials appealed to the economic senses of state lawmakers Wednesday to fund the city's most expensive tourist attraction.
Give the tourist railway project $8 million this legislative session, and it will pay back the appropriation in less than four years with added tax revenue, officials said at a hearing before the Assembly Ways and Means committee.
The state has funded the V&T in the past, said Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira, who also sits on the state commission in charge of reconstructing the historic right-of-way from Gold Hill to Carson City.
Ten years ago, the Legislature appropriated $5 million toward the project. The appropriation expired in 2003 because the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T could not make the $15 million match. This time around, it already has commitments exceeding $35 million.
"And we have a better deal for them this time," Teixeira said following his testimony.
Officials expect the V&T to attract 200,000 riders a year, who will add about $2 million a year to the state budget in the form of sales and use tax, gaming and liquor taxes. At $40 a ticket, the railway is expected to gross $8 million annually. The state would then receive 5 percent of ticket sales, or $400,000 a year for 20 years.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City, a principal sponsor, said Assembly Bill 213 is beneficial to everyone because it repays the loan with ticket sales.
"It's going to be a win-win situation for many people in this region of the state, but also (because) the public dollars will be repaid," she said.
Even with these promises, the V&T is facing heavy competition during a waning budget year and a crowd of open palms. As one legislator put it, it's hard to hear this impassioned plea for the V&T when the state faces more pressing funding concerns.
"It's difficult to make that shift from homelessness to the V&T," said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks. "But it's important if this is an enhancement to our economic viability."
Outside the hearing room, Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, expressed a feeling that is familiar to V&T boosters.
"We don't have any money," Arberry said to Teixeira following his testimony.
Costs for the 18-mile V&T Railway keep rising. When the Carson City depot is completed, the final price tag for the entire project is expected to be $54 million.
Project engineer Ken Dorr said this is not unusual in the railroading world. The cost of rail is higher, as is land for right-of-way and materials to support tunnel 2, which is near the Lyon and Storey county lines.
But the V&T's situation is a lot different than what it was 10 years ago. Eight other governmental and private entities have bonded or donated millions to the project. About a mile and a half of track was completed in September 2005 from the Gold Hill Depot to American Flat, in southwestern Storey County.
"We have enough money now to easily complete (the rail) to a mile past Highway 50 East (on the south side of the highway)," Dorr said. "Then to start into the (Carson River) canyon, but we don't have enough money to get all the way into Carson City and build the terminal."
He said they'll keep plugging away even if AB213 doesn't get past the committee. Its sponsors include Parnell, Smith, Tom Grady, R-Yerington, and Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City. The appropriation is not included in the governor's budget. Even after the potential $8 million from the state, the V&T would need another $10 million.
• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.
By the numbers
What: V&T project officials are seeking $8 million to complete track and depot construction in Carson City
Repayment: Through 5 percent of annual ticket sales, which is projected to be $400,000 a year for 20 years
Projected start: When the railroad begins operating in 2010
Added incentive: Once completed, officials predict, the state will gain about $2 million in new tax revenue annually
Total price tag: $54 million
What it has: $38.6 million in public and private funds, including $21 million from Carson City room tax and sales tax revenues
- Source: Joe McCarthy, Carson City economic development