Looking back on 2007 and ahead to 2008 | NevadaAppeal.com

Looking back on 2007 and ahead to 2008

Sen. Harry Reid
For the Appeal

The first session of the 110th Congress has been one of change, accountability, and numerous accomplishments for the people of Nevada and our country.

I began the year with the goal of changing the way business was conducted in Washington. We were successful in doing so with the first piece of legislation passed in the Senate this year. The Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007 implemented tough new restrictions on lobbyists and lawmakers, increased transparency and openness, and included the most sweeping ethics reform in our nation’s history.

In addition to the ethics and lobbying reform, 2007 saw other significant accomplishments from this Congress. We gave hardworking Americans a raise by increasing the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years. We passed a budget that restored fiscal discipline, increased our investment in education, and kept our promises to veterans. We took important steps to make college more affordable and make America more competitive around the globe by passing the College Cost Reduction Act and the America COMPETES Act.

While these pieces of legislation benefit all Americans, Nevada always comes first for me, which is why I have leveraged my position as the Senate Majority Leader to bring vital Nevada-specific issues to the forefront in Washington.

One of those issues is the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. I have made it a priority to increase funding for this program that provides major funding to all of our counties to help pay for essential services like schools, police, and roads. For years this program has been underfunded. But working with my Democratic colleagues I was able to pass legislation through the Senate this year that would have delivered more than $30 million in new money to Nevada’s counties. Part of this funding would come from a program known as Secure Rural Schools through which Nevada was set to receive a 1,500 percent increase over past funding levels. Unfortunately, like so many things that would have helped the people of Nevada, this effort was blocked first by the president and then later by partisan Republicans who were more focused on defending subsidies for multinational oil companies than delivering results for the American people.

To help prevent the occurrence, spread of, and dangers caused by wildfires to rangeland, Senator Ensign and I introduced the Wildfire Presuppression Fuels Management Act of 2007. This bill would provide annual incentive payments to private land owners that implement innovative conservation practices on rangeland threatened or damaged by wildfires.

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In my ongoing battle to keep Yucca Mountain from becoming the dumping ground for nuclear waste, I joined with Senator Ensign to introduce legislation requiring that spent nuclear fuel be transferred from spent fuel pools to secure dry storage casks licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and located on site at nuclear power plants. Additionally, this bill would eliminate the very dangerous prospect of transporting the most dangerous substance known to man through Las Vegas and past our nation’s schools, neighborhoods, and businesses. I also cut $108.5 million dollars in funding to the dump – over 22 percent of its budget – to ensure that Nevada never becomes the nation’s nuclear dumping ground.

The Farm Bill recently passed by the Senate will benefit Nevada by protecting farm and ranch income threatened by natural disasters like drought and wildfire; encouraging on-farm renewable energy production through cost share assistance; and bringing healthy foods into our schools through the Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program.

The passage of the Energy Bill will save Nevadans hundreds of millions of dollars at the pump by making cars and trucks more fuel efficient, create thousands of new jobs, reducing our dependence on oil, and help solidify Nevada’s standing as the nation’s renewable energy leader.

Through the passage of the Omnibus Spending Bill Nevadans will see funding for many vital programs, including $1.125 million to deal with the impact of Mormon Crickets; language for the Nevada Rural Education Transportation Program; $740,000 for the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko; $250,000 to increase populations of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout; $300,000 to improve fresh water drinking systems in Moapa Valley; $300,000 to preserve the Goldfield Historic District in Esmeralda County; and $500,000 for vital repairs to the Fallon Sewer System.

I am proud of the accomplishments Congress made this year, but I know there is so much more to do. As we look forward to 2008, I plan to use the lessons learned from 2007 to deliver even more results for Nevada’s working families.

• Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate.