Top Democrat hears wish list and alarm bells over local projects

The Democrats' "number two" Rep. Steny Hoyer visited Las Vegas Friday, meeting with local leaders about infrastructure. (Jeff Gillan | KSNV)

At a conference table at UNLV’s Tam Alumni Center, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, the 'number two' Democrat in the House behind Leader Nancy Pelosi, was surrounded by a few dozen of the valley’s movers-and-shakers.

Hoyer was on what he bills as the “Make It In America” listening tour, a travel across the country to hear what states and cities need. Here in Las Vegas, he got an earful about infrastructure.

A few miles away, Uber driver Moises Gutierrez could add something to the discussion. He’s a construction worker by day and driver when he’s free. He’s been driving Las Vegas’ challenging streets professionally, “for about a year and five months, I think,” he told me.

“Some of these streets, are kind of, they wear out some tires and stuff, you know, bumpy and cracks,” he told me as we rode in his beautiful and spotless Cadillac SUV.

Take Gutierrez and multiply by Southern Nevada.

We all have our stories. At the Tam Alumni Center, so did representatives from the Regional Transportation Commission, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, local cities, and gaming companies. It was a whos-who, including two of Southern Nevada’s Democrats in the House, Rep. Dina Titus and Rep. Ruben Kihuen.

Top of our infrastructure list -- more money to build I-11 between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

“It's going to help with our commerce between our state and other states and a lot of these folks in the construction industry are still looking for a job,” Kihuen told me.

An interstate-ready portion has already opened around Boulder City, but the thousands of other miles are yet to be finished, which would link Mexico with Canada, linking Phoenix to Las Vegas, the two largest cities in America that still are not connected with an interstate.

“Important part of I-11, you got to do it first, is Las Vegas to Phoenix,” says Titus, chair of the I-11 caucus. ”Then you can worry about Mexico to Reno to Canada.”

Hoyer also heard an alarm.

The Republican tax plan just passed by the House removes tax-exempt status from private bonds and municipal bonds, used to build roads and bridges.

For the Regional Transportation Commission, which currently has 225 projects, that could mean an additional $5 million more in cost, at least, annually, for the $3 billion in work voters authorized last year. The approval of Question 5 extended Clark County’s fuel index tax for 10 years to pay for road work.

“The higher the interest rate that we have to pay on this infrastructure means that we’re going to have to reduce the amount of infrastructure and the amount of progress that we are making,” says RTC General Manager Tina Quigley. “It’s a direct hit to taxpayers in the end because they are going to have to pay more for the infrastructure projects that we do have.”

The House tax plan removes the bond tax exemptions. The separate bill now being considered in the Senate does not.

Hoyer told me today he thinks President Trump will deliver on an infrastructure bill.

“I think we will because we have to. America needs an infrastructure bill. We need to invest in our infrastructure or we’re not going to be competitive in the global 21st-century community,” says Hoyer.

Congresswoman Dina Titus hopes he's right, although, she's not holding her breath for Trump to deliver.

“We heard that during the campaign. I think it was like three trillion dollars he was going to spend. We're still waiting to see any of that,” she says.

So is Gutierrez. His tires and his wallet need it.

“Makes kind of business slow if I can't get to my destination or to the customer's destination,” says Gutierrez.

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