Transportation bill focus of Wichman trip

WASHINGTON D.C. — Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman was part of a contingent of 1,500 county officials from across the country attending the National Association of Counties 2014 Legislative Conference here from March 1-5.

Wichman is president-elect of the Nevada Association of Counties and their representatives to the Western Interstate Region as well as a member of the Public Lands Steering Committee.

The focus of this year’s conference was transportation. NACO members urged Congress to pass a multi-year surface transportation bill this year that provides some certainty on long-term funding for transportation infrastructure. A two-year surface transportation bill expires in September.

On March 4, NACO leaders and members rallied in support of the transportation bill at the Capitol, joined by a half dozen members of Congress including U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and U.S. Reps. Tom Petri, R-Wis., Bill Foster, D-Ill., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. and Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx outlined a commitment to increase funding in President Obama’s $302 billion, four-year proposal as part of the 2015 budget.

“We shouldn’t be trying to just look through the rear view mirror and get funding levels back to where they were, we need to put funding levels on a course to help our nation actually address our infrastructure deficit,” Foxx said during the closing session.

“Whether you’re talking about transportation, public lands, economic development, health care or justice and public safety, it’s important that Congress and federal officials hear directly from county officials about how we can work together to effectively serve the public,” Wichman said in a statement released by NACO. “Our county’s leadership and active involvement in NACO makes that not only possible but highly effective. NACO and its strong voice are well respected in Washington.”

NACO members met with dozens of key Congressional committee members, Wichman met with U.S. Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev. and U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev. There were also a number of educational workshops.

A winter storm kept U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation from appearing in person, but he spoke via the Internet urging members to support new, invigorated efforts that would eliminate the annual ritual of searching for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funds. He would like to use the Land and Water Conservation Fund money from offshore oil and gas leases, he said were being misused with 88 percent kept by the federal government.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she realizes how hard it is for rural counties drawing PILT funds to lurch from continuing budget resolution to continuing resolution. She said the Interior Department is also working with local officials to find out “what areas we can de-conflict and not always argue in court.”