Former Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) head Tina Quigley, who left her post in November after 14 years, says she’s leaving her new private sector job overseeing a massive, high-speed rail project between Las Vegas and Southern California after just five months.
Quigley said in a brief interview on Wednesday that she remains a strong believer in the project — a 170-mile, $4.8 billion high-speed train between Las Vegas and Victorville, California — but that her own personal interests and desire to remain involved in charitable and philanthropic interests led her to leave the project.
“More and more I want to just focus on my philanthropy and other endeavors in Southern Nevada,” she said.
Quigley left the RTC and joined up with Virgin Trains USA in November 2019 as the company’s vice president of business strategy and to help plans for the high-speed bullet train. Quigley previously told the Las Vegas Review-Journalthat construction on the project could begin as early as the third quarter of 2020 but that work in Las Vegas would likely not begin until mid-2021.
Democratic presidential hopefuls pocketed more than half a million dollars in itemized contributions from Nevadans in the third quarter of the year as they prepare for a final push ahead of the early nominating contests in February.
Former Vice President Joe Biden raised the largest total sum, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders received the most individual itemized donations, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last week. Other candidates who raised significant sums from Nevadans include Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Federal campaign finance reports only list itemized contributions — those that are more than $200 or, when combined with other contributions over the election cycle, exceed $200 — meaning that the analysis does not take into consideration smaller sums that the candidates may have raised from Nevadans. For instance, Sanders’ campaign said that they received more than 30,000 individual donations, both itemized and not, from nearly 10,000 Nevadans, but other campaigns were not able to readily share similar data with The Nevada Independent.
The campaign finance reports hint at the kind of support the campaigns have here on the ground in Nevada, with Biden raising significant sums from well-known casino executives and former elected officials while Sanders and Warren tended to bring in generally smaller amounts from everyday donors. They also reveal how candidates may or may not be gaining traction here: Self-help author Marianne Williamson has been to Nevada eight times since launching her campaign and raised about $15,000 here this quarter, while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who has been here 10 times, only raised $2,800.
Some in Nevada also aren’t willing to choose a side yet. The reports show that Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck donated the maximum $2,800 primary contribution to four candidates — Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — and $1,000 to Buttigieg, while former Regent Jill Derby has spread $4,660 among seven Democratic hopefuls.
At the same time, the sums they are raising individually are dwarfed by what President Donald Trump raised in the state in the third quarter — about $320,000 across roughly 5,000 individual donations.
Below, The Nevada Independent takes a look at which corners of the state the candidates are raising the most from and breaks down each individual candidate’s Nevada donations.
The former vice president brought in the biggest haul of any Democratic presidential hopeful — about $206,000 once refunds were taken into account — from itemized donors in Nevada in the third quarter. He was the fifth top fundraiser overall among the Democratic field this quarter, bringing in $15.7 million in donations.
His list of Nevada donors this quarter includes many of the who’s who in Las Vegas, from gaming executives to members of prominent families, and is largely made up of big money donors, with $191,902 of his total coming from contributions of $1,000 or more.
Two of his biggest contributions came from Bob Boughner, who sits on the board of directors for Boyd Gaming and donated $5,600 to Biden’s campaign, and UNLV President Marta Meana, who contributed $5,000.
He received the maximum $2,800 contribution to a primary campaign from several notable Nevadans, including MGM Resorts Chief Hospitality Officer Ari Kastrati; Diana Bennet, co-founder of Paragon Gaming, Dr. Larry Lehrner, a nephrologist and husband of former Rep. Shelley Berkley; Marilynn Mack, daughter of the late real estate investor Jerry Mack; Amy Greenspun Arenson, daughter of Las Vegas Sun publisher Brian Greenspun; and Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners.
Other notable contributions: Biden received a $500 sum from Tina Quigley, the head of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, and several installments totaling $500 from former Rep. James Bilbray and his wife, Michaelene Bilbray.
Both Bilbray and Berkley have endorsed Biden in his presidential bid.
In total, Biden received about 570 individual itemized contributions in Nevada.
The Vermont senator raised the second most among the Democratic field in Nevada, about $104,000 after refunds, but had the most individual itemized donations. Still, the 2,900 individual itemized donations Sanders received is eclipsed by the 30,000 total individual donations — including unitemized donations — his campaign says he received in the Silver State.
Sanders was technically the second highest fundraiser this quarter nationally, at $28 million, but only behind billionaire Tom Steyer who spent $47.6 million of his own money on his campaign this quarter for a total of $49.6 million raised.
There are a lot fewer familiar names on Sanders’ list of Nevada donors, which includes a maintenance worker at Walmart, a bartender at Caesars Palace and a busser at the Cosmopolitan. (It also includes lawyers, nurses, dentists, and teachers, among others.)
His top donations this quarter came from Levi Blaney, an engineer at the tech company Flux7 ($2,000) and investment banker Pranav Merchant ($1,694). He also received nine $1,000 donations from some doctors, a medical social worker and an accountant. One notable donor — health care advocate and former congressional candidate Amy Vilela, who has endorsed Sanders, contributed $1,449.38
The Massachusetts senator raised far less in itemized contributions from Nevadans than either Biden or Sanders, bringing in a total of about $48,000 in the third quarter over nearly 650 individual donations. She was the third top Democratic fundraiser overall this quarter, raising $24.7 million.
Like Sanders, Warren has sworn off high-dollar fundraisers in exchange for spending more time on the selfie line after her rallies. As such, her list is also filled with many unfamiliar names and small dollar donations.
Her top contributions include $2,500 from Dr. Osama Haikal, a gastroenterologist, $1,500 from a retiree named Carson Miller, and $1,300 from Reno-based MS advocate Vivian Leal. Her top donors also include several UNLV professors, lawyers and consultants. Only five of her donations were sums of $1,000 or more.
Two interesting donors — Assemblywoman Connie Munk, who has not yet endorsed in the race but donated $525 to Warren’s campaign this quarter in small installments, and Clark County Democratic Party Chair Donna West donated $85.03. (Munk also donated $160 to Booker’s campaign.)
The South Bend Mayor brought in the fourth biggest haul in itemized donations from Nevadans this quarter at about $35,000 after refunds through a little more than 500 individual donations. He received nine $1,000 contributions, including from Cloobeck, a physician assistant, a lawyer and a broadband planner. He also received $500 from Patrick Duffy, president and CEO of Nevada School of the Arts.
He was the fourth top Democratic fundraiser overall, raising $19.2 million over the quarter.
This tech entrepreneur who has slowly inched up in the polls over the last few months raised the fifth most in itemized donations from Nevadans, totaling about $27,000 after refunds. Yang’s top contributors include several professional gamblers and poker players, consultants and a cocktail server at the Bellagio.
He raised $9.9 million overall this quarter.
The California senator came in just shy of Yang’s total itemized donations in Nevada by $13.70 after accounting for refunds, placing her at the sixth highest for itemized contributions in the state. Like Yang, she also raised just about $27,000, but came out ahead of the tech entrepreneur in total fundraising nationally this quarter at $11.8 million.
Her top donor was Cloobeck, but she received several $1,000 sums including from a nurse, a lawyer and an environmental biologist.
The self-help author, who didn’t qualify for the October debate stage, actually managed to raise the seventh most in itemized donations from Nevadans in the third quarter at about $14,000 after refunds. Her top donor in Nevada was Aileen Getty, a philanthropist and the granddaughter of J. Paul Getty, who donated $2,500 tied to an address at a Reno office park associated with her foundation. Other contributors include two atmospheric scientists, an ecclesiastical assistant and a yoga instructor.
Others who made the debate stage
Several other Democratic hopefuls who raised enough money and scored high enough in the polls to qualify for the October debate stage raised far smaller sums. Klobuchar and Booker each brought in a little north of $10,000, while former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised just a little less than that sum.
Two notable Klobuchar donors — Las Vegas Sun publisher Brian Greenspun and his wife, Myra Greenspun, who collectively donated $3,800. His sister-in-law, Robin Greenspun, donated $500 to Booker.
Dan Lee, CEO of Full House Resorts and husband of Rep. Susie Lee, donated $275 to O’Rourke.
Steyer raised a little less than $6,000 in the state, while Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard raised about $4,500 and Castro raised just a little less than $2,800 after refunds.
Bottom of the pack
Two candidates who didn’t qualify for the debate stage outraised Castro, who did. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet raised about $4,800 from just seven donors in the state, while Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan raised about $4,300 — with almost all of that coming from three employees affiliated with singer and songwriter Jewel and her company, Jewel Inc.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock raised about $2,700, while former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak raised about $1,500 and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney raised $290.
If there’s one thing that really irks Tina Quigley, it’s a misplaced orange cone stunting the flow of traffic.
“We get upset about so many things, but we should be really upset about those lane takings when the cones aren’t set up appropriately or they’re up there for weeks at a time with absolutely no activity going on,” said Quigley, chief executive officer of the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). “It seems like we just kind of accept it.”
No more. In April, the RTC announced it had partnered with a software startup called Nexar to launch a pilot program that collects information about construction zones — and those pesky traffic cones — via dashcams. The goal: Track the movement of those cones and their effect on traffic to ease congestion and minimize accidents.
It’s one of the forward-thinking projects Quigley said she is proud of launching during her 14-year tenure at the Regional Transportation Commission. The longtime transit chief announced Thursday that she’s retiring from her post in November, ending her career in the public sector. She previously spent 15 years working at McCarran International Airport.
So what’s next? Quigley, who joined the Indy Matters podcast this week, was mum on the details, but sources say she is leaving to become an executive with a company hoping to build a high-speed train between Las Vegas and Southern California. Quigley wouldn’t confirm her next step but offered this hint: “chugga-chugga-choo-choo.”
In any case, her last day with the RTC will be Nov. 14. Quigley’s tenure at the transit agency has been marked by everything from a ballot question about a motor vehicle fuel tax, which passed, to conversations about building a light-rail system, which never came to fruition. But Quigley said it’s the innovative projects that can sometimes make the most difference for people living and commuting in Southern Nevada.
As an example, she pointed to the RTC’s partnership with Waycare, an Israeli company that uses artificial intelligence to identify high-risk roadway areas and alert traffic agencies, which, in turn, can roll out accident prevention measures. Quigley said the program led to a 17 percent reduction in crashes along a busy corridor of Interstate 15 in Las Vegas.
“I always say that, you know, every minute that you’ve blocked off a lane of traffic, you’ve stolen from the taxpayers because that’s capacity that they’ve already paid for,” she said. “Our obligation is to clear that up as safely and quickly as possible.”
But not every traffic headache is under the control of the RTC — for instance, the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 15 that debuted as a part of Project Neon.
“What I have to say, first of all, is I feel your pain,” she said. “I’ve certainly shared with NDOT my opinions on that as well. But that is a Nevada Department of Transportation project. And I understand their logic behind it. They’re trying to change human behavior and encourage people to share rides.”
Quigley also addressed criticism the RTC has faced regarding whether it should expand paratransit routes, which provide transportation for people with physical or cognitive disabilities. The service costs the agency about $38 per trip, she said, making it financially untenable to extend it beyond three-quarters of a mile from any fixed route. Plus, an expansion would have to occur system-wide, not just in a specific geographic area.
“That’s a slippery slope and the answer is no, you can’t,” she said. “You have to take a very methodical approach to expanding it and understanding those costs associated with (it).”
Quigley’s departure comes at a time when the RTC is grappling with how to secure financial footing for public transit in the age of ride-share. The agency’s bus route through the resort corridor, which used to subsidize the rest of the system, no longer turns a profit.
Still, Quigley said her daily interactions with community members and leaders leave her confident in the financial sustainability of public transit going forward.
“I’m not worried about it,” she said. “It is truly something we have to talk about, but our community seems to understand the value of transit and the fact that it does need a sustainable funding source.”
On the day Victoria Preciado saw double-decker buses roll down Las Vegas Boulevard, she quit her job as a hotel shuttle driver and imagined herself behind the wheel of a new vehicle.
She turned that vision — and spontaneous decision — into a career. For the past 11 years, Preciado has driven the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada’s iconic two-story buses that traverse the casino-lined roadway. They’re formally called the Deuce On The Strip, but Preciado has a different way of describing the mammoth buses. She said it’s like “driving a Volkswagen on steroids.”
Four days a week she commandeers the Deuce, answering tourists’ questions along the way. Preciado drives the RTC’s Downtown Loop, a free shuttle service, on her fifth day of work.
“I get an office with a view,” Preciado said.
Her buses haven’t been as full in recent years, though. Preciado estimates the Deuce buses are at 60 percent capacity most days, down from the heyday of 90 percent. The reason: ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft, which have been siphoning riders who prefer door-to-door service over a public transit bus that makes multiple stops.
“There was a time not very long where we were seeing a profit along the Strip, and, in the transit industry, there’s really no such thing as a profit,” said Tina Quigley, chief executive officer of the RTC.
The RTC’s bus route in the resort corridor — from downtown Las Vegas to the south end of the Strip — was one of the only profitable lines in the United States, she said. The route generated a yearly $6 million profit, which the agency used to subsidize other residential routes.
Not anymore. For the first time since the double-decker buses made their Strip debut in 2005, the RTC started subsidizing the resort corridor route in the most recent fiscal year. Ridership and revenue have fallen dramatically since September 2015, when ride-share companies legally began operating in Southern Nevada.
“Do I have any takers for Fashion Show, Wynn, Encore?” Preciado said over the bus intercom on a recent morning.
No one moves.
The bus accelerates forward, on to the next stop.
Paulette Doolittle boarded the double-decker bus driven by Preciado just after 7 a.m. She caught the bus at the Bonneville Transit Center en route to her job as a porter at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Her shift starts at 8 a.m., but Doolittle hopped on a bus near her northwest valley home at 6:25 a.m.
She carpools to work with friends some days, but if not, this is her commute.
“It’s all right; it’s convenient,” Doolittle said. “It might take a little longer to get where you’re going, but it’s okay. There’s some good, and there’s some bad.”
While tourists may use the bus for sightseeing, Doolittle represents a sizable share of passengers who count on public transit for their commute. Based on the RTC’s latest “Origin and Destination Survey,” about 60 percent of trips are work-related while the other 40 percent are for recreational, medical, social, shopping or educational purposes.
Anthony Paradiso, 49, fits the latter description. On the same morning, he was riding a bus that travels east and west on Flamingo Road. He had just finished donating blood.
“It’s easier for me,” he said. “I don’t like to drive.”
Since fiscal year 2015, Strip ridership has decreased by 3.3 million passenger trips. General market ridership, meanwhile, grew by 3.7 million passenger trips during that time frame.
M.J .Maynard, the RTC’s deputy CEO, said the residential ridership increase is bucking the national trend and is likely tied to population growth. Additionally, nine of the agency’s 39 fixed routes are frequent, meaning buses arrive every 15 minutes, which Maynard said has been another draw for customers. The RTC hopes to expand its offering of frequent routes.
Residential public transit is far from a moneymaker, though. For every dollar the RTC spends operating those routes, it only receives about 40 cents in fare revenue, which Quigley said is about double the national average but still not profitable.
Year-to-year comparisons show the revenue hit that occurred as passengers flocked to ride-share companies in lieu of public transit. Consider the month of October: Strip revenue stood at nearly $2.4 million in October of fiscal year 2016. The next year October revenue had fallen to $2.1 million, followed by $1.9 million in fiscal year 2018 and $1.7 million in fiscal year 2019.
RTC officials acknowledge it’s difficult to compete with the brand recognition of companies such as Uber and Lyft. Stickers featuring their respective black and pink logos grace the windshields of so many vehicles dropping off or picking up tourists along the Strip.
“Those are globally known brands,” Quigley said. “They already have some familiarity with the app.”
The RTC has an app, too, as well as ticket vending machines scattered across the tourist corridor, but the trick is building awareness. During the most recent fiscal year, the agency spent $300,000 to market and advertise its transit system and services.
The transportation agency also employs 30 “transit ambassadors” donning blue shirts who help customers at certain high-traffic bus stops. Need to know where or how to buy a bus ticket? They can help. Need directions to a tourism landmark? They can help with that, too.
“That’s part of our marketing,” Maynard said. “They’re boots on the street.”
But for all those efforts, Strip ridership sometimes boils down to serendipity. Just ask Scott and Ava Rodda, visitors from Adelaide, Australia, who recently boarded the Strip & Downtown Express (SDX) bus at a stop near the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
Their destination: the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop (as seen on “Pawn Stars”) and the Premium Outlets downtown.
Their reason for choosing public transit: “We literally stumbled across it when we were walking,” Scott Rodda said, “and we thought it would be a really cool way to see the Strip.”
Declining revenue — at least for the time being — hasn’t led to any service reductions. The agency isn’t cutting or adding any service routes for fiscal year 2020, which began July 1.
The RTC, however, predicts fare revenue in the Strip corridor will continue its downward slide and decrease by 5 percent this fiscal year. General market revenue is expected to increase by 1 percent. Quigley said the transportation agency plans to make quarterly presentations to its board about transit ridership and revenue.
“We are very concerned and It is fluid,” she said. “We don’t want anything to be a surprise to our board. If we have to cut routes, we don’t want that to be a surprise.”
RTC officials said data would drive any decisions regarding service changes, which could include cutting route length, curbing bus frequency or eliminating routes. If financial circumstances get dire, Quigley said the board would consider a ballot question essentially asking voters whether they’d approve a tax increase to maintain current transit services.
But the agency is hardly resting on its laurels as the transportation industry evolves.
Last month, the RTC launched an on-demand service called “Trip to Strip,” in which an 11-passenger van shuttles people to various locations within the Strip corridor. If it sounds eerily similar to the likes of ride-share, that’s the point: The agency is testing this form of microtransit as customers gravitate toward transportation they can arrange with the tap of a finger.
So far, “Trip to Strip” ridership has grown by double digits every week, Maynard said.
The agency also has partnered directly with Lyft to ensure smoother commutes for Southern Nevada residents — specifically, those working at the Northgate Distribution Center in North Las Vegas. Under a pilot program created late last year, employees of Fanatics, a sports merchandising company, can use Lyft at a reduced rate for first- and last-mile service from 13 specified RTC bus stops. In other words, employees take public transit as far as they can to their job and then hail ride-share for the final leg.
The Northgate Distribution Center, which houses a Fanatics distribution center, sits in an area not served by the RTC’s fixed-route transit system. Per the partnership, Lyft provides service at a reduced rate while the RTC subsidizes $1 per trip. Fanatics then picks up the remaining tab for employees who use Lyft to get from designated bus stops to the job site.
The transportation agency also has been piloting ride-share partnerships for paratransit, which serves residents who have physical or cognitive disabilities. RTC officials consider it a win-win because of its potential to reduce costs while also providing more personalized, on-demand service. As it stands now, each paratransit trip costs the agency about $35 per passenger.
Quigley, the region’s transportation guru, doesn’t expect the innovation to slow down. She considers it a necessity.
“Obviously, the business model of the fixed route where it stops every quarter of a mile is something that is going to be challenged moving forward, recognizing that there are cost-effective options that are more efficient,” she said. “I feel really strongly that just because we’re government doesn’t mean we have the ability to sit back and let other business plans evolve without us trying to challenge our own business plans and model.”
In the meantime, the Deuce buses will remain a fixture on the Strip, stopping roughly every 15 minutes at most casinos.
Uber and Lyft have a new competitor — the Regional Transportation Commission.
The RTC has launched an on-demand ride-share service called “Trip to Strip,” which shuttles passengers to various locations within the tourist corridor. Last week, the transportation agency released a video promoting the new service that featured comedian and Impressionist Terry Fator, Las Vegas Aces players, and former Mayor of Las Vegas Oscar Goodman.
Passengers can book a trip via the RTC's app and be picked up and dropped off at fixed-route bus stops and designated paratransit stops. The service area reaches as far north as downtown Las Vegas and as far south as M Resort. Each vehicle carries up to 11 passengers and features complimentary Wi-Fi, USB charging ports and luggage space. Wheelchair-accessible vehicles are available as well.
RTC officials, however, said the biggest selling point “Trip to Strip” has to offer may be its price: The average fare is $6, and there is no surge pricing.
“Just because we’re a government agency doesn’t give us the luxury of sitting back and watching this technology evolve,” RTC’s chief executive officer, Tina Quigley, said during a news conference last week. “We owe it to our community to engage it, test it, pilot it and figure out how it should all come together.”
Quigley hopes to combine the ease and convenience of ride-sharing with transporting larger groups of people. She believes the service will also help improve air quality and cut down on road congestion.
“Innovation is important in this city, and having access to and around the city is important,” said Steve Hill, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s chief executive officer. “We have to be able to provide opportunities for our visitors to travel and make sure they are treated with respect.”
“In the last year, we’ve seen dramatic change in how people move around Vegas,” Hill said. “The RTC has to stay competitive. Uber and Lyft have impacted public transportation. We have suffered for it. Today we’re excited to change with the on-demand world.”
Later during the event, many of the people featured in the launch video appeared on stage with RTC staff and Mayor Carolyn Goodman.
“This is such an exciting day for us,” Goodman said. “This is a way to cut back on all the smog that we all hate and a great way to travel in the city. This will help to those traveling to a hotel, restaurant or the Fremont Street Experience. Thank you for including me today, have a nice ride, and take a drink on us.”
Las Vegas’ future could hold a new underground mass transit system — but it’s no subway.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced a partnership with the Elon Musk-linked Boring Company Wednesday that would see an underground tunnel connect the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center campus end-to-end by the time a new expansion is slated to open in early 2021.
Started by Musk after the billionaire found himself stuck in L.A. traffic, the company has sought to ease increasing traffic congestion through the construction of what it calls “The Loop,” a system of tunnels essentially meant to create an underground highway.
Speaking at a news conference, LVCVA president and CEO Steve Hill, who negotiated with Musk to bring the Tesla gigafactory to Northern Nevada, said the small-scale convention loop will cut down travel times for convention-goers, who might otherwise have to walk up to two miles once the expansion is complete.
“That's not possible for some, and certainly not convenient for many,” Hill said. “So contemplating a people-mover system on the campus has been a part of the conversation during the entire design and certainly through the construction of the convention center expansion.”
Like the company’s existing tunnel in Hawthorne, California, the system would utilize a number of individual electric vehicles that are sped along small, concrete-lined tunnels. The details of which vehicles the LVCVA system will use hasn’t yet been finalized, but Hill said the options range from using Tesla Model 3 sedans, Model X SUVs or even a 16-person tram chassis.
In total, Hill said he expects between 4,400 and 11,000 people per hour to utilize anywhere from 90 to 140 cars connecting between three or four stops.
But exactly how the company’s tunnels have functioned has shifted over the last three years. Though early concepts focused on running individual cars through the tunnels on electric sleds, Musk later tweeted a new focus on transit for pedestrians and bikers over commuter vehicles.
At a December 2018 test in Hawthorne where the technology was revealed for the first time, the sleds had been ditched. Instead, electric, foldable guide-wheels sped a Model X through a 1.14 mile tunnel at a bumpy 40 miles per hour — far short of the promised 150 mph top speed.
But the company has said future tunnels will be smoother, and speed estimates haven’t changed either. In Las Vegas, Hill said the convention center system would be too short to reach that kind of speed, and he added that the final product would ultimately reflect the city.
"We've emphasized the fact to them that this tunnel needs to look like Las Vegas, and it will," he said.
County transportation officials are looking at a possible expansion of the system, which The Boring Company said it would finance, that would run down the length of the Strip and beyond, connecting major properties as far south as McCarran Airport and the Raiders Stadium.
If that expansion ever happens, Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission, said the Boring Company tunnels would form just a part of what she called a transportation “ecosystem.”
“We have a geometry problem,” she said. “We don't have any more room for lanes at surface level, so we have to start to get creative.”
In the long-term, Quigley said autonomous vehicles, bikes, scooters and even a subway would all have to work in tandem in order to solve existing transit issues.
With the addition of Las Vegas, the Boring Company now maintains active projects in Southern California, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Another project had been planned for West L.A., though it was scuttled after community groups filed a lawsuit claiming the company tried to skirt the environmental review process.
The concept of underground transport, rail or otherwise, in Las Vegas has long been stymied by the city’s geology. The ubiquity of caliche — a concrete-like sediment that can appear sporadically beneath the soil — is a frequent obstacle to construction in the valley, extending timelines and increasing costs.
But Boring Company CEO Steve Davis said geological surveys and boring samples already taken of Las Vegas soil are promising, and that the company has already identified several domes of caliche in addition to the existing soil structure.
“It's a really important thing we have to note before we put in our proposal,” he said. “We have two boring machines that can be launched, so we wanted to make sure the geology in Las Vegas was consistent — and it is.”
Hill said it will be several months yet before a contract is finalized and construction begins, though once started, the system is projected to take roughly a year to complete.
Legislative committees are focusing less on bills and more on presentations on Thursday, with plans to hear about the performance of Nevada’s marijuana taxes, the state’s early childhood education system and regional transportation authorities.
That’s not to say no bills are on tap. Lawmakers will discuss measures that would require lobbyists and legislators to disclose less information to the public, set the stage for Nevada System of Higher Education regents to be appointed instead of elected and provide grants to entities that need matching funds to receive public lands-related federal dollars.
For more information on the status of bills working their way through the Legislature, check out The Nevada Independent’s bill tracker. And for the bills in committee today, check out the Legislature’s website for committee times and links to watch live committee meetings and floor sessions.
Here’s what to watch for on Thursday at the Legislature:
Welfare and Supreme Court budgets
One joint money subcommittee is hearing about budgets within the welfare division, including the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Energy Assistance programs, while another is hearing the details of the Nevada Supreme Court’s budget.
Both subcommittees meet at 8 a.m.
The Assembly Education Committee will hear presentations on Nevada’s Early Childhood Education programs and Nevada Reading Week, which features the Read with my Barber program.
The committee meets at 1:30 p.m.
AJR5: Taking the Board of Regents out of the constitution
Members of the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections will hear AJR5 from the 2017 session — a measure that seeks to remove the Nevada Board of Regents from the state constitution.
The proposed constitutional amendment comes amid concerns about the regents being an elected, rather than appointed, position. While the constitutional amendment would not automatically end the election of regents because state law also specifies regents are elected, it would make it easier to move toward appointments in the future.
If it passes this year, the resolution will go to the voters for consideration.
The committee meets at 4 p.m.
AB121: Lobbyist and legislator reporting changes
Proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly and scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, AB121 would add several major exceptions to reporting requirements for lobbyists and lawmakers.
The bill would create several new categories of exemptions from the Legislature’s ban on gifts from lobbyists to legislators. Among them are certain revenues from property ownership and any payments made to lawmakers working as an independent contractor or if they receive a payment from a court-ordered judgment.
It would also allow lawmakers to avoid reporting any meetings, trips or events taken as part of their employment on their financial disclosure form. The measure would also exclude any person who employs or hires a lobbyist from having to register as a lobbyist, unless they meet the definition of a lobbyist themselves.
It also changes financial disclosure requirements for candidates appointed to a public office.
The committee meets at 4 p.m.
The Assembly and Senate Growth and Infrastructure committees will meet to receive four different transportation-related presentations. Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada general manager Tina Quigley, Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County executive director Lee Gibson and Nevada Department of Transportation director Kristina Swallow will give overview presentations of their departments.
Lawmakers will also receive a presentation on “Electrifying Nevada’s 21st Century Transportation Program.”
The committees will meet at 1:30 p.m.
Sales and pot taxes
A joint meeting of the Senate Revenue and Economic Development and Assembly Taxation committees will meet to receive two overviews from the Department of Taxation. State officials will give lawmakers an overview of state and local taxes as well as marijuana.
The joint committee will meet at 4 p.m.
SB96: Public Lands grant
Members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources are set to hear details of a bill that would create a matching grant program for local governments who receive federal funds on public land issues.
The bill, SB96, would require the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to create a Nevada Public Lands Grant Program, which would provide grants to eligible governments and other recipients who are required to put up matching funds for any federal grant related to public lands.
The legislation also includes a $500,000 appropriation to the program and allows the department director to adopt regulations on eligibility requirements and other criteria for granting of rewards.
Updated at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 21, 2019 to clarify effect of AJR5 on regent elections.
On the morning of the first day of his first legislative session as governor, Steve Sisolak was squatting on the floor of the legislative building in a suit and leather-topped sneakers high-fiving children.
Unlike Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske or Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, Sisolak was incidental to the day’s proceedings, which largely consisted of lawmaker swearing-ins and mundane legislative business. But instead of holing up in the Capitol as snow swirled outside, the newly inaugurated governor had decided to hobnob in the halls of the legislative building.
His presence marked a departure from the distance that his predecessor, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, put between himself and the legislative process.
Although Sandoval also set a goal after he was elected to meet with every lawmaker, he was more likely to summon lawmakers to the Capitol for formal meetings in his office. Sisolak made the short walk across the snowy courtyard to meet with lawmakers on their own turf.
“He hasn’t served in the Legislature before and so he wanted to go over there and get to know folks,” said Michelle White, his chief of staff, “and let them know he meant what he said about being accessible and wanting to sit down with them and go to where they are.”
The gesture didn’t go unnoticed by lawmakers on either side of the aisle, several of whom tweeted out pictures of their meetings with the governor.
“It was much more casual than last time,” second-term Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, a Democrat, said of her meeting with Sisolak. “Going over to his office was very formal, I would say, with Sandoval.”
But the man-of-the-people persona he’s exuded in his first several weeks in office as he and his wife have embarked on an eating tour of Carson City and toured the rural portions of the state belies the reputation Sisolak earned as a headstrong negotiator in a decade serving on the County Commission.
Those who have worked closely with him describe him as someone who not only won’t back down from a fight, but will sink his teeth in further when challenged — qualities on display in a battle with firefighters over their sick leave system and a clash with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.
Although former commission colleague Tom Collins characterizes his style as bullying, primary opponent Chris Giunchigliani said he can be “controlling” and critics see his frequent public and media appearances as evidence of egotism, his supporters view him as accessible, a tough fighter with the wherewithal to lead the state.
“What I saw from him is, when he does believe in something, he is a pitbull. But I don’t see him as a bully,” said Susan Brager, who spent 10 of her dozen years on the County Commission serving with Sisolak and sided with him against a fellow commissioner in a fierce Democratic primary. “I think when you stand strong, it can appear that you’re doing that, but that’s his character, nature, compassion and passion.”
For his part, Sisolak describes himself as a “solutions-oriented consensus-builder.”
“Throughout my service on the Board of Regents and Clark County Commission, I worked hard to forge consensus among diverse groups of people to achieve results for Nevada families,” he said in a statement. “I am willing to sit down with anyone to discuss common-sense solutions that are in the best interests of working families in our state.”
What remains to be seen is how Sisolak’s style translates to his new role as the state’s top executive, where he’ll have the final say in heated debates on gun control and collective bargaining for state workers and power to shed more light on the mostly opaque cannabis and pharmaceutical industries.
In his first days in office, he flexed his political muscle with a sharply worded statement, a self-assured press conference appearance and a series of legal maneuvers when the federal government shipped plutonium to Nevada without consent.
“We all got fired up, too, and I think a lot of Nevadans across the state would agree — they want a governor who is going to be aggressive in their approach and go get something done and take bold steps and get angry because that wasn’t the right thing to do,” White said. “He gets fired up when he thinks regular Nevadans are going to be harmed by something.”
Ron Knecht, a Republican former state controller who served on the Board of Regents with Sisolak, said he’s seen both the friendly and forceful sides of the governor.
“He’s personable, he’s got a likeable personality, the kind of guy … you’d either drink beer or scotch with him,” Knecht said. “He’s a strong leader. And sometimes just on the edge of being too strong.”
A budget hawk
Sisolak has touted his fiscal conservatism in the past. He put that aside during the gubernatorial primary when he sought to win over the hearts and minds of progressives, but people who have known him for years say budget hawkishness is his default.
“I consider him to be a hard-nosed negotiator, particularly on issues related to money,” said Don Burnette, who was the county manager for Clark County from 2011 to 2016. “He treated taxpayer money … as if it were his own … He’s definitely the guy you want on your side if you’re going into a fight and it involves money.”
As a member of the Board of Regents, Sisolak earned a reputation for “crunching budget numbers,” a skill he told the Las Vegas Sun he was looking forward to applying to the County Commission. Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick says it will serve him well in his current role.
“My hope is and my expectation — because I think he’ll do it — is to take things into consideration on the budget that he balanced for many years,” Kirkpatrick said. “The county budget is similar to the state budget.”
When Sisolak took office as a county commissioner in 2009, he became part of the first all-Democrat commission the county had seen in 40 years. It was also a time of great scrutiny on spending as the extent of the recession became more clear.
“The cutbacks were fairly painless to begin with — things like trying to reduce travel and training and discretionary spending, and that got progressively worse,” Burnette said. “About the time I became county manager, the only way left to deal with revenues that were still on the decline was to go through widespread layoffs.”
Sisolak was supportive of the county’s efforts to whittle down its budget during the recession, saying that the county should be a good steward of taxpayer dollars in good economic times as well as bad ones. After all, local government employees who have the right to collectively bargain generally make significantly more than state employees who don’t, according to state-sanctioned salary studies.
He questioned the many opportunities county workers had to boost their pay.
“There are so many of these things — cost-of-living raises, step increase, merit raises, longevity bonuses, whatever you want to call them, you have to start asking: For what?” Sisolak told the Sun. “I talk to people in the private sector who are just happy to keep their jobs, and we’re giving all this money away. We have got to put a tighter rein on this. The county has to get a handle on it.”
The county considered a host of proposals to cut its budget, including streamlining business practices, shifting the burden of providing social service assistance to the state and abandoning licensure of certain types of medical homes and offices.
But then came the hard part — the layoffs.
“It was a very turbulent time for our workforce,” Burnette said. “No one wanted to eliminate positions and we all tried desperately to avoid doing that. But I think Steve understood first and foremost his obligation was to deliver a balanced budget to taxpayers and when the time came to initiate layoffs, it was something that just had to be done.”
Sisolak proudly proclaimed during his State of the State address that he would not raise taxes in his budget. Although his campaign opponent, Adam Laxalt, tried to frame him as a tax-hiker, some of the battles he’s best known for on the commission had to do with resisting tax hikes.
One of the drawn-out sagas during Sisolak’s tenure on the commission was More Cops, a half-cent sales tax increase narrowly approved by voters in 2004. While the first half of the increase took effect in 2005, decision-makers opted to delay the second part of the increase because it was scheduled to take effect in 2009, just as the economy was tanking.
Over the next few years, Sheriff Doug Gillespie tried repeatedly to persuade commissioners to raise the tax in hopes of hiring another 101 officers. Proponents argued that when accounting for the area’s visitors, Clark County had 1.58 officers per 1,000 people, while the average in North America was 2.42 officers per 1,000 people.
But Gillespie could not persuade Giunchigliani, a county commissioner at the time, or Sisolak, a member of Metro’s fiscal affairs committee, who questioned why the department wasn’t drawing more on a hefty reserve account.
“It’s about the trust that people have in Metro and the transparency that they feel Metro either has or lacks,” Sisolak said in 2014 during an interview with conservative talk radio station KXNT.
The tax gained traction later when it was part of a package of bills the Nevada Legislature approved in its effort to lure the Raiders to Nevada. Sisolak, in turn, voted as a member of the commission to enact the tax hike, telling KSNV that many of the most powerful business interests in Las Vegas were on board.
"I got calls from Mr. Wynn, Mr. Murren, Mr. Adelson, Mr. Jenkin, Mr. Ferttita amongst others all emphasizing how important this was," Sisolak said, referring to casino executives.
But the fight against police funding did not win him fans all around.
“He got on fiscal affairs and he tried to bully Metro — he was just a flat-out bully,” said Collins, who has not been shy about his distaste for Sisolak and who helped Sisolak’s opponents in the gubernatorial campaign. “When crime was rising and we need more cops, he pushes back.”
Sisolak was known for drilling into the details when handling commission business, questioning what the county was receiving from its contracts with consultants and why contracts were renewed without going out to an open bid. In one instance, he pointed out that an architect who was the husband of a Clark County civil engineer had won hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts in an apparent violation of state law.
“He doesn’t drink from the cup that’s given to him by the bureaucrats … he was always skeptical on matters on spending,” Knecht said about their time working together. “He could be a little bit intimidating to some of the bureaucrats. That might be looked at as a real plus to some people.”
His reputation as a fiscal watchdog has influenced how others in his orbit work with him. Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission, said she advised her staff to be fully prepared before any meeting with Sisolak because he’s someone who always does his own homework on issues.
“He is not afraid of learning the details and asking the hard ‘why’ questions,” she said.
Sisolak struck Quigley as someone never content with being average and never daunted by confrontation.
“He was a strong leader on the County Commission,” Quigley said. “You never had to guess where he (stood) on an issue. He wasn’t afraid of public and ideological debate. I look forward to seeing him bring that same energy as governor.”
Feud with firefighters
At the height of the recession, Sisolak turned an eye toward county firefighters, who topped the county’s highest paid lists. He told the Sun that the firefighters were “viewed as untouchable” since the 9/11 attacks and that no one at the county had “even contemplated saying no to anything they asked for.”
Sisolak’s feud with Clark County firefighters began in 2009, his first year on the County Commission. He said he received calls and emails from constituents asking why pay or benefit cuts for unionized firefighters, who were making an average of $180,000 a year in salaries, benefits and retirement packages, weren’t on the table in the cost-cutting blitz.
The county considered “brownouts” — taking a fire truck or station out of service on a rotating basis to cut costs — to balance out the high costs of firefighter salaries. When contract negotiations between firefighters and the county stalled, Sisolak sunk his teeth into the firefighters’ sick leave policy, accusing them of gaming the system by calling in sick so their coworkers could make overtime pay.
Brager remembers herself and others speaking up on the issue, but Sisolak received death threats for being vocal — including from a city firefighter who posted on Facebook that she’d like to shoot him — prompting the county to increase security measures at commission meetings.
“It got pretty vicious with some of them,” Brager said. “There were some ugly emails and threats that came out but the board stood strong, he stood strong on that, and he took a lot of heat.”
An arbitrator eventually sided with the county over the union in contract negotiations in 2011, leaving firefighters with a 5.5 percent reduction in total wages and benefits estimated at the time to save county taxpayers $7.4 million. The arbitrator also agreed with the county that firefighters appeared to be treating sick days like vacation days, including one firefighter who called in sick 48 days but worked 92 overtime shifts which allowed him to earn more than $230,000.
As a result of the decision, management was allowed to ask for a doctor’s note if firefighters called in sick more than five times a year. The department immediately saw use of sick leave drop, which Sisolak saw as proof of abuse within the system.
“This is no coincidence,” he told the Sun. “This is a shame. And it’s not everyone, but they are making everyone in the department look bad.”
Even after the decision, Sisolak sent letters to the FBI, Las Vegas Metro and the Clark County district attorney seeking an investigation into whether any firefighters had engaged in racketeering and fraud through the sick leave system. Multiple firefighters were eventually fired or disciplined for their misuse of sick leave.
Ryan Beaman, who was president of the union during the negotiations, and current president Steve Thompson did not respond to requests for comment.
If campaign contributions are any indication, the wounds from that fight have not yet healed. Clark County Firefighters contributed $53,000 to Republican and Democratic candidates this cycle, including five of the six Democratic statewide candidates.
Sisolak, who received more than $50,000 during the campaign from seven other firefighter unions and associations statewide during the campaign, was the lone exception.
Public fights with private business
Sisolak didn’t reserve his ire just for public employee unions, but businesses, too.
He was dubious when Uber tried to make an entree into Nevada before it was regulated, appearing with taxi company representatives and the sheriff at an event in May 2015 to raise concerns about the advent of ride-hailing services. (Taxi and luxury car service companies have donated more than $200,000 to Sisolak’s campaigns since 2011, according to an analysis by The Nevada Independent.)
"We're concerned about the fact that potentially you could put drivers that don't have insurance behind the wheel, that don't have drug tests, that haven't been subjected to training and the vehicles haven't been inspected," Sisolak said at a press conference, which came as the Legislature was deliberating laws authorizing Uber and Lyft.
It was Sisolak who proposed an ordinance requiring drivers with ride-hailing businesses to pay $100 a year in county-level licensing fees, saying they needed to carry their own weight just as other independent contractors do.
"Every business that operates in Clark County, every business, has a business license." Sisolak told KNPR. "And it is unfair for the taxpayers to have to absorb the cost of people who are going to want to operate a business without registering."
In November 2015, the commission also approved a $25-per-year fee for Uber drivers operating in unincorporated Clark County, against the wishes of Uber, which called the fee illegal.
Later that month, Uber emailed its users and drivers, urging them to flood commissioners with messages opposing restrictions on operating at the airport. Sisolak chafed at the campaign, launched after Uber declined to turn over to the county a list of its drivers who would be going to the airport.
“(Uber) hired a lot of high-profile, expensive and powerful lobbyists that will lobby for anyone if they pay them enough money,” Sisolak told the Sun. “I am not willing to succumb to the arm-twisting of their special-interest lobbyists. I’m going to do what I feel is best for the safety of the citizens and tourists of Clark County.”
The power struggle with ride-hailing companies drew criticism from the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, which said the license fees would squelch a burgeoning business and was unnecessary and onerous, given that drivers already paid a $200 annual business license fee to the state and are regulated by the Nevada Transportation Authority.
“Local governments have no role in overseeing either company,” the editorial board wrote. “But local elected officials can’t seem to stand that thought, so they’re agitating for a piece of the pie to help supplement budget shortfalls, while also working on behest of the cab companies to throw a wet blanket on a burgeoning business here in the Las Vegas Valley.”
But Brager characterized the county’s efforts to regulate the ride-sharing companies as an attempt to create an equal playing field between the ride-sharing companies and taxis.
“It can’t be that taxis do one thing and Uber can do whatever it wants,” Brager said. “Steve stuck pretty firm to that.”
Sisolak also got in the middle of a tug-of-war between big casinos and slot parlors such as Dotty’s, a chain of taverns that targets women 35 and older and features a small snack bar and slot machines.
Sisolak sponsored an ordinance that would have required that bars make no more than 50 percent of their revenue from slot-machine gaming, aiming to bring them into compliance with a 2011 law specifying that gambling be only “incidental” at a business and not the dominant activity. Dotty’s viewed it as an attempt to put them out of business, but eventually came into compliance with the law by building out full kitchens in many of their slot parlors.
Craig Estey, owner of Dotty’s, has not made campaign donations to Sisolak since at least 2011, while he and three of his family members gave a total of $40,000 to Sisolak’s Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt, during the 2018 cycle.
By contrast, large casino companies that belong to the Nevada Resort Association — a group that for years has taken aim at the Dotty’s business model — have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Sisolak’s campaigns over the years.
Transitioning to Carson City
Although Sisolak got rave reviews from many Democrats after his State of the State speech, he still has some strained relationships on the Democratic side of the aisle.
The no-holds-barred campaign he ran against Giunchigliani in the 2018 Democratic primary has soured the relationship between the two, who in friendlier times used to have dinner at each other’s homes. He poured an eye-popping $6.3 million in 2018 alone in his attempt to bury her campaign ahead of the general election, and the attacks became deeply personal.
Sisolak and his supporters ran ads casting aspersions on the fact that Giunchigliani had paid her husband — respected political consultant Gary Gray — to run her 2006 campaign for commission. The ads cut deep not only because Gray died in an accident in 2015, but also because he ran the 2008 campaign that landed Sisolak his commission seat.
After the hard loss, Giunchigliani said she would not vote for the Republican, but still opted not to endorse in the governor’s race.
“Steve did not need my endorsement,” she explained in a January interview with KNPR. “The base … that went with me were going to go with the Democrat no matter what, number one. Number two, very truthfully, it took him six weeks to pick up the phone to even call me and leave me a message, and I worked down the hall.”
Still, she pointed out that Sisolak will be able to start his term with a budget surplus and Democrats in both houses of the Legislature.
“I would say that the primary was pretty ugly on their part, the lies about my husband was a factor but … I'm a team player no matter what, and I wish Steve well,” Giunchigliani said in the KNPR interview.
Last month, Sisolak announced that he had chosen Giunchigliani to sit on a marijuana advisory panel that will develop a Cannabis Control Board to oversee the industry, and she had accepted.
“It was a difficult primary, but this is about policy, not about politics,” Sisolak said at the announcement event. “Commissioner Giunchigliani was at the forefront of cannabis legalization back in the early 2000s and we spent a lot of years together on the county commission dealing with these issues … I think she’s got a lot to bring to the table.”
In an interview, Giunchigliani said she appreciated the gesture and opportunity to serve on the marijuana advisory panel. She hasn’t ruled out a more cordial relationship with Sisolak in the future.
But Giunchigliani said she has never been afraid to be her own person, even if it meant clashing with her commission colleague at various points.
“He was always prepared,” she said, describing his leadership style. “He did read his information, but he had a tendency to be very controlling.”
Kirkpatrick, another former commission colleague, sees Sisolak’s strong personality differently.
“Any time there’s a hot topic and you’re trying to do what’s in the best interest of the community, you will get some friction and you will get some push back, but that’s a great quality to have,” said Kirkpatrick, who earned a no-nonsense reputation as Assembly Speaker before joining the commission. “I’ve been beat up for that. People think I’m mean, but at the same time they respect that I do my homework.”
Virginia Valentine, who was county manager for the first years of Sisolak’s tenure, said she believes he honed his leadership skills when he moved from being a regular member of the commission to being its chair, with more power to drive the agenda and effect change.
“I think he’s gone from being one vote to having a more collaborative style. He’s reaching out to more people, he’s gathering more information, I think he’s spending more time not on just understanding issues but understanding how others feel about issues and where others are on issues,” Valentine said.
And if Sisolak hasn’t won over all the members of his own party, he counts some fans among Republicans, who see him as someone they can work with. Knecht said he prefers Sisolak over any other Democrat the state might have had.
“The important thing is that he’s not an ideologue, he’s issue driven so that’s why he and I could find some common ground on things,” said Knecht, who says he’s more concerned about where the Legislature will take the state than what Sisolak will do. “If he’s going to rein them in and restrain them, that’s a good thing.”
Jackie Valley and Riley Snyder contributed to this report.