SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - The fate of $8 million slated for a Lake Tahoe ferry service appears to be in jeopardy after the U.S. Senate passed a budget bill spearheaded by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., to enact what he called "the first deficit reduction package in the last eight years."
The federal treasury is stretched thin by an enormous deficit, an expensive war and now costly Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Ensign said the Senate Fiscal Watch Team's bill would cut 5 percent of discretionary spending in 2006.
Speculation arose this week on what projects might be chopped after Ensign said the cuts would mean "eliminating all the earmarks in the highway spending bill."
Nevadans have to share the burden of reprioritizing money, he said Thursday before the vote. He hoped at least 10 percent of earmarked money could be cut.
"It's making a little progress toward fiscal sanity back here in Washington," Ensign said.
A transportation bill in August earmarked $8 million for designing a Tahoe ferry service. The money would go to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, acting as Tahoe's metropolitan planning organization. Another $4 million was slated to replace BlueGo's fleet with natural-gas-powered buses.
It's unknown which projects would be cut.
"There is no specific project that is in danger," Ensign said. "We are going to get the money in the transportation bill."
The Fiscal Watch Team consists of Republican Sens. Ensign, Sam Brownback, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, Lindsey Graham, John Sununu Jr. and John McCain.
The bill also recommends freezing cost-of-living adjustments for federal employees.
On a separate topic, the senator expressed confidence in the experience of President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Samuel Alito.
"He's supposed to be a brilliant constitutional scholar and has all the qualifications," Ensign said. "Having said that, it is still very important that we learn through one-on-one meetings with senators and the hearing process, how he looks at his role as a judge. Does he believe in judicial activism or restraint? Does he believe Congress is the lawmaking body, not the courts?"
Ensign also said he's working with several senators and congressmen to safeguard money slated for his state through sales of federal land in Southern Nevada.
Money from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act came into jeopardy earlier this year after President Bush indicated it would be better spent by the U.S. Treasury.
"We've probably made it through this year unscathed," Ensign said.
When asked about recent moves by Democrats to take another look at how pre-war intelligence was treated by the Bush Administration, Ensign said the intelligence was wrong, but it was not manipulated.
"The Senate intelligence committee is thoroughly investigating that and they have found no wrongdoing," Ensign said. "The intelligence was wrong under the Bush administration and the Clinton administration. Every country in the world's intelligence was wrong."