Cathleen Allison, Associated Press
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Rep. Shelley Berkley said "jobs, jobs, jobs" is her top priority in Congress and that creating them will take investments in education, infrastructure and renewable energy.
"These are not easy times and you are doing amazing work in a short period of time," Berkley, D-Nev., said Wednesday during an address to a joint session of the Nevada Legislature, where she served in the Assembly 28 years ago.
"People who never missed a day of work have lost their jobs. People who've never missed a monthly mortgage payment are losing their homes ... and they're looking to us," she said.
"For me the single most important issue right now is job, jobs, jobs."
The seven-term Democrat from Las Vegas and U.S. Senate candidate said Nevada has been talking about diversifying its economy for 30 years and has a lot to offer, but the key is a well-trained work force.
Low taxes and good weather, she said, "are no long enough to attract businesses."
"Businesses coming to Nevada need and want a well-trained work force and they're not going to come here if we don't deliver that."
Her words struck a chord with Democrats in the Assembly gallery, who oppose Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval's education budget cuts. Sandoval has said he won't raise taxes, and that he doesn't believe Nevada's education system is a hindrance to attracting new industries to the state.
Speaking with reporters afterward, Berkley said her remarks were not targeted at the governor or lawmakers, but rather her priorities at the federal level of government.
Fixing the nation's infrastructure — bridges, levies and roads — will also benefit the nation and taxpayers, she said.
"We're either going to pay now or we're going to pay later," Berkley said. "If we pay now, we will actually have an infrastructure that will take the country through the 21st century" and "create hundreds of thousands of jobs so we can get our people back to work."
Berkley also stressed development of renewable energy to end "our dependence on foreign oil."
While the nation will never fully wean itself from oil, she said Nevada's abundant sun, wind and geothermal resources can propel the state as a leader in renewable energy technologies.
Berkley last week launched her bid to replace embattled Republican Sen. John Ensign, who is not seeking re-election next year after admitting in 2009 to having an affair with a campaign aide, the wife of a former staffer in his Senate office.
Republican Rep. Dean Heller also announced his intent to run for Ensign's U.S. Senate seat.
Berkley built a $1.57 million war chest to enter the race, with part of the money coming from her House re-election campaign with $690,000 raised from January through March, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Records showed Heller's House re-election chest had just over $6,000 as of March 31.
Berkley said she opposes Republican efforts to replace Medicare with a voucher system.
"The health and well-being of our seniors should not be a partisan issue," she said.
"We're all getting old and we're all going to get sick. We need to fix, not destroy, this nation's Medicare system."
She also opposes replacing funding formulas for Medicaid programs with block grants to states, saying it could force 36,000 Nevadans from programs.
Berkley touted a new Veterans Administration complex in North Las Vegas that will include a hospital, long term care facility and outpatient clinic.
"It's on time, it's on budget and in 2006 it was the single largest earmark in our federal budget and no I'm not giving it back," she said.
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