Local Leaders Rally to Pursue Obama Stimulus Funds

Posted In: Politics, National, Local, News, Local, National,   From Issue 676   By: Mike Thompson

29th January, 2009     0

Bregitte Braddock, new Saginaw County Board of Commissioners chairwoman, says in an interview in this edition that a top goal is for local units of government to work more closely together. She couldn't have chosen better timing.

President Barack Obama is pushing for an $825 billion economic stimulus plan, and much of the money would go to local units of government. Braddock listened intently last week while more than 50 local officials gathered to review preliminary ground rules outlined by Jim Koski, county public works commissioner, and Jim Lewis, a top aide to U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee.

Any local unit, even the smallest village or township, can send a proposal straight to the Obama Administration, but it won't have much chance. Obama's people wish to follow the layers of government. This means stimulus proposals best should bubble up through county governments, then to the state level, then onward to Washington.

"If the (Obama government) sees that we're working together in Saginaw County, it will make a big difference," Koski told the group, encouraging each local participant to share their proposals with other members of the ad hoc group.

Whether this involves eliminating expenses of duplicated service that filters throughout villages and townships in Saginaw County – and other arms of government – remains to be seen.

Another way that county government will promote Braddock's vision of cooperation is to provide stimulus proposal-writing advice, especially for smaller communities that may lack experience in pursuing grants. Saginaw Future, the countywide development agency, also is on board through staffer Tom Miller Jr.

Lewis provided a general breakdown of the $825 billion plan, which officially is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:

  • One-third, $275 billion, immediately would come off the top in tax cuts.
  • At least $127 billion would go for various educational purposes, from preschool to college that would involve classroom activities rather than new buildings or repairs.
  • Another $82 billion would go into extended unemployment benefits and new health care benefits for people who are jobless, and $20 billion would cover a major food stamp increase.

The economic stimulus plan is so vast that any amount below $1 billion starts to look like peanuts, such as $200 million apiece for elder independent living and for AmeriCorps.

Lewis said that on the bottom line, about $318 billion would remain for what we call infrastructure, which is the main interest of the local elected officials. Even that sum is partly nontraditional, such as investing in alternative energy.

"We old guys," Lewis said modestly, "think of infrastructure as roads and ditches. But nowadays, infrastructure just as easily can mean modernizing medical records (by computer) and telemedicine (such as x-rays via email)."

Another goal of Obama is to convert the medical records of every United States citizen over to computer.

Koski and Lewis also stressed that some of Obama's economic stimulus money would be available in low-interest loans, rather than grants. However, states and local governments probably won't have to come up with the "matching funds" that are so difficult to find these days.

We at Review Magazine hunted for a decent summary of the preliminary stimulus plan. We found it not on barackobama.com, but on the website for U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, obey.house.gov.

Nose around on Obey's site and you should be able to find an executive summary and a

longer line item list, the same as Jim Koski circulated to the local officials.  If that doesn't work, try http://appropriations.house.gov/pdf/RecoveryReport01-15-09.pdf

For what it's worth, David Obey says $1 trillion-plus budget deficits would be even worse without the economic stimulus. He adds that unemployment will exceed 9 percent even with the stimulus, but that it would surpass 12 percent without government intervention.

A good number of his more conservative peers disagree, of course, pointing to the notion that the money would be better spent investing in small businesses as opposed to government, which last year, for example, at the State level across the United States over-spent their budgets by trillions of dollars, according to a report in USA Today.

Local officials who met with Jim Koski, Jim Lewis and Bregitte Braddock just want a boost of some sort, after so many years of Michigan missing out on federal funds. They won't get earmarks, but they still could nail down some cash for all of those urban potholes and rural broken bridges.

Koski provided a final note of advice.

"Don't forget to look at the first goal of the stimulus, which is to provide jobs," Koski told the local officials. "When you list the number of jobs, it's speaking their language."

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