WASHINGTON — The much ballyhooed $825 billion economic stimulus package has legislators in a foaming frenzy as some members of Congress and local lawmakers daydream about project wish lists and others decry a debt load that will take generations to pay off.
The House passed an $819 billion economic stimulus package designed to create millions of jobs quickly and give consumers more money to spend. The vote was 244 to 188. None of the House’s 178 Republican members voted yes. House Republicans have voiced concern that the unprecedented spending levels will ultimately cost taxpayers.
The measure is now headed to the Senate, where consideration of the bill is likely to take all of next week and perhaps beyond.
But, as politicos make their wish lists and check them twice, it is important to remember some mathematic realities. The pot may be large, but it too has a bottom and there may not be enough money to address everyone’s desires.Georgia is poised to net more than $5.8 billion in federal funds for education, transportation and medical care during the next two years if Congress passes the measure. The majority of that money, roughly $1.9 billion must be used to help address the state’s $2.2 billion and counting budget shortfall.
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Here’s the rub: Roughly 61 percent of the $1.9 billion designated to offset the state’s budget shortfall must be used toward education. Bibb County schools alone are poised to net $35 million and it is by no means the state’s largest school district. Now, multiply similar figures by the dozens of school districts in the state and well ... the stimulus money designated to plug the state’s deficit starts looking a bit thinner.
Still, the portion of the stimulus designed to help offset the state’s budget shortfall could help save or create an estimated 3,500 jobs in Georgia, according to figures from the House Democratic leadership.
That could make a big difference in Georgia, which has an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, the highest rate in more than 25 years. The stimulus package could have a tremendous impact in creating jobs through a boost in infrastructure, transportation and housing spending.
Some groups are urging lawmakers to go further in looking beyond the euphoria of netting money to fund local projects and consider the long-term implications.
As the bill currently stands in Congress, less than 20 percent of the $825 billion cost will directly create jobs, according to the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
“The current proposal is true progress, but falls short,” said the organization’s president Terence O’Sullivan. “It fails to fully take advantage of the opportunity to put America back to work building the essential and long neglected basics of our country, which would leave behind real assets for future generations.”At this point, there is simply no way to know how much money will go to local projects.
Still local lawmakers are hopeful.
That’s why the United States Conference of Mayors released a 300-plus-page wish list of some $150 billion in “ready-to-go” projects just in case the nation’s cities net a windfall. Their list includes $145 million to Macon to build homes, add lighting and security systems to schools and make repairs at the airport.Macon officials want $86 million for the rehabilitation of the Bibb County Courthouse and construction of a new courthouse, $5 million for a 20-acre recreation complex at the former Durr’s Lake property and $4 million to construct a new Macon Transit Authority bus fleet maintenance facility among myriad other projects with multi-million dollar price tags.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that while that 65 percent of the economic stimulus money will hit the economy by 2010, state and local offices will find it difficult to manage such a large infusion of money and allocate the funds in a timely manner.
Meaning even if towns such as Macon get the money it may take a while to hit the right coffers.
Notes from the Hill is an occasional column by Telegraph Washington correspondent Halimah Abdullah.McClatchy reporter David Lightman contributed to this story.