Locals call for help from new president
Giving encouragement to local governments who are calling for a “Main Street Stimulus Package,” President-elect Barack Obama specifically sited the need to help state and local governments in his first press conference after the election. “I think it’s going to be very important for us to provide the kind of assistance to state and local government to make sure that they don’t compound some of the problems that are already out there by having to initiate major layoffs or initiate tax increases,” Obama said.
However, the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo), National League of Cities (NLC) and U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) contend that helping local governments is not just a matter of avoiding more problems. Pumping federal money into “ready-to-go” infrastructure projects would help grow the economy, they say. “Funding for airports, highways, transit, trains, clean water, sewers, school facilities and housing creates jobs and enhances the safety and competitiveness of our nation,” said NLC President and Northglenn, Colo., Mayor Kathleen Novak in an address during NLC’s Congress of Cities in November.
In October, NLC released its Agenda for the Nation, a series of briefs on eight issues that cities want the new administration to address: housing, infrastructure, health care reform, poverty reduction and economic opportunity, public safety and homeland security, sustainability, immigration and intergovernmental cooperation. It suggests ways that federal and local governments can work together, such as allowing local leaders to direct federal transportation infrastructure funds for local projects.
USCM, in its proposed $89.98 billion “Main Street Stimulus” package, also focuses on the nation’s need for new infrastructure. Metropolitan economies, which comprise 90 percent of the gross domestic product, need help immediately to create jobs, USCM Executive Director Tom Cochran said. Cochran points to cities’ transit, energy-efficiency and community development infrastructure projects that could “employ people, support small businesses and stimulate main street economies.”
The USCM plan, based on bill HR 7110 passed by the House in September, includes the same 10 programs as HR 7110 but adds almost $30 billion in funding. The programs include $32 billion for highway infrastructure, $18.75 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure and $10 billion for a Community Development Block Grant for infrastructure, along with more money for an Energy Block Grant, school and public housing modernization, transit projects, airports and public safety jobs and technology.
In a Nov. 22 weekly address posted on his Web site Change.gov, Obama announced that he would implement an economic recovery plan that would create 2.5 million jobs by January 2011. The plan involves some of the same priorities mentioned in the NLC and USCM proposals. “We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children,” the president-elect said in the videotaped statement.
However, NACo spokesman Jim Philipps says officials are trying to be realistic in their expectations for how soon the new administration will be able to accomplish its goals. The fiscal 2010 budget is due Feb. 2, the continuing resolution under which the government operates expires March 6 and the nation is still at war. “There is a lot, and that’s why our enthusiasm is a little reserved,” he says.