This word is suddenly at the center of discussion in government boardrooms and legislative chambers across the nation. With unemployment soaring and revenues plummeting, hopes for solvency, recovery and balanced budgets are suddenly attached to this three-syllable word.
More specifically, they are attached to President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill, otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The bill was controversial, drawing a grand total of three Republican votes in both houses of Congress. But the president signed it into law and the cash — staggering amounts of it nationwide — is on the way. Counties, cities, schools and special districts in the Mother Lode should eagerly pursue available funds and, yes, spend them.
A few indignant Republican governors have threatened to decline the stimulus payments, but Arnold Schwarzenegger had it right. He said California would be he happy to take any cash turned back by other states.
Already there is ample evidence locally that help is on the way:
• Law enforcement agencies in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties have together won $90,000 for gang prevention, drug task forces, victim assistance, training and equipment.
• Tuolumne County is in line to receive nearly $4 million for “shovel ready” public works projects, including the Sugar Pine Trail near Twain Harte and reconstruction of key stretches of La Grange Road.
• Yosemite National Park is angling for a share of the National Park Service’s $920 million stimulus allocation for a retrofit that would make the upscale Ahwahnee Hotel earthquake safe.
• The Sonora-headquartered Stanislaus National Forest is preparing a list of ready-to-construct projects that could be in line for a slice of the $1.15 billion the U.S. Forest Service will receive. Of this total, $650 million is for capital improvements, such as road repair, and another $500 million would go toward fire management jobs.
• Some $7.2 billion has been allocated nationwide to extend broadband Internet to underserved areas, of which Tuolumne and Calaveras have many.
• More than $100 billion of the bill is earmarked for education, and local school districts and county offices of education should be ready.
But the eyebrows of more than a few readers may already be on the rise: In the toughest economy in memory, a few may wonder, should millions of dollars really go to La Grange Road, the Sugar Pine trail or a pricey seismic retrofit for a hotel in Yosemite National Park?
The answer is yes.
Although many of the projects may not be consensus picks for the top of local priority lists, all have been studied and are indeed needed.
If stimulus funds can move them off the drawing board and onto the ground, jobs will be created, salaries will be paid, new federal dollars will be pumped into the local economy and the community as a whole will benefit. In an area where unemployment has risen dramatically (Calaveras and Tuolumne county rates for January were 13.4 and 12.1 percent respectively — the highest in years), this is particularly important.
Since President Obama’s stimulus plan is law, our best option is taking full advantage of it.