Stimulus bill has $2.8B for Washington projects

By LES BLUMENTHAL, Herald Washington, D.C., bureau January 23, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- A massive economic stimulus package headed for a vote on the House floor next week contains more than $2.8 billion in federal funding for Washington state for infrastructure projects and Medicaid over the next two years, Democratic leaders and committee staff said Thursday.

The package could save or create nearly 94,290 jobs in Washington by the end of 2010, reducing the state's unemployment rate by 2.2 percent, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated.

With Medicaid rolls growing, Pelosi said the state would receive nearly $2 billion in additional funding for the health care program primarily for the low income.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said the state could receive $850 million for infrastructure projects, including roads, highways, bridges, mass transit and waste water treatment plants.

The announcements offered the first indication of how Washington state would fare as Congress and President Barack Obama's administration rush to revive a sinking economy.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire indicated late last year that the state had $650 million worth of highway, road and bridge projects ready to go and was counting on at least $1 billion from the federal government to stabilize the Medicaid program.

The House Appropriations committee approved a $825 billion stimulus package late Wednesday. The Senate has yet to unveil its version, though it could be significantly different.

The action came as the recession tightened its grip on the state. A record number of people filed for unemployment benefits in Washington in December and the state's jobless rate jumped to 7.1 percent, up from 6.4 percent in November.

"Our state unemployment rate took the largest jump in 30 years last month and more of my constituents are having a hard time finding family wage jobs," said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who released the analysis. "Now is the time to invest in job creation and long-term economic recovery."

The committee's analysis of the bill used existing funding formulas to determine how much each state would receive for highway, road, bridge, public transit and waste water treatment projects.

The bill included nearly $530 million for highways, roads and bridges in Washington, $216.6 million to construct and maintain public transit and almost $101 million for wastewater treatment projects, Larsen said.

The bill does not included so-called earmarks, or funding directed at specific projects.

About two-thirds of the money to modernize roads, highways and bridges will go to the states and the rest to local governments.

Aides for the House Appropriations Committee had not completed their own-state-by-state analysis of funding in the bill.

Overall, the bill provides $550 billion for priority investments, everything from infrastructure and health care to school construction and green energy. It also includes $275 billion in targeted tax cuts.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said Washington state should receive a "significant" amount of money. But he was disappointed there wasn't more money for infrastructure projects. Instead, Dicks said the bill provides major funding to "deal directly with the consequences of people being laid off" including such things as extended unemployment benefits.

"The key is to turn the economy around," Dicks said. "I hope we have done enough."

Other Democrats were also frustrated.

"This bill ... is not even near what we need for short-term needs and it does not in any meaningful way address the long-term needs of our country," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said at the transportation committee hearing. "But it is better than nothing."

Republicans were wary of the bill and concerned not enough was being spent on tax cuts.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said on CBS' The Early Show that Republicans were willing to cooperate in helping to restore the economy, but many sections of the package being pushed by majority Democrats would fail to create new jobs.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service