Ohioans Seek Slice Of the Stimulus Pie
Monday, February 2, 2009
CLEVELAND -- Perfect, the Cuyahoga County commissioners thought. Here they were, trying to score $28 million in federal stimulus money to build wind turbines on Lake Erie, when word arrived that Barack Obama was jetting into town on the eve of his inauguration.
Not only would he be talking about the economic crisis and the benefits of green energy, but he would do it at a factory that produces turbine components in the suburb of Bedford Heights. Two commissioners scrambled to deliver a pitch to the next president but only got close enough to slip an information packet to an aide.
The vast sums of stimulus money due to flow soon from the federal treasury are designed to create jobs by improving streets and schoolrooms, building broadband lines and electricity grids, and strengthening health care and social services. Much of the money will go straight to state governments according to long-standing Washington formulas.
But billions more are unclaimed, prompting politicians, executives and interest groups across the nation to jockey for their share of the gold rush. A Republican here called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In Ohio, everyone who knows anyone in Washington or Columbus is picking up the telephone. Lobbyists are knocking on doors to request money for purposes as diverse as sewers and mortgage relief. Gov. Ted Strickland (D) called Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and the president's economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers.
When Obama visited Bedford Heights on Jan. 16, Strickland had better luck than the Cuyahoga commissioners, who had figured a good word from the incoming president could get them their turbines. Strickland was fortunate enough to command Obama's attention for several precious minutes, and he used the time to talk about getting money, especially for education.
"There are lots of decision-makers in this, lots of people with different emphases, different priorities," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). "We're working on the Obama people and the Harry Reid people and the Nancy Pelosi people."
Ohio is banking on a combination of its political importance and its deep needs to corral stimulus money. It was no coincidence that Obama chose the prominent battleground state to make a campaign-like trip only four days before he assumed the presidency.
The state has lost more than 100,000 jobs in the past year. With tax revenue dropping and demands on government growing, the state cannot pay for all the services the legislature and governor authorized, including health care and road projects, and has already cut nearly $1.9 billion from the current budget.
Strickland projects a deficit of $7.3 billion in the next two-year budget. Working with other Democratic governors, he has sought $250 billion for education, particularly to prevent deep staff cuts, as well as money to help meet rising Medicaid costs.
In a budget proposal that Strickland will make today, he projects that Ohio will receive $3.4 billion for emergency fiscal relief, including Medicaid and education funding. The sum does not include anticipated federal infrastructure dollars.
Brown and Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) are pressing their colleagues on Capitol Hill to give "great weight" to unemployment and foreclosure rates, contending that the economic crisis is affecting states unequally.