March 21, 2009, WCAX, by Andy Potter
Vermont officials are still waiting to hear the details about the upcoming federal stimulus money under the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Green Mountain state stands to get close to $950 million. Some of it will be used to plug a deficit in the state budget. But what about the stimulus -- or job creation -- part of it?
It's been two weeks since hundreds of Vermonters packed into the first of two meetings on what to expect from Vermont's share of federal stimulus money. Mayor Bob Kiss, P-Burlington, said, "A billion dollars into the state has to have an impact. Whether it's going to move our economy forward dramatically -- who knows?"
Kiss says the uncertainty is due to the fact that even now, federal officials have not specified exactly how the money will be allowed to be used. But the city has drawn up a list of projects -- based on the jobs that would be created. Such as school building renovations. Community & Economic Development director Larry Kupferman said, "We'll be meeting with state officials now, in understanding what's available to the city, especially infrastructure. Grants versus loans, and so on."
Burlington has 32 projects that city officials think would qualify for federal recovery money, although no one expects that more than a fraction would get any. One obvious project is the Burlington waterfront bike path, a $3.5 million project. It's almost thirty years old, badly in need of repair and with no other source of funding."
Recovery Act grants for projects like the bike path will probably be awarded on a competitive basis. Others appear to be a sure thing, such as home weatherization -- more than $17 million headed to Vermont to improve home energy efficiency.
But there are questions. Tim Searles, who heads the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, wonders how that much money can be spent effectively when the stimulus runs out in less than two years. "Creating jobs is great," he said, "but not if they go away eighteen months from now. That's the over-riding concern right now about the stimulus money. When it goes away, then what?"
That's a question for which there is no immediate answer, although Vermont political leaders may have more to say on that at a second stimulus meeting set for Brattleboro on March 30.
Andy Potter - WCAX News