Friday, February 20, 2009

How much stimulus dough will come to WYO?

Ben Neary of the Associated Press reports that Sen. John Barrasso estimates Wyoming may receive up to $540 million from Pres. Obama's economic stimulus bill.

But Barrasso, a vocal opponent of the $787 billion stimulus bill, warned Wyoming lawmakers on Friday that they will have to consider carefully whether to accept federal dollars that may come with strings attached.

The Republican said only one copy of the lengthy bill was distributed in the Senate before last week's vote to approve it. He said that made it impossible for senators to read it before voting on it.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal has said this week that his administration is working to make sense of the bill and to determine whether accepting federal money would commit the state to future expenditures.

It's one hell of a deal when federal money comes with strings attached. Such as, when the feds give Wyoming money for highways, the gubment expects the money to be used for highways. The gall! The same goes for federal funds for education, toxic waste clean-up, even the arts.

Some Repub governors have made noises about not accepting the stimulus money. Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindel, currently GOP Golden Boy, made some threats along those lines last week. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin took time out from Mardi Gras festivities to say he'd take any of those federal funds that the Gov turned down. Still a lot of rebuilding to do in New Orleans.

That's the thing. Repub Govs may jabber all they want about not accepting stimulus money. But when it comes right down to it, they take it because their constituents -- Dem and Repub -- need it. Govs of southern states have been the most vociferous. They usually have sent Repubs to the U.S. House and Senate. But in the end, they'll take the money. State budgets are in touch shape. And Republican margins of victory weren't all that impressive in the recent elections.

In Wyoming, our budget surplus, brought to us by the energy extraction industries, have shrunk. All agencies in state government have been told to plan on 5 percent budget cuts this year and 10 percent for budgets in the next biennium. These are permanent cuts, not storm warnings that may be lifted in a few months. Wyoming is not exempt from the economic distress that's afflicting its neighboring states. A lumber mill shut down in Laramie this week, throwing 67 employees out of work. There's a lot of that going on.

Instead of worrying about some imaginary strings attached to the stimulus package, I'd suggest we take the money and keep people employed -- and put others back to work.

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