Liberally Speaking3/5/09

March 5, 2009

By Steve Mount

Stimulating prospects

Forty-four million dollars in 120 days. A lot of money, very little time.

That’s part of the amount that Vermont will be receiving under the stimulus package passed by Congress two weeks ago, and in order to get projects under way quickly, Vermont must decide where that $44 million will go in just a few months: Use it or lose it.

The term “shovel-ready” has become ubiquitous, so much so that it has already entered the popular vernacular. The Vermont Agency of Transportation already has an $85 million list of 30 shovel-ready projects, including the Richmond bridge and the Bennington bypass.

Luckily, Vermont is slated to get a total of about $125 million in transportation money in the long run, so all of the state’s transportation priorities should get funding.

All together, our federal lawmakers have said that Vermont will be the beneficiary of about $1 billion in stimulus money. Aside from the $125 million for transportation projects, there will also be funds for Medicaid, for job creation programs and for education spending.

Williston has its own shovel-ready project, and I don’t mean the Williston portion of the Circ Highway. The construction of the Allen Brook school expansion could solve many of the town’s problems with education.

The temporary classrooms would become an historical curiosity and not a point of contention with the Development Review Board; the Frameworks Committee would be able to heartily recommend the physical separation of grades one through four and five through eight; and the town would have plenty of room for future enrollment, when the economy bounces back and housing construction begins anew.

Of course, Williston will have to compete with the rest of the state for funds, but we do have Chittenden County on our side. With a project as large as a school expansion, and a labor base as large as the county’s, a large infusion of cash seems logical. Logical, but far from certain. So, we should not count our infrastructure dollars before they’re doled out.

The stimulus package will certainly not be a panacea, much as we would like it to be. It will be a stopgap measure, hopefully a stepping stone on the way to recovery. And it does not help everyone — there is no money, for example, for dairy farmers hit hard by plummeting milk prices.

Some, of course, question the need for or the logic of having the stimulus package at all. It is a fair question — but those who ask it had no problem stimulating the economy of Halliburton and its ilk for six years, pouring billions in “temporary spending” into a permanent state of war.

I put no stock in the counter arguments — it is our time to bear the fruits of our labor.

Our congressional delegation will be holding meetings throughout Vermont to explain the details further. The first and biggest will be held by Sen. Patrick Leahy and Gov. Jim Douglas on Friday, March 6 at Champlain College. The list of workshops shows the staggering breadth of the stimulus package.

From small business loans to first-time homebuyer tax credits, from community block grants to unemployment assistance, from health care IT grants to infrastructure improvements, there is a workshop for everyone.

These sorts of workshops should be held across the nation as well, so that people can see that jobs are coming, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it will be money well spent, money that will restart our economic engine. A little confidence will spur buying, buying will spur investment, investment will spur lending, lending will spur building, building will spur job growth, which will spur confidence. And so on.

I do dearly hope that Williston is the beneficiary of some of the funds. But even if not, as projects throughout the state are approved and started, we will feel the ripples as the stimulus spreads throughout the area.

I note the passing of Paul Harvey this past weekend. I remember listening to his newscast years ago as I drove to meet my wife for occasional lunches. The tone, pace and timbre of his voice were unmistakable. Though I had not heard him for a long while, his tag lines, like “And that’s the rest of the story,” “Page 2,” and his distinctive “Good day!” not to mention his famous pregnant pauses, are etched in my memory. Harvey will be missed.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.