WASHINGTON — While some of her Republican colleagues try to decide whether to accept federal stimulus money, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire of Washington state says her mind is already made up.
“I’ll not only accept all the dollars coming to Washington state, but any governor who wants to reject the dollars, send ’em my way,” Gregoire said Monday after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.
“We’ve got an economy that is struggling right now,” Gregoire said. “These dollars represent hope. They represent jobs and services for people who can’t take care of themselves. We’re going to spend every dollar and we’re going to do it wisely.”
At Monday’s meeting, Obama told the nation’s governors that states could begin receiving money from the newly passed $787 billion economic stimulus program as soon as Wednesday.
Washington state could receive nearly $7 billion under the stimulus plan for projects ranging from transportation to food stamps to education. Oregon could get about $2 billion from the stimulus bill, Idaho and Alaska $1 billion each and more than $600 million for Montana. Much of the money will be designated for programs such as Medicaid and unemployment.
Obama warned against allowing politics to cloud discussion of the stimulus program and said governors must demonstrate that the stimulus money will be used to jump-start the ailing economy.
Message received, said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
“People call this a stimulus bill. This is a jobs bill,” Schweitzer said. “It’s going to put people to work.”
Schweitzer, a Democrat, said the money could create or save as many as 11,000 jobs in Montana. The bill will be a huge boost for the Northwest energy sector, he added, noting that it includes billions of dollars for new transmission lines, coal gasification and weatherizing homes and businesses.
“If a school district or office is spending 30 percent less on energy every single day because they weatherized their building, that’s 30 percent more they can spend on other” priorities, Schweitzer said.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said his state has a series of projects, mostly in transportation, that could start within weeks.
Kulongoski, a Democrat in his second, four-year term, said he was impressed by the newly elected president and his administration.
“I come away confident we have the right people running the government here,” Kulongoski said. “I am satisfied they are doing everything they can on this” economic crisis.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was less optimistic. Otter, a Republican, has agreed to accept the stimulus money, but said he was concerned about expanding programs that could boost his state’s costs in the future when the federal dollars disappear. Several Republican governors, including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sarah Palin of Alaska and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, have expressed similar concerns. Palin did not the attend the governor’s meeting.
Otter has named an eight-member panel, including three former governors, to review proposals from Idaho agencies and companies that want a share of the stimulus money. Otter said as much as $650 million of the estimated $1 billion the state is expected to receive will be money that Idaho might have to cover on its own later.
While he hopes the federal spending will create jobs, especially in transportation and other infrastructure areas, he remains “suspicious” of the overall plan, Otter said.
“I think there’s parts of the stimulus package that are going to do exactly what was intended as far as putting people back to work or saving jobs,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “I’d hate to spend a billion dollars and not do any good.”