Three state governors agreed Monday that they had hoped more federal stimulus dollars would be devoted to infrastructure projects because of the challenge of finding one-time projects that create jobs but don’t obligate states for future funding.
“I think we’ve all been very cautious about growing our programs and making sure we didn’t put ourselves in a position that we couldn’t sustain,” said Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The three governors – Manchin, Idaho’s Butch Otter, a Republican, and Democrat Brian Schweitzer of Montana – spoke during the final event of the three-day Council of State Governments spring conference in Coeur d’Alene. More than 400 leaders from 41 states, three Canadian provinces and Puerto Rico attended.
Otter said the Idaho Legislature didn’t receive information in a timely fashion regarding how much the state would receive and how it could use that money. As a result, he said, the Legislature learned on the 116th day of a 117-day session that it couldn’t use the money for an education stabilization fund.
In addition, Otter said, the downturn would have created an opportunity for government to refine itself and determine its most important functions. Instead, stimulus funds flowed in, Otter said, comparing the money with booze being provided to an alcoholic who has almost recovered.
Schweitzer, however, said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided a lot of flexibility. The money came at just the right time to fund a project to make state buildings more energy-efficient, he said. The state already had audited the buildings to determine what needed to be done, so the project was ready to go as soon as money was available, he said.
We could “immediately create jobs because we had already done the energy inventory. We already knew in every building where those dollars would go,” Schweitzer said. “As long as everybody understands that dollar is not going to be there the next biennium.”
Manchin said the rules and regulations attached to the stimulus funding took away a lot of the states’ discretion. He said he fears more bad economic news is coming and Congress does not have the will to pass another stimulus package. For that reason, he said, states need to restrain themselves.
“This downturn in the economy is not going to be over anytime soon,” he said.