Washington's share of stimulus bill could top $7 billion

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 13, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Washington's share of the $790 billion stimulus bill could easily top $7 billion, lawmakers said Friday, as Congress put the final touches on a measure that created a partisan fissure between Democrats and Republicans in the state's congressional delegation.

For several weeks, the estimates of how much Washington state would receive have bounced all over because of sharp differences between the House, Senate and compromise versions of the bill and highly technical disagreements on how the money in various accounts would be divvied up.

But on Friday, the numbers began to stabilize. As the dust settled, it appeared the state would receive more than initial estimates. The latest estimates came from Sen. Patty Murray's office and independent sources such as a non-partisan group that analyzes federal funding for the states.

"Our state's economy is sputtering," said Murray, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "This bill will bring over $7 billion into our state's economy to help get workers back on the job and our economy back on track."

The $7 billion figures includes $2 billion in Medicaid funding, at least $813 million in stabilization funds, which will mostly be used to restore local cuts in schools, and $2 billion to accelerate the cleanup of dangerous radioactive and chemical waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation along the Columbia River in eastern Washington.

The bill also includes $492.2 billion for highway, road and bridge construction: $176 million for transit programs; $100 million for housing; $69.2 million for sewer and waste water treatment projects; $60.7 million to weatherize houses owned by low-income families and $176 million to aid students from low-income families.

Not included in those figures are millions of dollars in grants for transportation, health, broadband wireless for rural areas and other items state and local governments can apply for. It also doesn't include tax cuts and increases in unemployment benefits which could add additional millions.

"It's easily $7 billion," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Cantwell fought hard to include additional funding for green energy in the bill but was rebuffed.

"We tried and we will try again," she said.

Both Murray and Cantwell supported the bill.

The House approved the bill 246-183. Not one Republican supported the bill.

"Unfortunately this bill is not about jobs -- it's about bigger government and more spending," said Republican Rep. Doc Hasting, who voted against the measure even though Hanford is in his district. "This bill will saddle our children and grandchildren with massive debt, while failing to provide the type of fast relief needed to help small job-creating small business and struggling families."

Though conceding the bill contained many good programs, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said its spending won't create jobs while the tax relief to families and small businesses was too skimpy.

"I can't vote for this bill with a clear conscience when it's not the right thing for hurting Americans," Reichert said.

Democrats said the stimulus bill was the first step toward overcoming the nation's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. They acknowledged the bill was far from perfect and voiced concern about the rising deficit. But they said immediate steps needed to be taken to start creating jobs.

"Nothing is ever perfect," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. "But we had to act. Doing nothing was not an option."

Dicks said he would have preferred more spending on infrastructure, particularly wastewater treatment facilities that will be critical to the eventual cleanup of Puget Sound. He also would have liked to see money specifically set aside for school construction.

As for Republicans, Dicks said they were simply "AWOL. I won't criticize them. Everyone has to do what they think is right."

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said Republicans were still smarting from their losses in the November election. Smith said there were "ample reasons" to vote against the bill, but the situation was too dire not to act.

"This has the potential to suck us into a decades-long recession," Smith said. "Stopping that is deficit reduction."

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said the measure was "critical step on the road to economic recovery" and it would "set a foundation" for long-term growth.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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