WASHINGTON — Georgia could net more than $1.9 billion in federal funds to create eco-friendly schools, shore up the state’s budget deficit and preserve jobs if an Obama administration-backed economic stimulus package passes both chambers of Congress, according to members of the state’s congressional delegation and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The $825 billion stimulus package, which members of Congress hope to put before President Barack Obama by mid-February, includes a proposed $30 million for Muscogee County schools to convert to solar and geothermal energy, improve Internet connections or address maintenance issues over the next two years. Russell County schools, which include Phenix City, Ala., could receive $2.8 million.
In Georgia, which has an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent, the highest rate in more than 25 years, the stimulus package would have perhaps the greatest impact in creating jobs through a boost in infrastructure, transportation and housing spending.
The state fiscal stabilization funding portion of the stimulus could help save or create an estimated 3,500 jobs in Georgia, according to figures from the House Democratic leadership.
Georgia faces a $2.3 billion budget deficit, and lawmakers have asked for federal relief.
The release of proposed state-by-state figures for the economic stimulus package sent congressional staffers and special interest groups scrambling on Friday as each tried to parse and spin what the numbers mean and how much will be allocated to the various counties and government agencies.
Lawmakers cautioned that the figures are an early estimate and are in no way final.
A "green schools" provision, sponsored by Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky., is the first measure to dedicate such a massive infusion of funds toward making schools eco-friendly and was strongly endorsed by Obama.
Chandler’s measure requires school districts to publicly report both the educational, energy and environmental benefits of their building projects and the percentage of funds used for projects at low-income and rural schools.
"I'm so pleased and grateful to President Obama for putting this in the bill,” Chandler said.
"It's wonderful that he feels like this is important not only to economic recovery but that he is also focused on educating our kids.”
Chandler’s measure narrowly survived a tough congressional fight last year after Republican opponents objected to the proposal’s allocation of additional money as a task that traditionally has been the responsibility of local districts and states. The ensuing back and forth brought to the fore ideological differences about the role of the federal government in education and approaches to addressing environmental issues.
The nation’s school districts could gain as much as $14 billion, said Chandler who, along with Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, and Rep. Jack Kingston, D-Savannah, sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee responsible for allocating federal funds.
Meanwhile, Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats vowed to fight an unprecedented expansion of the national deficit.
“While we appreciate the chance to work with the president, it appears that House Democrats are going to continue to barrel ahead without any bipartisan support," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. The Congressional Budget Office "reported this week that the congressional Democrats’ plan wouldn’t have any real impact for years. And so it looks like a bill that spends too much and spends it too late. And so we’re trying to understand how their plan is really going to stimulate the economy. How’s it going to create more jobs in America and preserve existing jobs in America?”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would prefer the package more closely resemble a rescue package for the nation’s automakers and include loans rather than grants to the states. He agrees with Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that a rescue package should be timely, targeted and temporary.
“Everybody is making their list and checking it twice … there’s widespread enthusiasm for the money,” McConnell said Friday. "To the extent that we send money to the states with no strings attached, you will have a lot of projects that won’t pass the smell test."