Politics & Government

California can expect big chunk of stimulus spending

WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley police departments can expect reinforcements from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill signed Tuesday by President Obama.

The new police grants could add up to several hundred thousand dollars, or more, for cities like Modesto and Fresno, based on past experience. They are only one part of California's share of the stimulus bill, estimated to be $26 billion or more.

The new funding means Valley schools will get money to aid low-income students. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will get restoration help. Valley counties will receive millions of dollars in block grants to spend as local officials see fit.

"I'm definitely going to apply for it, and I'm going to apply for the maximum amount," Reedley Police Chief Steven Wright said in a telephone interview, conducted minutes after Obama's bill-signing ceremony. "I have plenty of needs that qualify."

But Wright is still figuring out exactly how much money might flow, and when, to his Fresno County city of 25,000 residents. Other city, county and state officials -- not to mention taxpayers -- are in the same boat.

In part, the 1,434-page stimulus bill defies easy analysis. It is largely devoid of earmarks that steer money to specific local projects. The word "California" only appears once, on page 774, in a section authorizing $50 million for work on Delta restoration.

Some urban myths encrust the facts, further complicating the picture. Contrary to Republican charges, for instance, the bill does not include $30 million requested by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to protect a San Francisco Bay Area mouse. The bill does include wetlands restoration funding, but does not specify where it will be spent; the words "mouse" and "San Francisco" never appear in the legislation.

Considerable uncertainty also clouds the fundamental question about whether the record-setting legislation passed over united Republican opposition in the House will actually work. The answer will have big political consequences for both parties.

"We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive," Obama declared at the Denver bill-signing ceremony.

The local allocations are still being worked out, though in some cases they can be roughly estimated.

California, for instance, is expected to receive $230 million through the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program. This is a little more than four times the total amount California received in fiscal 2007.

If individual California cities likewise get a little more than four times their 2007 allocations, Fresno could get about $1.6 million, Merced about $250,000, Modesto about $575,000 and Reedley about $60,000 from the new funding. These are only rough estimates, and are not guaranteed, but they hint at what may be coming.

"Thanks to this bill, thousands of additional police officers will go on the streets of America," Vice President Joe Biden said at the bill-signing ceremony.

The stimulus bill's Title I funding increase will send $1.59 billion to California, nearly doubling the state's annual allocation for aiding low-income students. On average, this will mean school districts, too, should get twice their usual Title I allocation, according to Carol Bingham, director of fiscal policy for the California Department of Education.

The Modesto City Elementary School District, for instance, could expect an additional $6.9 million if its Title I funding doubles, state records show. The Merced City Elementary School District could expect an additional $5 million and the Fresno Unified School District could get an additional $43 million, if the past is any guide.

"It's certainly useful," Bingham said.

Community Development Block Grants receive a smaller boost in the stimulus bill. California expects to get $127 million for the grants, used for buying and rehabilitating distressed property, water and sewer facilities, economic development and more.

The additional CDBG funds amount to about one-quarter of the state's typical annual share. Based on past funding, the city of Fresno might expect in the vicinity of $2 million or so in additional block grant funding, and Modesto might expect roughly $600,000 or so in additional funds.

"We'll put it to good use, but I wish there was more," said Chris Westlake, deputy director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

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