Congress

Three spending packages will move funds into Valley

WASHINGTON -- The San Joaquin Valley will get its share from three huge spending packages now colliding on Capitol Hill.

But between a stimulus bill, an omnibus spending bill and a budget bill, it's easy to get confused about what's what, not to mention who's who. Here are some questions and answers that may help.

Q: Slow down. What are these three bills again?

A: The first, already approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, is the economic stimulus package. This is the one designed to jumpstart the economy. The second, called an omnibus, provides federal government funding through Sept. 30. The third is the budget proposed by Obama on Thursday.

Q: OK, just how big are they?

A: Really big. The stimulus bill is $787 billion. The omnibus bill, approved by the House on Wednesday, is $410 billion. Obama's proposed fiscal 2010 budget presented Thursday is $3.5 trillion.

Q: Wow! What's the San Joaquin Valley going to get out of all this?

A: Well, let's start with $300,000 for Merced County to fight the methamphetamine trade. Then there's $900,000 to acquire land for the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge, $800,000 for a Yosemite National Park tunnel project and $476,000 for Clovis Unified School District curriculum development. And then there is...

Q: Wait. Those are nice projects, but what's the grand total for the Valley from all three bills?

A: Can't say. The stimulus, the omnibus and the budget are very different creatures. The omnibus, which now awaits Senate approval, is jammed with some 9,000 different earmarks. These are the spending line items targeted to specific, and sometimes controversial, local projects. This, for instance, is where lawmakers included $385,000 for a low-income scholarship program at California State University at Stanislaus and $570,000 for work on Veterans Boulevard in Fresno.

Q: How about that stimulus bill, then; is there local spending in that?

A: Yes, but it's harder to find. The 1,407-page stimulus bill does not specify which state and local entities will receive federal help. Instead, each state's share must be estimated from current funding formulae. California, for instance, is expected to get roughly $26 billion. Then, the amount going to individual cities and counties will become evident over time. This week, for instance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced how it would distribute some $1 billion in community development block grant funds provided under the stimulus bill. Now it's clear that Fresno will get $2 million, Merced will get $336,919, and Modesto will get $631,749 in the block grants.

Q: That's what I'm talking about. Is there more of that kind of specific information?

A: Only in part. Among federal agencies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development seems pretty far along in announcing local funding from the stimulus bill. For example, the department is now saying Fresno will get $3.1 million, Merced $515,203 and Modesto $966,016 in homelessness grants provided under the stimulus bill.

Q: How about other cities and other grants?

A: Check out the Department of Housing and Urban Development's stimulus bill Web site, http://www.hud.gov/recovery/. Other federal agencies, too, have Web sites offering stimulus bill specifics, generally listed under the category of "recovery."

Q: So that's the stimulus and the omnibus. How about Obama's budget unveiled Thursday?

A: Honestly, it's more of an outline, or a marketing plan, than a detailed budget. The 146-page document is only about one-tenth the size of the complete annual budget proposal now expected to arrive in April. It doesn't even have the word "California" in it, let along "Modesto," "Merced" or "Fresno."

Q: But isn't there some way to know how this budget will affect the region?

A: In broad outline, sure. The budget outline presented Thursday, for instance, calls for a "Western water conservation initiative," which would serve 17 Western states. It proposes a dedicated new fund for fighting wildland fires, like those afflicting California. For high-speed rail aficionados, of whom there are a number in the San Joaquin Valley, Obama's budget offers $1 billion annual high-speed rail grant program.

Q: Since this is a Democratic president submitting a budget to a Democratic Congress, then is that all she wrote?

A: No. Congress is always skeptical of presidential budgets, regardless of party. Obama's budget, for instance, anticipates phasing out crop subsidy direct payments to farmers with incomes greater than $500,000. Obama also proposes cutting by 20 percent the Agriculture Department's Market Access Program, which is heavily used by the likes of Sunkist, Blue Diamond Growers and other San Joaquin Valley giants.

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