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Obama warns mayors not to waste stimulus money

Posted February 20, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Invoking his own name-and-shame policy, President Barack Obama warned the nation's mayors on Friday that he will "call them out" if they waste the money from his massive economic stimulus plan.

"The American people are watching," Obama told a gathering of mayors at the White House. "They need this plan to work. They expect to see the money that they've earned - they've worked so hard to earn - spent in its intended purposes without waste, without inefficiency, without fraud."

Obama meets with mayors Obama tells mayors to use stimulus money wisely

In the days since the White House and Congress came to terms on the $787 billion economic package, the political focus has shifted to how it will work. Obama has staked his reputation not just on the promise of 3.5 million jobs saved or created, but also on a pledge to let the public see where the money goes.

His budget chief this week released a 25,000-word document that details exactly how Cabinet and executive agencies, states and local organizations must report spending. It is a system meant to streamline reports so they can be displayed on the administration's new Web site, Recovery.gov.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who said his city has $95 million in projects awaiting stimulus funds, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy were among the 80 or so mayors who attended the event.

"We have roads that are being looked at," Bell said. "I know the Department of Transportation has identified a small number of roads that can be built in Durham County that those funds can be available for. We have some capital projects that we can apply very easily to those programs that are 'shovel-ready.'"

The programs could translate into 600-plus jobs, Bell said.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell Durham mayor meets with Obama

The federal money is vital, he said, because Durham faces a $20 million to $40 million budget deficit.

Using his presidential pulpit, Obama demanded accountability, from his friends in local government as well as his own agencies. He said the new legislation gives him tools to "watch the taxpayers' money with more rigor and transparency than ever," and that he will use them.

"If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it, and put a stop to it," he said. "I want everyone here to be on notice that if a local government does the same, I will call them out on it, and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it."

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who leads the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said he welcomed Obama's warning.

Pat McCrory at mayors' meeting with Obama Mayors support call for stimulus accountability

"Absolutely. We get called out every day at the local level," Diaz said, drawing laughs from other mayors in a gathering with reporters on the White House driveway. "We have plenty of constituents who will be doing that before the president does."

Mayors of both parties said they appreciated the invitation to meet with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and a handful of Cabinet secretaries. They cautioned, though, that the stimulus plan will only work if leaders at the state level direct the money to their cities in a clear, timely way.

"We've got to make sure the governors transfer much of this money to metro areas," McCrory said. "We've expressed that very strongly to the Cabinet members."

McCrory also said "shovel-ready" needs to be more clearly defined to ensure the stimulus money is spent on worthwhile projects.

"Metropolitan areas are areas in which we have to do more environmental study, planning, engineering and architectural work than some of the more rural areas of the states," he said. "I personally asked for more flexibility in the definition of 'shovel-ready' so more money goes to these metropolitan areas (for) very important long-term infrastructure."

The economic plan will inject a sudden boost of cash into transportation, education, energy and health care. Beyond new spending, it aims to aid people through a package of tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits and short-term health insurance help. The cost will be added to a growing budget deficit.

Obama said government leaders have asked for the "unprecedented trust of the American people."

"With that comes unprecedented obligations to spend that money wisely, free from politics and free from personal agendas," he said.

The president did not specify how, exactly, he would call out one of his own agencies or a local government about wasteful projects.

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  • affirmativediversity Feb 20, 2009

    Obama stated "...They expect to see the money that they've earned - they've worked so hard to earn - spent in its intended purposes without waste, without inefficiency, without fraud."

    Actually Mr. President...We would have liked to "spend that money OURSELVES!!!"

  • workingforthosethatwont Feb 20, 2009

    You lead by example and he set the tone with the inauguration party. As long as it's someone else's money it must be ok. Another example of someone demanding what they didn't earn and thinks it's owed to them. Is it 2012 yet?

  • readme Feb 20, 2009

    "Obama warns mayors not to waste stimulus money" --- Too bad he didn't listen when taxpayers said not to waste money on a stimulus.

  • livinggood2 Feb 20, 2009

    Weneedpalin.com

  • livinggood2 Feb 20, 2009

    You People Voted Him in there,so I guess you get what you pay for.

  • NE Raleigh Feb 20, 2009

    He just better be sure all materials to rebuild bridges, roads, ect.. are from AMERICA. The labor should be provided by LEGAL AMERICANS!

  • yankee1 Feb 20, 2009

    Shaleen you are laughable!! I have worked full time for 30 years, have you?? The amount of money the Government keeps handing out to the freeloaders of this country makes me puke!! My sister works in a mostly minority school in Ct.. When the Chicago thug won, they came into school bragging about how they wouldn't have to work or anything 'cause Nobama was gonna pay for their rent, their cars, their gas and their food! Somehow that managed to find their way to the nail salon to get pictures of the Obamas imprinted on their nails. I told her that next time she heard that nonsense to advise them to watch where they stick their fingers! Get it???? What have you contributed to society to make you think you deserve anything you didn't earn?? The undercurrent of resistance to this nonsense is growing! Listen closely, you'll hear it loud and clear!! Grow up and earn your existence!!!

  • coolbreeze6644 Feb 20, 2009

    "its time we ALL share and share alike!!! Enough of this talk about socialism, Obama is about fairness to all" Ok what are you sharing with me? Though so.

  • blueridgerunner Feb 20, 2009

    Ah yes, BO. What a guy. The picture of a man with job he is unqualified to have. Brave face. Finger wagging. Threatening language and dire warnings. Totally insecure with who he is and the office. He's got the run of the play ground doesn't he? Where's the hope? Where's the encouragement? Where's the leadership? "Well America" as Bernie Mac would say you ask for it and you got him. The media darling is about to come unhinged and he's looking to point that long boney finger at someone to blame. So. Mayors beware. GW— beware even though your out of office. Hillary beware. John McCain watch your 6 brother.

  • jonb Feb 20, 2009

    He is telling the Mayors not to waste money!! That is priceless!!! why dont he clean his own house before telling anybody else what to do!!!! All they do is waste money!!! A billion here, a billion there, GUESS WHAT? pretty soon it adds up to REAL money! Dont waste money!! HAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!!

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