Local Politics

Stimulus package disappoints Perdue, pleases Etheridge

Posted February 16, 2009 5:06 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The $787 billion economic stimulus bill Congress approved last week left Gov. Beverly Perdue seeing the glass half-empty and Second District Congressman Bob Etheridge seeing it more than half-full.

North Carolina's cut of the package, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law Tuesday, could total about $6 billion. The money will help build roads, bridges and schools across the state.

"I think the infrastructure money is fair, (but) it's not as good as it could have been," Perdue said Monday. "At this point in time, anything is better than nothing. At this point, it's great to have a partner in Washington."

The overall package includes tax credits of up to $400 each for workers, $70 billion to spare millions of Americans from paying the alternative minimum tax and $36 billion to extend unemployment benefits.

Perdue said she was hoping for more federal money to help bolster North Carolina's Medicaid program. Without it, the state is still in the hole for about $150 million, she said.

"It's not exactly what I hoped for, (but) it's great money. It's going to put some people directly to work," she said.

North Carolina has the nation's sixth-highest unemployment rate, at 8.7 percent in December, and Perdue said creating jobs is her first priority for using the federal money.

"I want to be the poster child in America for how you use this money to put people back to work very efficiently and how you rebuild basic infrastructure of the state," she said.

She plans to name a task force Tuesday that will oversee how the stimulus money is spent, noting that if North Carolina works faster than other states to invest the money, more federal funding could become available.

About $553 million of the stimulus money will go toward school construction statewide, an idea Etheridge has been pushing for months.

"I don't know of a better base you can build than building quality facilities for children to learn in who will be the leaders in the 21st century," he said. "The future will belong to the educated, and the better educated our children are, the better they will be able to compete."

Rosa Gill, chairwoman of the Wake County Board of Education, said some area schools are more than 50 years old and are in dire need of maintenance.

"We want all of our students to enjoy modern facilities so they can enjoy a positive learning experience," Gill said. "We can use any amount of money ... for renovation. That seems to be the most difficult funding we can get."

The money could create as many as 11,000 school construction jobs, and the stimulus package will help school districts avoid paying interest for construction bonds, Etheridge said.

It's still unclear how other money will flow to Raleigh, Durham and other municipalities hoping to receive cash for specific projects, but Perdue promised, "Every single dollar that is invested in the state ... will benefit citizens."