Saturday, 2:15 PM
Governors push $1 trillion stimulus package for states
By Matt Viser and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
A group of influential Democratic governors that includes Deval Patrick is pressing the federal government for a $1 trillion stimulus package for the states over the next two years that would contain $250 billion for education in an effort to avoid inflicting irreversible damage to schools during a fiscal crisis.
The proposal would also allocate $350 billion for an array of infrastructure projects, including road and bridge construction; extending the reach of Internet broadband; digitizing medical records; affordable housing; and energy efficiency initiatives.
"The idea is to put people to work and to put them to work in ways that build on a stronger, long-term economic platform for future growth," Patrick said today in a conference call in which five governors briefed reporters on the plan. "Any economic recovery bill in our view passed by Congress should be bold enough to have a psychological impact and well as an economic one."
Another $250 billion would be used to shore up the social safety net, increasing matching federal funds for Medicaid and providing money for food stamps, welfare, and other programs that are most needed during tough economic times. The final $150 billion would be used for middle-class tax cuts, Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey said.
The governors have not come to a consensus on how the funding would be distributed, but Patrick said that for the $600 billion in education and infrastructure, “population is as simple and straightforward a way as any.”
Massachusetts makes up about 2 percent of the nations population, which would mean about $12.7 billion.
The funding would be spread over two years, but it is unclear what conditions the federal government would put on the spending and whether state officials could use the money to make up budget shortfalls.
The governors said they settled on the $1 trillion price tag after several conversations with senior members of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team and members of the incoming administration. During the call with reporters, the five governors took turns describing the dire financial climates in their states. New Jersey cut $2.7 billion from its budget. Ohio slashed $1.9 billion and can only afford to fund 75 percent of its current programs. Wisconsin has made $500 million in cuts this year. New York is facing a $15.4 billion budget deficit.
The federal money would act as a two-year bridge to allow states to continue essential services, the governors said, not an invitation to increase spending. The focus on education is warranted, the governors said, because schools cannot sustain steep budget cuts without adversely affecting students.
"It would be a terrible disaster for this country to see our education system move backward," said Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin.