Quick, Careful Federal Investment Could Ease Recession

Billings Gazette

by Editorial

A few weeks ago, Billings Public Schools sent a list of repair, renovation and energy efficiency projects needed in the district's 30 school buildings to Montana's congressional delegation and governor's office. The school district provides examples of the kind of job-creating public infrastructure projects that Congress could fund to mitigate effects of the recession. The estimated total cost of the Billings list is $120 million. Although most of the projects have been deferred for years because of lack of local funds, they could be under way quickly if money were available.

"We could do $30 million of high-priority projects this summer," said Rich Whitney, facility services director for Billings Public Schools. Those projects include heating, ventilation and air-conditioning upgrades, roof repairs, energy management systems and energy-efficient windows.

After consulting some local contractors, Whitney believes that amount of work could be handled by Billings-area businesses and workers.

As Jon Tester, a new member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told his colleagues last week: "Rather than continuing to lurch from bailout to bailout, we need a good jobs bill that will put people to work right now and begin to rebuild our economy from the ground up by investing in infrastructure."

Jobs, highways, Medicaid

Montana's entire congressional delegation serves on committees that crafted the stimulus plans. Rep. Denny Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, writes elsewhere on this page of his frustration with the House bill and process. He's certainly right that the legislation includes items that would have little, if any, stimulative effects on the economy. But the mammoth bill also has money for tax incentives, appropriations for transportation and education infrastructure and for counter cyclic programs like Medicaid, which more Americans need during a recession. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had a primary role in drafting the Senate proposal for tax cuts, business investment incentives and Medicaid support.

Many economists agree that a boost in carefully targeted federal spending could help lessen the worst effects of the recession. Why should the government spend more this year?

Because Americans individually are spending much less, which means businesses are selling less, making less money and employing fewer workers. The federal government is the only entity with the potential to step in to halt or slow this downward spiral.

Scrutiny is important

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is getting more scrutiny than the rushed $700 billion financial industry rescue Congress and President George W. Bush approved last fall. Scrutiny is important. The financial sector rescue hasn't been implemented as the Bush administration said it would be and financial markets continue to decline.

Are the House and Senate bills larded up with spending (tax cuts and appropriations) that won't help average Americans through this year of recession?

Absolutely. The final bill should reflect some common-sense revisions. But members of Congress can't just say no. The stakes are too high. The nation needs extraordinary action to get people back to work and save others from losing their jobs. The states, which cannot deficit-spend, are unable to significantly step up their jobs, training or infrastructure investments now because tax revenues are declining.

We call on Baucus, Tester and Rehberg to support a stimulus bill that is sharply focused on jobs for American workers and relief for jobless and impoverished citizens.