February 14, 2009
JACKSON -- At least $1.5 billion for Mississippi is in the economic stimulus bill Congress passed Friday to upgrade roads and help states avert budget cuts for schools, Medicaid and other programs crippled by the country''s financial collapse.
The American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $3.2 million for the Columbus Municipal School District and $2 million for the Lowndes County School District, according to a summary provided by U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss.
"While it is not a perfect piece of legislation, it is necessary for uplifting hard-working families and getting our faltering economy back on track by putting Americans back to work," said Childers, who represents north Mississippi''s 1st Congressional District.
The $787 billion package sent to President Barack Obama contains a total of about $504 billion in spending and $286 billion in tax cuts to get money flowing into the nation''s debilitated economy and help victims of the worst recession in decades.
The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a 246-183 vote Friday. It passed the Senate 60-38.
Childers and Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson were the only members of Mississippi''s congressional delegation voting for the bill. Against it were Democrat Gene Taylor and Republican Gregg Harper in the House and Republicans Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker in the Senate.
Opponents said the package is an excessive waste of money that will do little to stimulate the economy.
"This is the most expensive piece of legislation ever passed in the history of our republic," Wicker said in speaking out against the bill on the Senate floor Friday.
"This bill is full of bad decisions that will take Americans decades to pay for."
He said the measure should''ve been whittled down to just providing tax relief, infrastructure funds and incentives for people to buy homes.
The legislation provides billions of dollars to aid victims of the recession with more unemployment benefits, food stamps, medical care, job retraining and other measures.
"Right now, north Mississippians are fighting to stay employed in the face of constant plant closures, layoffs and reductions in hours," Childers said in a statement issued by his office.
The bill has more than $48 billion for transportation projects throughout the country.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation has listed a stretch of U.S. 45 in Lowndes County and two bridges on state Highway 182 among the state''s high-priority, ready-to-go road projects. MDOT wants to four-lane U.S. 45 that goes from U.S. 82 into Noxubee County and replace the two bridges west of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
More than 35 percent of the legislation is in direct tax relief, according to Childers'' office.
This includes a tax credit provided by a reduction in income taxes withheld from paychecks or through claiming the credit on tax returns. This tax credit will benefit about one million Mississippi taxpayers, according to Childers''s office.
The new law will help first-time home buyers and the housing market by enhancing the current credit for first-time home purchases. The bill also has incentives to buy new cars with a tax deduction for sales taxes paid on the purchases.
"The recovery package will create and save 3.5 million jobs nationwide, invest quickly in our troubled economy, give nearly every American worker an immediate tax cut and invest in important infrastructure projects to jump-start the economy," Childers said.
The aid to state governments comes as Mississippi is struggling to fund state services.
Gov. Haley Barbour -- for the first time since taking office in 2004 -- has ordered midyear spending cuts totaling $200 million because state revenues have fallen below what was budgeted.
This includes $76 million cut from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which distributes state funds to the state''s 149 school districts. Lowndes County schools lost about $730,100; Columbus: $635,000.
In addition to the money for schools, the congressional aid adopted Friday includes an estimated $87 billion over the next two years in extra federal Medicaid funds. States are suffering serious budget shortfalls in the health care program for the poor.
Mississippi is facing a $295 million Medicaid deficit.
State legislators are eager to see the federal funds ease the state''s budget crisis and spark Mississippi''s beleaguered economy. House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, has compared the state''s current need for federal funds to when Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi coastal communities in 2005.
"We''re in dire times just as we were after the hurricane," McCoy said.
The federal government provided Mississippi about $3 billion to recover from that disaster.