Facing the loss of over 1,000 Northern Virginia county and local government jobs in the coming budget cycle, area officials are scrambling to prepare a response to the federal government’s massive stimulus package that will swiftly infuse a combination of funds and tax cuts totaling $850 billion nationally.
Last Friday, giving only 24 hours notice, Rep. Jim Moran became the first congressman in the U.S. to call an urgent, extraordinary meeting of local leaders in his district, the 8th District of Northern Virginia, presenting the amazing scope and speed attending the program.
Moran said that top economists in the U.S. predict a loss of over four million jobs in 2009, on top of 2.5 million in 2008, that could send the U.S. economy into an irreversible tailspin if bold and strong measures are not taken by the federal government to preserve and create jobs.
Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee, City of Falls Church Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester, along with Arlington and Falls Church county board, city council and school officials responded to the summons from Moran Friday. In addition to explaining the enormous parameters of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” Moran elicited reactions and comments from the gathered leaders.
“What they told me was extremely useful to me,” Moran told the News-Press after the meeting. Concerns were in two primary categories: 1. flexibility in the local jurisdictions’ use of funds that may come their way and 2. concerns for the institutional channels through which the funds may come, such as the state government.
(Moran’s office announced late yesterday that the “TARP Accountability and Reform Act of 2009” passed the House yesterday including relief for Metro and 31 other transit agencies across the U.S. from ‘lease back’ transactions.)
Since Moran’s meeting last Friday, local officials, have been working overtime to identify so-called “shovel ready” projects that could be augmented, and jobs provided for that, in ways called for by the stimulus package.
According to Brian Stout, Arlington’s federal liaison working in Carlee’s office, talking with the News-Press yesterday, Arlington would most likely absorb stimulus money best in an array of existing projects that are underway but slowed or stalled because of state and county funding shortfalls.
Mester, talking to the News-Press yesterday, said that the major new project that may qualify might be the structured parking garage associated with the City Center Project approved last year. It has all the necessary approvals and design plans, she noted, fulfilling qualifications for the kind of projects the federal government wants the funds to be used for.
She added that the Arts Center at Pearson Square is another “shovel ready” project. She said that watershed management, sidewalk construction and pedestrian-friendly access to transit, traffic calming, roadbed reconstruction and alternative energy projects may also qualify.
She said she’s meeting with staff in Moran’s office next week to spell out the programs that could qualify for swift funding and development.
“This is a very exciting opportunity,” she said, although there are still unanswered questions about the need for flexibility in the use of the funds and other matters.
“There needs to be an ability to supplant the funds,” she said, and Arlington’s Stout agreed. Stout said that Carlee spoke with Moran by phone yesterday on just that subject as the bill was being marked up in the House Appropriations Committee. A vote on the bill was slated by the end of the day yesterday, and a Senate version of the bill will begin the committee process early next week.
President Obama, according to Moran, said he wants a bill on his desk to sign by Feb. 1.
Among the projects that could qualify for the quick cash infusion in Arlington County, Stout said, are the second entrance at the Rosslyn Metro station, Four Mile Run flood control, Columbia Pike “Complete Streets” beautification, a dedicated bus lane on Route 1 between Crystal City and the Potomac Yards, renovation of the structurally-deficient Washington Street Bridge over Columbia Pike, upgrades to the county water pollution control plant and “Potomac Interceptor” sewer line under the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor, and an array of energy efficiency and conservation programs.
“Rep. Moran is a terrific asset in matters like this,” Stout said. “He understands local government and the federal process. He’s one of the most influential lawmakers up there.”