Local governments should collaborate in applying for and using federal tax dollars that will come to Western North Carolina through the just-signed federal stimulus package and be cautious in budgeting for the cash, Rep. Heath Shuler said Thursday afternoon.
“If we work together, we can take advantage of the opportunity we have,” he said.
Shuler addressed a crowd of about 220 people gathered at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel for a “stimulus workshop” organized by Asheville engineering firm McGill Associates in conjunction with the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, Southwestern Commission, Isothermal Planning and Development Commission and the N.C. High Country Council of Governments. The audience included county commissioners, mayors, town-board members and a host of other government officials from across the region.
Shuler, one of only a handful of Democrats in the U.S. House to vote against President Barack Obama‘s $787 billion stimulus package, was in the unusual position of explaining his vote against the bill while at the same time stressing the need for Western North Carolina to get its “fair share” of the estimated $6.1 billion that’s headed to North Carolina.
“I didn’t vote for it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support some areas of spending,” said Shuler, who favors spending on infrastructure projects, such as roads and water lines, but opposes spending on programs that he said don’t stimulate the economy. Shuler said that 34,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure. Those jobs, in turn, have a ripple effect in the economy, he added. Shuler said he also opposed the bill because of its detrimental effect on the national debt.
Most of the money from the stimulus package will be filtered through the state, but some money will come directly to local county governments and municipalities, Shuler said. He cautioned local governments to be careful in budgeting the cash.
“Don’t expect more, because you could get less,” he said.
“We’re prepared to fight for our fair share,” said Shuler, noting that existing funding formulas for apportioning state spending have historically meant that Western North Carolina hasn’t received all the money it’s due.
There could be more money coming. “I feel there’s going to be another stimulus package,” one focused solely on infrastructure, Shuler said. He didn’t have details, but said the idea is floating around Washington, D.C.
Other speakers Thursday represented government agencies, such as the N.C. Division of Water Quality and the N.C. Department of Transportation, and offered details about how to get projects funded.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor