The federal government finally cracked open the piggy bank
when Congress sent a final version of the $787 billion American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act to President Barack Obama Feb. 13. The president signed the
bill into law Tuesday.
Pennsylvania would receive around $20 billion, with about $2.4 billion coming in the next
fiscal year. That’s enough to erase the state’s looming budget shortfall,
although the governor and the General Assembly need to do more to cut fat from
the state budget in future years.
To get the economy going again, the stimulus money must be
distributed quickly. Funding for highways and bridges and for public transit,
amounting to a little more than $1 billion, is a key part of the plan as a way
to create jobs and upgrade infrastructure. Rendell said Feb. 13 that some
projects could start by the end of April.
That would be good.
Hopefully, this won’t turn into a Friends of Ed feeding
frenzy, with Rendell campaign contributors moving to the front of the line for
That would be bad.
It’s a lot of government spending: It will bring the federal
budget deficit close to $2 trillion. That much debt, and the amount of
borrowing required, leaves the government’s financial house in a precarious
But there’s no choice. The markets won’t fix themselves. And
with so much money involved, there only will be one chance to do it right.
Transparency is crucial, but government experts say it will be a difficult balance to spend the money quickly and have it accounted for properly. Massachusetts and other
states are talking about creating special posts or oversight panels to ensure
the money goes where it needs to go and the public stays informed.
A lot of people are skeptical that government has the
ability to pull off anything of this magnitude. Recent history isn’t
encouraging. But it can be done. The United States government built the
atomic bomb, the interstate highway system and the Internet. It put a man on
the moon. When confronted with a crisis, America and its leaders usually
rise to the occasion. We must do so again.