2009-03-12 / Local & State

Pa. Gov. Promises Stimulus Cash Will Be Well-Spent

By Marc Levy ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Ed Rendell on Wednesday pledged an efficient and publicly accountable effort to spend Pennsylvania's billions from a federal economic stimulus package designed to help stabilize the country's sinking economy and put people back to work.

All told, Pennsylvania's share will approach $18 billion over three years, Rendell said, including dollars for tax breaks, alternative energy projects and public school districts.

Of the $9.8 billion set aside for state and local government agencies, Rendell estimated that $5.8 billion will be spent this year.

"I think we'll get the bulk of this money out quickly and it will be spent effectively,'' Rendell said.

Officials estimate that approximately $8 billion will come to Pennsylvania in the form of lower federal taxes and other benefits. Another $4 billion is slated for the state's Medicaid program, which provides health care for nearly 2 million poor, elderly and disabled residents.

To get money flowing quickly to highway and bridge projects, Rendell tapped his general services secretary, James P. Creedon. His responsibilities will include streamlining an often bureaucratic contracting process that can slow down project work.

In addition, Rendell said he will appoint a new chief accountability officer in the coming weeks to evaluate the contracts.

The state will maintain a Web site - www.recovery.pa.gov. - to allow the public to review how the state's share of the stimulus is spent.

Rendell, however, shrugged off separate calls by state Sen. Mike Brubaker, R-Lancaster, and U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., for the creation of a bipartisan oversight committee.

"If we did all this we'd spend most of our time dealing with the oversight commissions instead of getting this money out creating jobs,'' Rendell said.

He did, however, say he will suggest that six legislators and members of Congress be tapped to meet regularly with Creedon and the chief accountability officer.

In any case, much of the money has strict guidelines for how it is to be spent and is out of Rendell's hands.

"If anybody's thinking that there's a big slush fund for the governor to use up here in Harrisburg, they're dead wrong,'' Rendell said.

For instance, stimulus transportation projects must receive final approval by the state's 23 local planning organizations. Money for water and sewer system upgrades goes through a state agency that routinely handles applications for such loans and grants.

In anticipation of the stimulus money, state officials have discussed projects on which work can begin promptly. Those are typically repair projects, so that rights of way are already purchased and environmental impact studies do not need to be performed.

Projects also will be scrutinized for importance, readiness and the number of jobs they would create, Rendell said.

"We've been working on this, so the decision-making has gone slow enough that I think it's been deliberative and it makes sense,'' Rendell said.

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