Stimulus could bring 33,000 jobs to Utah

Transportation » But the state may not get as much funding as hoped for 'shovel-ready' road projects.
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Utah could gain about 33,000 jobs under President Barack Obama's stimulus plan, the White House said Tuesday, but the state would lose out on billions in transportation funding because federal officials don't want to change how they normally divvy up cash.

Utah has nearly $11 billion in "shovel-ready" projects -- more than any other state -- though it is expected to receive only a fraction of that because Congress plans to dole out the money based largely on population.

Obama's top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, said Tuesday that the president considered giving preference to projects that could launch quickly, but asking Congress to come up with a new plan to distribute funds could have taken months.

"What's crucial is there's funding at levels that would have been unimaginable even a year ago for all states," Summers, the director of the National Economic Council, told a group of regional reporters.

The House approved an $819 billion stimulus package last week in a strict party-line vote that saw every Republican oppose it. Now the Senate is wrangling over a similar, $900 billion stimulus bill, which among a bevy of tax cuts and spending programs would include about $41 billion for road, transit and water projects.

A proposal that would have boosted that infrastructure figure by another $25 billion fell two votes shy Tuesday of overcoming procedural hurdles in the Senate. Utah Republicans Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett were among the senators who opposed raising the amount.

Bennett didn't like that the amendment only added more money to the bill, instead of cutting it from other areas. He also has been a vocal critic of how the program would determine each state's portion of the infrastructure cash, saying he wants the Senate to create "an additional item of criteria" benefiting states that could move more quickly to start construction projects.

"Utah would fare better," he noted, "because we are closer to being ready than anyone else."

An organization representing state transportation agencies conducted a nationwide survey of road projects ready to go within the next six months. Despite topping the list, Utah is slated to receive only about $221 million in road funding.

Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Nile Easton said that isn't enough to start one of the major construction projects, such as expansion of Interstate 15 in Utah County or creation of a new west-side highway in Salt Lake County. Instead, the money would go toward road and bridge-maintenance projects spread throughout the state.

That still would put road crews to work, and Easton said the projects could start almost immediately.

A White House analysis, released Tuesday, shows that Utah would gain 33,000 jobs under the president's stimulus bill.

"What this does," Summers said, "is bring the people without work together with the work that needs to be done."

White House officials stressed that the analysis, conducted by administration economists, was "tentative" and would change as Congress and the president continue to tinker with the plan.

But the number is far higher than that released last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Relying on numbers generated by Mark Zandi, of Moody's, House Democrats expected Utah to pick up about 22,500 jobs under the stimulus plan.

The administration's goals with the package are far-reaching and stretch beyond job creation. It wants to prop up struggling states, expand educational access, boost renewable energy, make homes and government buildings more energy efficient and take major steps toward nationwide use of electronic health records. Some of this is expected to offer a short-term economic boost, while other pieces are meant to put the country in a better position years from now.

"Make no mistake, though, these problems were not created in a day or a month or a year," Summers said, "and they will not be solved in a day or a month or a year.",

Utah's slice

Under the House-passed stimulus bill, Utah would get about $2 billion in federal money. Of that, more than $310 million would go toward infrastructure improvements.

Roads » $221 million to repair roads and bridges.

Transit » $60 million to speed up light-rail expansion.

Water » $31 million to modernize water delivery.

Source » House Democrats, public officials

Where Utahns stand

Senate » Utah Republicans Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch oppose the Senate stimulus package in its current form. A vote could come this week.

House » Utah Democrat Jim Matheson voted for the stimulus boost last week, while Republicans Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz lined up against it.