Tuesday, January 27
BRATTLEBORO -- Gov. James Douglas has joined the Vermont's Washington, D.C., congressional delegation in welcoming the Obama administration's proposal to send up to $1 billion in federal aid to the state.

Vermont could receive the federal stimulus money over a two-year period to help rekindle the lackluster economy, according to Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. Although the specific numbers are unconfirmed until after Congress votes on the measure, the $825 billion federal stimulus package is expected to be used to fund highway and bridge projects, in addition to pay for energy efficiency programs.

"The worsening economic crisis has reached Vermont, including our state's budget," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "We need a substantial stimulus package to help bring the economy back."

The money is also projected to help lower property taxes by assisting with Medicaid funding and saving some of the state jobs currently on the chopping block.

The state government needs to begin making itself sustainable because this economic package is only projected for two years, but any funding will be welcome, said Douglas, who stopped by the Reformer office Monday afternoon. "This federal money is great, but we have to put our projects on a more sustainable track."

"The stimulus package should be temporary, timely and targeted, and when possible these should include transformative investments that can not only create jobs for today, but also for tomorrow," said Leahy.

If the stimulus package is approved in Washington, a large portion of the projected funding for Vermont is slated for highway infrastructure on the state's roadways.

John Zicconi, spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said the legislation currently under discussion on Capitol Hill would give the state $130 million in highway aid.

"In any given construction season, we in an average year, put out about $120-140 million in construction projects," he said. The stimulus package would basically double the construction budget for the upcoming season.

"Anytime you can double anything you do is a big deal, so we are gearing up with the best list of projects that we can," Zicconi said.

While much of the focus is expected to be on resurfacing or reconstruction on some of Vermont's deteriorating roads, the projects considered to be "shovel ready" are more likely to get the nod, he added.

"It will have failed if we are not hitting construction as soon as the ground thaws," said Welch.

On a local level, Brattleboro officials are looking for federal dollars to improve the town's infrastructure as well, but are hopeful for federal funding toward the proposed waste water treatment plant.

"That is a huge project right here on the horizon for us," said Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray. "I'm hoping we can get the money for that project."

Anytime a town is discussing a multimillion dollar project, "getting other funding would be immensely beneficial for Brattleboro users of our waste water treatment plant," said DeGray.

Vermont is also projected to receive aid to local education, perhaps even part of expected $9 billion for special education funding nationwide.

Jill Remick, communications director for the Department of Education, said they will not know the amount the state will receive until when the package is finalized, but "any money that could support local schools, especially this year, would be more than welcome."

With the state budget looking at significant reductions, including cuts in the education department, there has been a trickle-down effect on schools.

"I think that government money would be more than welcome," Remick said.

After the Senate Appropriations Committee votes on the measure today, the House is expected to vote later in the week on Obama's economic plan. The Senate is expects to vote the following week.

Leahy, one of the most senior members of the committee, said he has pushed hard for several priorities he believes are important to Vermont and the rest of the country.

"These include investments in broadband access, local law enforcement, transportation, housing, green energy, hunger-relief and basic health care efforts, education and water treatment facilities," Leahy said. "These are efforts that would strengthen Vermont's economy by promoting economic growth, creating jobs and easing our state's fiscal crisis."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.