Wisconsin lawmakers and officials are already looking for ways the state may benefit from the nearly $800 billion stimulus package expected to be on President Barack Obama’s desk Monday.
Differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill were resolved Wednesday, with the House planning to vote on the proposal this afternoon.
According to Gov. Jim Doyle, the state is slated to receive around $3.5 billion from the package. That number could change, however, if the state receives more federal grants than expected.
Around $2 billion of the state’s funding for Medicare and education will go toward lowering the state’s projected $5.7 billion budget shortfall.
Various areas of the state’s infrastructure could be improved by the package, including health care, education, job creation and environmental measures.
“The bill really helps get people to work and keeps people working in this state,” Doyle said. “The bill, as it gets enacted into law, helps us enormously to keep moving Wisconsin forward.”
Education throughout the state will be improved through a variety of measures in the proposal, including an increase in funds for Pell Grant recipients and a $2,500 partially refunded tax credit for 63,000 Wisconsin families, Doyle added.
Measures like this are an important step to getting as many students through college as possible, according to Rep. Kim Hixon, D-Whitewater and chair of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities.
Susan Fischer, director of University of Wisconsin Office of Student Financial Services, added university work-study programs will also benefit from additional funding.
Doyle said funds will also be appropriated to improve medical research, with an increase in funding to the National Institutes of Health.
“Last year, the University of Wisconsin was the second largest recipient of NIH grants of any university in the country,” Doyle said. “We are in position to benefit from that significant increase in NIH funding.”
The state will receive $500 million for transportation projects from the package. The Legislature already approved $300 million, Doyle noted, and plans to add more projects as the funds come into the state.
Around $8 billion was approved nationally for rail improvement, although it is unclear exactly how much the state will receive.
According to Doyle, however, the state is in a very good position to receive money as it looks toward high-speed rail lines between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis.
In terms of environmental measures, the state will receive an indeterminate amount of funds to develop green energy projects, improve water quality and repair dams broken during last spring’s floods.
Very little money coming into the state will be discretionary, with most of it having broadly outlined goals set by Congress.
College of Engineering faculty associate Howard Rosen said improvements in various areas of infrastructure are important tasks for the state, especially road and bridge maintenance.
“There are all kinds of projects that have been either delayed or suspended because of uncertainty,” Rosen said. “Most of the infrastructure lasts a very long time, but it does need to be repaired, maintained and sometimes replaced.”
Rosen added improvements of underground transit, like wastewater and storm water drainage and treatment, are usually neglected but are necessary projects for the state.
The short-term benefit of these projects includes creating more jobs for citizens in a variety of sectors, while the long-term impact, according to Rosen, may be more significant because every dollar invested in infrastructure has a return.
Although Doyle is optimistic about the benefits of the package, Republican lawmakers have expressed concern regarding where the money will be spent.
“The federal stimulus money is coming down as one-time project money to stimulate the economy, and if that’s what the money is going for, that’s fine,” said Jim Bender, spokesperson for Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon. “If the one-time money is being used for ongoing projects, then that’s a problem.”
Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, is also concerned the state may focus on job creation in just a few areas instead of focusing on job creation throughout the state, according to spokesperson Kimberly Liedl.
Doyle acknowledged some of these concerns, saying the package will not fix all of the state’s budget concerns.
The democratic governor is still planning on making a variety of very steep cuts in his version of the 2009-11 biennium budget, which he plans to announce Tuesday.