Suffolk sticks hand in stimulus pot

Published 10:12 pm Saturday, February 28, 2009

Across the nation, governors and mayors are trying to figure out what they need to do to get a piece of the stimulus pie.

Suffolk has its hand in the pot, too, with requests on a Gov. Timothy Kaine-established Web site and a resolution on Wednesday’s agenda to authorize the city to apply for stimulus aid.

Good luck, says U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-4th).

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In February, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The law, a $787 billion spending package designed to give the nation’s economy a boost, has been touted to create or save millions of jobs by providing money for governments to do transportation projects, infrastructure improvements, and to give tax cuts to the working classes, tax credits to military and first-time homebuyers and more.

The official Web site developed for stimulus information,, outlines the general spending amounts anticipated. According to the site, about $288 billion will go toward tax relief; $144 billion toward state and local fiscal relief; $111 billion, infrastructure and science; $81 billion, protecting the vulnerable; $59 billion, health care; $53 billion, education and training; $43 billion, energy; and $8 billion, other projects.

However, Forbes says that the bill won’t work, will sink the country deeper into a depression, and furthermore will burden future generations with debt that will be impossible to pay off.

“I am one of 17 people that have voted against all of the bailout packages so far,” Forbes said in a phone interview this week. He referred to bailout packages presented both by former President George W. Bush and by Obama.

“They’re not going to work. The debt that they’re saddling our grandchildren with is just untenable.”

Even the Congressional Budget Office, whose job it is to take an objective view of the federal government’s money issues, says the act will make the economy worse, according to Forbes.

“Just assume you’re not going to pay it back,” he said. “How are you going to pay it back? They cannot answer that question.”

Forbes used as an example his granddaughter Hannah, who recently turned 2. By the time she is as old as he is now, the interest alone on the most recent stimulus package would have covered the entire budgets for NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, the FBI, the Department of Justice, White House operations, Congressional operations, and every single U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project in the country.

Forbes believes that Virginia ultimately will suffer from the stimulus package, because the federal government will have to cut defense costs to attempt to pay back its debt.

Regardless of whether Forbes believes the act is folly, it is now the law. However, the bill does not lay out many ground rules on how the money will be distributed or spent, Forbes said.

“What we’re doing is dumping money over to the states,” Forbes said. “A great deal of it is up to the governor’s office.”

To that end, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine has set up a Web site,, to accept suggestions from state residents and local governments on how the money should be spent. Forbes said that this site currently is the best way to let Kaine know the wishes and requests of residents.

A site search for projects mentioning Suffolk came up with 55 requests on Friday evening. A third of the requests were submitted in the name of the city of Suffolk, and mentioned Sherry Hunt, the city’s chief of staff, as a contact person.

The city’s requests range from the replacement of the Kings Highway Bridge and the widening of Holland Road to intersection improvements and sanitary sewer extensions for various neighborhoods. Also included is a Route 58 water storage tank, two additional lanes at the Godwin Bridge on Route 17, the renovation of the old courthouse to become the visitor center, the renovation of the Phoenix Bank building and the construction of a new elementary school to replace dilapidated Southwestern and Robertson elementary schools.

Nine of the projects are listed as “shovel-ready,” and the rest are listed in the engineering or planning stages. Many of the projects are listed in the city’s 10-year capital improvements plan.

Other people also have listed suggestions for projects on the site. Several mirrored requests placed by the city, but some suggested other things, such as paving roads, burying power lines and developing a light-rail system similar to the one currently being constructed in Norfolk.

Despite the requests on the Web site, Forbes is not counting on Virginians seeing much of the money.

“Literally, nobody knows (where this money will be spent),” Forbes said. “There’s nobody that you could ask anywhere (that could tell you).”

“We don’t know whether this will be parceled out on a political basis. We’ve never spent this kind of money before.”

Forbes said the lack of transparency in this law from the start — the 1,400-page bill was filed at midnight the day before members of Congress voted — will make it difficult for ordinary citizens or even the government to determine where the money is going.

“It’s just such a lack of transparency to really know,” Forbes said. “It’s going to be very, very difficult for the ordinary citizen to step up and say, ‘Where did this come from?’”