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Stimulus would bring welcome relief to California

The state could get as much as $63 billion in federal funds, most of which will go for shovel-ready projects and tax cuts.

January 29, 2009|Richard Simon

WASHINGTON — As the $819-billion economic recovery bill approved by the House on Wednesday makes its way through Congress, officials 3,000 miles away have their eyes on a Santa Monica Pier upgrade and other projects that have been awaiting funding.

A $5-million plan to replace 78 wood piles that support the pier is among the hundreds of California projects that stand to benefit from the federal stimulus measure. In fact, the first major initiative of the Obama administration could deliver as much as $63 billion to the state.

Some of the money would help ease California's budget crisis, although officials in Sacramento say it would cover only one-quarter of the nearly $42-billion deficit.

A large chunk would go to fund shovel-ready projects, from old-fashioned street resurfacing to energy projects aimed at spurring a "green" economy.

And some would go into Californians' pockets: 12.5 million of the state's residents are expected to benefit from a tax break of up to $500 per individual and $1,000 per couple, according to the Center on Budget and Policy and Priorities.

"With California's unemployment rate soaring to 9.3% and no end in sight to our economic woes, this bill will give our state some help," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), head of the California House Democratic delegation. "This package is a step in the long journey to economic recovery."

The Senate is expected to take up its version of the stimulus bill, which includes similar provisions, next week.

The measure passed the House, 244 to 188, with no GOP support. California's delegation voted strictly along party lines, and state Republicans bemoaned the measure as focused too much on spending and not enough on tax cuts.

"This bill should only use taxpayers' dollars to get our economy back on track," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) "For the rest, let us take time to determine if the huge amount of government spending is worth saddling generations of taxpayers with a huge federal debt."

The $63-billion projection for California -- provided by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with ties to President Obama -- includes about $44 billion to help pay for things such as infrastructure projects, healthcare for the poor and increased unemployment benefits.

The remaining $19 billion would cover the cost of the individual tax cuts to Californians.

Broken down even further, $4.4 billion would go to California schools; $2.8 billion to road projects and $435 million to clean-water projects, including those designed to prevent beach pollution.

Among other possible projects:

Bell Gardens is asking for $1.5 million to build a running track made from recycled materials, and Huntington Beach wants $3.5 million to install more energy-efficient street lights.

Caltrans has listed among its priorities a $53-million carpool lane project on the 10 Freeway from the 605 interchange east to Puente Avenue. Los Angeles County's wish list includes $8 million to dredge the waters off Marina del Rey. And Beverly Hills officials hope to snag $10 million for street resurfacing.

Officials at Los Angeles International Airport hope to secure about $200 million to fund a cross-field taxiway, which a spokesman said would be the first major project toward the airport's modernization.

Los Angeles County's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which expects to receive more than $600 million under the House measure, is drawing up a list of possible projects, but is likely to use a piece of the money to expand its fleet of lower-polluting buses and share a portion with cities for street repairs.

California is projected to receive $400 million for job training, including $181 million for creating summer youth jobs; and $45 million to help low-income families pay home heating and air-conditioning bills.

And an estimated 2.4 million Californians would receive increased food stamp benefits to help pay rising food costs.

The state also is likely to receive a substantial piece of the $850 million allocated nationwide to reduce wildfire risks.

And California, which has been hard hit by home foreclosures, should get a large chunk of the $4 billion provided nationwide to help communities buy and fix up abandoned properties.

The measure also would increase the weekly unemployment checks by $25 for about 2.4 million Californians, according to the National Employment Law Project, as well as extend by 33 weeks the jobless benefits for about 500,000 people.

--

richard.simon@latimes.com

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