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Washington (DC)

Washington (DC)
March 5, 2009


Obama Highway Money Moving

Thanks to Valerie Jarrett, Cecilia Muñoz, David Agnew – the new White House intergovernmental team, mayors joined President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretaries Donovan of HUD, Chu of Energy, LaHood of Transportation, and Duncan of Education on February 20th for a stupendous start toward implementing President Obama's national economic reinvestment and recovery program – ARRA.

Since this historic meeting, $9 billion has gone out to 50 state highway departments, $10 billion from HUD and $2 billion in Byrne Justice Department grants were announced with formula amounts sent to you via e-mail yesterday.

The rapidity of the Obama highway money sent to the 50 states has caused some concern to mayors who see the transportation monies going to rural areas and not coming to metro areas where millions are unemployed and millions are frustrated daily with traffic. This week on CNN, on AC360, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay slammed the Missouri Highway Department for spending millions on a rural bridge 40 miles south of Jeff City. Mayor Slay said that the move was “an insult to the people of St. Louis. It’s a violation of federal law, and I think that they’re doing --- they’re spending this money contrary to the intent of Congress.” $600 million will be spent on transportation projects in Missouri. Mayor Slay says most of it should be spent in high unemployment areas like St. Louis. But the Missouri State Highway Department will spend just $2 million in St. Louis – only enough, says the mayor, to repave a road.

In Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced the telephone number for the switchboard in Olympia and urged downtown business leaders at their annual breakfast to dial them up now and make sure the voice of business is registered in Olympia to bring the Obama money to Seattle, the 12th strongest metro-economy in America.

The highway money will no doubt continue to be sent outside our metro areas producing fewer jobs than if sent to the metro areas where millions are unemployed. We do have $8 billion in the stimulus for the STP (Surface Transportation Program) that will come through the MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) established in 1991. But even with the MPOs, many of these groups are controlled by the State Highway Departments and in some cases cities are outnumbered with regional officials who don’t support the cities’ request for needed projects.

We have known all along that we have a flawed, outdated transportation governing system that will not meet the needs for a new national transportation system to meet the needs of this century. We will continue to do our best to “call out” the continuing myopic asphalt and paving rural notion of many state highway departments and Governors who don’t seem to understand the need for metro area funding.

Governors Who Say NO to City Residents

Another challenge is a number of Governors who have said the stimulus money would do damage to their states.

On a conference call this week led by Conference President Miami Mayor Diaz, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin reported on the challenges they have with Governors and expressed hope that the State Legislatures would not stop the President’s stimulus money coming to the residents of their cities. Meridian (MS) Mayor John Robert Smith did report that Meridian has received notices that a substantial investment was headed his way. So there is some good news. Let’s hope we will have more as we go forward and send $18 billion of highway money plus $8 billion of STP funds to the 50 states.

HUD – DOE Partners: Our Energy Block Grants

Secretary Shaun Donovan is doing a great job of going forward to cut through bureaucracy and get the $10 billion of HUD stimulus funds out of Washington sent directly to you. We have met with him and his team. Bruce Katz of Brookings Institution is staying there, at HUD, after transition to help Secretary Donovan until he can get his team processed and confirmed.

We are working with HUD now to co'sponsor a national meeting in Chicago on April 16-17, with an opening evening reception April 15. The ARRA Implementation Meeting will include representatives of city, county and state government which is most appropriate because we will have HUD, Energy, EPA and Education Cabinet and sub-Cabinet offices there with us. This meeting will be all about implementation, getting the Obama money out there, spending it and spending it right to produce jobs now.

Secretary Donovan and Secretary Chu have signed a MOU, Memorandum of Understanding, to help DOE with administering the new Energy Block Grant program. HUD, since 1974, has implemented our CDBG block grants. Donovan is reaching out and bringing his team to assist DOE so that green jobs can be created as we head toward the December 31, 2010 three million jobs goal President Obama has set for the nation.

Justice - Byrne Grants Coming Your Way

See my e-mail sent yesterday, March 4, with actual amounts of formula grants. As all of you know, these monies allow flexibility and are precisely what we called for at our Diaz-Mayors Action Forum we held last year when a Senator named Biden showed up with our mayors and police chiefs in Philadelphia and said he would fight for COPS and Byrne grants in a Crime Bill. Well, it’s all there in the stimulus package that was proposed by President Obama and passed, thanks to your help, by the Congress.

Recovery/Stimulus Czars

Please respond and send us NOW, if you have not already done so, the name of the person you have put in charge to coordinate the stimulus funds that will be coming to your cities. These appointed leaders, chosen by you, will become an integral part of our working with you as we lead the implementation phase of the billions of new dollars that are being sent to our cities.

State Highway/Transportation Lists

I have also sent out an e-mail request for you to send me information as to whether or not your “State Lists” have city projects listed for funding. We need that information. This issue was raised in the White House with Secretary LaHood. Only four hands went up. A dismal report when you have almost 80 mayors in the White House reporting. It is important that all understand we want good news. We love it. We welcome the best practices of the State Highway Departments.

We also want, as President Diaz terms it, “the obstacles” cities are experiencing, so let us know. See our website www.usmayors.org/recovery. Please register your information there or call me or e-mail me at any time.

Congratulations to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

With nine people running against him, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa easily won his second term Tuesday. We thank him for his continued personal time and support he continues to give us since he was elected. We look forward to his continued active participation in our organization.

Dates for Chicago Meeting April 15-17

Repeating, again, the dates. Please mark your calendar now for the ARRA Implementation Sessions in Chicago, April 15-17. We will be contacting you as soon as the agenda unfolds with more information on this important meeting.