Yesterday we participated in a media conference call with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Jason Furman. The first part of our coverage:
Media asked questions on the subject of the economic stimulus bill:
…Operator: Our first question is from line of Sabrina Eaton from Washington, D.C. Please state your media affiliation.
Sabrina Eaton: Hi, I’m with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Shall I ask the question [crosstalk]?
Operator: Go ahead Sabrina.
Sabrina Eaton: Okay. Um, I wanted to ask Secretary LaHood – there are just tons of estimates coming out from, you know, government groups, members of Congress, uh think tanks, about how much money every state is going to get and for what. And those of us who cover particular states are obviously very interested in this. Can you give us an idea of, you know, where these numbers are coming from and why a, a lot of them are so different? From one another…?
…Ray LaHood: Yeah, well, look it, I mean part of the idea here is what I stated I stated earlier, and that is that we want projects that are ready to go that have met all the environmental standards, there are not going to be any shortcuts. We’re not going to shortcut any of the, uh, guidelines and rules and regulations. And, uh, I think the answer is, uh, we’ll have a better answer when we meet with the fifty secretaries of transportation or highway administrators next Wednesday. ‘Cause we’ve asked them to bring to us some of the projects that they think can really be funded immediately upon passage of this bill. And I think we’ll have a better idea and I, I think, to be honest with you, I don’t know how much each state is gonna get because at this point we, we know there are a lot of projects that have been sitting on a shelf somewhere in all of these states. Uh, an illustration is Illinois. We have not been able to pass a capital budget so we’ve never had the, the match to fund a lot of projects. And so I met with the governor of Illinois, he was out here this week, and he tells me that they’re, they’re ready with a number of projects. But I don’t know what the money amounts are to be honest with you. I, I think we’ll have a better handle on that next Wednesday.
Jason Furman: And this is Jason Furman with one small thing to add, which is the White House release and I’m sure Amy or [garbled] or someone can get you. State by state fact sheets we did which have some of the different elements of the plan. Like how many people would benefit from the tax cuts, the unemployment insurance, how many jobs created, go to college, how many schools would be modernized, so the White House has provided some numbers as well.
Ray LaHood: I would say this, this is Ray LaHood again. I would say this. We have not had one state tell us that they don’t have some projects that can be funded. I mean, we know there’s a pent up demand out there…
…Operator: We go to the line of Gordon Trowbridge from Washington, D.C. Please state your affiliation and question please.
Gordon Trowbridge: Okay. Thanks, hi. I’m from the Detroit News. And this is, this is for probably more for Mr. Furman although Secretary, if, if you feel like jumping in please feel free. Um, the stimulus package, at least at this point, has some, uh aid that would indirectly, uh, uh impact the auto industry, although there’s nothing specific. And, and our guess is that you’re gonna have some que..some decisions coming up fairly quickly on the auto industry. Um, specifically in terms of the request from Chrysler for additional funding and uh, um and also some decisions in terms of an auto czar or a team to, to, to handle the recovery packages that those companies have had to submit. I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about how far along you are in, uh, making those kinds of decisions and, uh, how, how, how you prioritize those sorts of those things versus the stimulus package that, that you’re, that you’re talking about today.
Jason Furman: Yeah, and Gordon, let me give you a big picture answer. And Secretary LaHood if you want to jump in you, if you want to answer you can. Um, and then have somebody get back to you offline with more detailed answers to your questions. Um, the administration’s, you know, first and top priority is passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment. And the three to four million jobs that will be saved or created by this plan are in every sector of the economy, including a significant number in manufacturing. Then, moving on from here, there are several other critical parts of our short run economic strategy, including autos, foreclosure mitigation, and financial recovery in a way that Secretary Geithner will be outlining the details of. This act itself will help the auto industry, both in terms of stimululating aggregate demand and creating jobs. There are some provisions, for example in energy, there’s a very big effort to purchase fuel efficient vehicles for the federal fleet, research into batteries, tax cuts that will help the auto industry, so there’s a lot in here that help, um, the auto industry. And it will be part of a broader strategy that we’ll be following through on after the passage of this legislation.
Ray LaHood: This is Ray LaHood. I, I don’t really have anything to add to what Jason had to say on that…
…Operator: We go to the line of Sylvia Smith of Washington, D.C. Please state your affiliation and your question.
Sylvia Smith: I’m with the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, um, Indiana. And I’ve got two questions, on the, for Secretary LaHood. Um, mayors have been making the case here in Washington that money would be more quickly spent for transportation projects, in particular if it was funded through them, not through the states. I’m wondering what you think about that and also, uh, solely on transportation projects would you expect, um, the funding formula that’s used in the, the highway bills to be used in this way of allocation as well?
Ray LaHood: Well, first of all, uh, I saw that a number of mayors had met, uh, with President Obama. I saw that reported and uh, our feeling is that, that the fastest way to get this money out is through the state department of transporation. And these are agencies, uh, that are under the offices of the governors in the state. They have mecahnism, they, they have all the paper work, they know what the requirements are. Uh, a lot of these communities and a lot of these cities, unless they’re big urban areas, simply do not have the ability to do what we want to do and to do what the President wants to do. Get the money out the door, have people building roads and bridges and infrastructures, Spring, Summer and Fall. And, uh, I, I’ve heard the argument from the mayors and, and I know they’re concerned, but look it, if they, if they, if they work closely with the states and with the governors they’re, they’re gonna get some roads built in their communities. And uh, I, I just have no doubt of that. Uh, I think it’ll happaen and uh, it’ll happen very efficiently and effectively and in a way that reflects what the President wants here. Get people back to work.
Um, with respect to your other question our idea is, and that’s why we have this “tiger team” or this coordinating group that we’ve assembled in the department, so, as soon as the bill is passed, and as soon as we start receiving, uh, projects and programs that need to be funded we will have a team in place to make sure they meet all the requirements, uh, and that we can get the money out the door. I suspect that some will fit in to certain programs, but if they’re ready to go, and they meet the criteria, and they’ve met all the rules and regulations, uh, the funding will flow…