PI Original Adam Doster Tuesday February 10th, 2009, 12:24pm

The Stimulus Czar

After narrowly passing
a procedural vote to close debate on the Senate stimulus package last
night, it's all but assured that President Obama will sign some version
of an economic recovery package in the coming days. Once passed, it
will be up to states and ...

After narrowly passing a procedural vote to close debate on the Senate stimulus package last night, it’s all but assured that President Obama will sign some version of an economic recovery package in the coming days. Once passed, it will be up to states and municipalities to manage the federal assistance in a timely and productive fashion. Will that happen in Illinois? There’s some reason to be skeptical.

We’ve already questioned why Mayor Daley is keeping mum on his stimulus wish list. Yesterday, he took a step in the right direction by offering a partial list, which includes improvements to 15 miles of transit lines, more than 200 schools, 150 miles of main streets, 200 miles of street lights and 75 miles of sewer and water mains. But he left out most relevant details, such as which specific sites would be prioritized, leaving the public without any say in how those resources will be deployed. For a point of comparison, check out this website created by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which includes comprehensive, shovel-ready proposals from hundreds of cities, including many in Chicagoland.

New to the job, Gov. Quinn has done his best to drum up support for the package. But he too has offered little indication about how the state will spend its discretionary dollars.

Quinn would be smart to take a page out of his colleagues’ playbooks. According to Stateline, 15 governors have already created either “stimulus recovery czars” or task forces to manage their states’ recovery share. In neighboring Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed 26 people to a new “economic stimulus coordination council.” Up north, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is soliciting ideas for projects from citizens via the web:

The responsibilities of the governors’ stimulus “czars” or commissions vary, but their main job will be to work with local and state governments and community and business groups to make sure projects are selected in a fair and open process and deserve to get the federal funds.

This idea makes a lot of sense for Illinois. Quinn has enough to deal with during his first weeks in office. With the help of a well-constructed panel, the governor could ease concerns about how the state will spend its money while he frees up time to put together a staff and prepare his first budget.

Of course, some of this might be moot if Congressional leaders decide to keep $39 billion from the state fiscal stabilization fund out of the final package. But Illinois officials will surely have other projects to fund, and a panel could improve the process.

Image used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user brownphoto

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