As unemployment rises, local stimulus needs cited

January 10, 2009

WASHINGTON – Friday’s report that unemployment rose to 7.2 percent as employers shed another 524,000 jobs in December should provide new impetus for Congress to pass an economic recovery package that would include tax cuts and spending to upgrade the region’s transportation and wastewater treatment systems.

“These numbers make one thing crystal clear,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters in a conference call. “Things are getting worse and they will keep getting worse unless Washington acts in a quick and decisive way.”

Schumer predicted Congress will meet its self-imposed deadline of getting the legislation to the White House by mid-February.

“There’s going to be a huge infrastructure component,” said Rep. John Hall,

D-Dover, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Hudson Valley congressional lawmakers expect the package to spur the creation of so-called green jobs in the region by increasing incentives for home weatherization, upgrading the energy efficiency of public buildings and alternative energy projects such as a proposed wind farm on the campus of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The stimulus package, expected to top $700 billion over two years, also will include about $300 billion in tax cuts.

Schumer said “there’s a good chance” his own proposal to simplify and consolidate federal tax breaks for college expenses into one $4,000 annual tax credit would be inserted into the legislation. “It’s important, of course, because it’s one of the biggest expenses facing middle class families,” he said.

Local House members consider the economic package the most important legislation they will consider this year.

Not only is the nation facing its most severe economic challenge since the 1930s, the infrastructure of aging communities in the Northeast and Upper Midwest are decaying and have been ignored for too long, said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley.

“There are a lot of basic things that can be done that have been ignored,” Hinchey said, predicting the Hudson Valley will receive federal funds for roads, bridges and school repairs.

Hall emphasized the new spending will promote local job creation.
“We are not going to bring in people from India or Bangladesh to rebuild our roads and bridges,” he said.

Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Hudson, said she would prefer to see a smaller, simpler package of about $100 billion passed this month, with half targeted at infrastructure projects and the remainder to improve energy efficiency.

“I would prefer to get the easy stuff up front and passed,” she said.
But Republican congressional leaders have been lobbying for committee hearings, an extended floor debate and disclosure of the legislation on the Internet prior to a vote.

Some of the caution is related to the backlash among lawmakers who were pressured late last year to quickly approve a $700 billion rescue plan for Wall Street and then saw the Treasury Department spend hundreds of billions differently than promised.

“We want better accountability,” said Hall, who voted for the plan and acknowledge feeling betrayed because Treasury officials spent the money differently than promised and at a much faster rate than they predicted.