WASHINGTON — Kentucky could net more than $860 million in federal funds to create eco-friendly schools, shore up the state's budget deficit and preserve jobs if Congress passes an Obama administration-backed economic stimulus package, members of the state's congressional delegation and the National Conference of State Legislatures said Friday.
The $825 billion stimulus package, which congressional leaders hope to put before the president by mid-February, includes a proposed $9 million for Fayette County schools to convert to solar and geothermal energy, improve Internet connections and address maintenance issues.
The green schools provision, sponsored by Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, is the first measure to dedicate such a massive infusion of funds toward making schools eco-friendly and was strongly endorsed by President Barack Obama.
Chandler's measure requires school districts to publicly report both the educational, energy and environmental benefits of their building projects and the percentage of funds used for projects at low-income and rural schools.
"I'm so pleased and grateful to President Obama for putting this in the bill," Chandler said. "It's wonderful that he feels like this is important not only to economic recovery but that he is also focused on educating our kids."
Chandler's measure narrowly survived a tough congressional fight last year after Republican opponents objected to the proposal's allocation of additional money for a task that traditionally has been the responsibility of local districts and states.
The ensuing back and forth brought to the fore ideological differences about the role of the federal government in education and approaches to addressing environmental issues.
The nation's school districts could gain as much as $14 billion, said Chandler, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee responsible for allocating federal funds.
The release of proposed state-by-state figures for the economic stimulus package sent congressional staffers and special interest groups scrambling on Friday as each tried to parse and spin what the numbers mean and how much would be allocated to various counties and government agencies.
Lawmakers cautioned that the figures are an early estimate and are in no way final.
Meanwhile, Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats vowed to fight an unprecedented expansion of the national deficit.
"Despite President Obama's call for Congress to put aside partisan politics for the good of the American people, I was disappointed that House Democrats are still more interested in pushing their agenda than working together for pragmatic common-sense solutions," said Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Hebron. "Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi's proposed stimulus legislation would expand the deficit by nearly $1 trillion. Despite the substantial sum of borrowed money the speaker proposes to spend in this package, there is very little assurance it will actually stimulate the economy."
In Kentucky, officials hope the massive infusion of cash will help offset a projected state budget shortfall of more than $456 million.
Lexington submitted a $556 million wish list of infrastructure projects to be funded through the proposed federal stimulus plan for states and cities. The city's list included a new downtown transit center, a renovation to the old Fayette County Courthouse, a public safety operations center and an expansion of a waste water treatment plant.
Criteria for the stimulus include projects that would quickly create jobs, improve infrastructure the private sector needs to succeed and produce lasting economic and environmental benefits. The projects would have to be completed within two years.
The list Lexington submitted could generate an estimated 8,928 jobs in the area, local officials said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would prefer that the package more closely resemble a rescue package for the nation's automakers and include loans rather than grants to the states. He agrees with Pelosi that a rescue package should be timely, targeted and temporary.
"Everybody is making their list and checking it twice ... there's widespread enthusiasm for the money," McConnell told a gathering of journalists at the National Press Club on Friday. "To the extent that we send money to the states with no strings attached, you will have a lot of projects that won't pass the smell test."