Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lawson Calls Crist to Task on Stimulus

Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) on Tuesday called on the Chairman of the powerful Senate Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means to bypass a lengthy appropriations process and move instead to authorize immediate approval of stimulus funds for shovel ready transportation projects.

He also sharply criticized the apparent paralysis of the governor to create a federally-mandated website outlining the projects for both job seekers and job bidders, and the inability of the state transportation agency to move the proposed road projects from the draft stage to a final product.

“It has come to my attention that the federal stimulus money may be in jeopardy of speedily reaching those Floridians desperately in need of an economic life raft,” wrote Lawson in a letter to Chairman J. D. Alexander. “There appear to be three impediments to jumpstarting our economy via the stimulus package.”

According to Lawson, the first obstacle is the governor’s office, which has not followed the lead of Georgia or Alabama or any of the 26 states which have their websites up and running. “How are potential job seekers or potential job bidders supposed to know what’s available without the transparency the governor once promised? His office’s assertion that the website “is coming soon” is little consolation to those floundering in cyber silence,” Lawson noted.

The second is the perceived foot-dragging by the Florida Department of Transportation which, according to its own website, has not moved any of the proposed projects from the draft stage first outlined in early December. “Has nothing changed since then?” Lawson asked. “Is the agency prepared to explain why nothing more concrete has emerged to put tens of thousands of unemployed Floridians back to work?”

Lawson noted that while the Legislature may be unable to control the speed with which the governor and his agency move the stimulus plans forward, it does have the power to expedite approval of the road projects. It also has the power to remove potential political pitfalls.

“I don’t believe it is necessary to detail for you the concerns I have about legislative meddling in something so crucial to Florida’s recovery and her families’ survival. You and I are far too familiar with the political posturing and machinations that can occur when billions of dollars are at stake and individual lawmakers are deciding where that money is to go. Manipulation of those funds for political purposes is much too tempting, and I fear for the little guy when the big guys are calling the shots,” Lawson wrote.

“I respectfully request that rather than through a special spending bill, we authorize the Legislative Budget Commission, once the DOT submits a project request, to immediately release the necessary funds in order to get them moving.

“I think you will agree that with unemployment close to 9 percent, the last thing our job seekers want to hear is government bureaucracy impeding their ability to earn a living. AWI’s assertion that they’re ‘hoping it will be this year’ just doesn’t cut it.

“Floridians lining up for jobs are more than ready to don the shovels and get back to work. The power is in our hands to help them get there more quickly.”

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