Mayors Ready To Put Stimulus Money Into Action

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Mayors across the country are waiting for their share of the economic stimulus. Many mayors are in Washington D.C. for their annual meeting including Ann Campbell of Ames, Iowa, and Jay Jaxon of Eufaula, Alabama. The two tell Steve Inskeep that the stimulus process can be confusing, and in the end, may not fund items that last for generations like the Depression-era projects of the 1930s.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Even as the Fed prepares to open the taps, the nation's mayors are trying to figure out how they can spend some money already committed. The mayors came to Washington for an annual meeting, and many attended workshops where they could ask how to apply for part of the federal stimulus package passed by Congress. They didn't get all the answers they wanted, since the government is still working out the rules. But two mayors who came by our studios say they could find a way to use some money.

Mayor ANN CAMPBELL (Ames, Iowa): I'm Ann Campbell, mayor of Ames, Iowa, where I've been mayor for the last three years. Our community is right in the center of Iowa. It is a population of 53,000, half of which is made up of Iowa State University students.

INSKEEP: And is the university suffering cutbacks as so many institutions are?

Mayor CAMPBELL: The university indeed, being very reliant on state funding, is suffering cutbacks.

INSKEEP: So Ann Campbell is one of our mayors here. And why don't you introduce yourself, sir?

Mayor JAY JAXON (Eufaula, Alabama): I'm Jay Jaxon from Eufaula, Alabama. We're a little less than 15,000, located in the southeast corner of Alabama on the Georgia line. Known around the country (unintelligible) excellent bass fishing. We're a corporate headquarters for American Buildings Company, metal buildings. We also are heavily in lumber. We had a company there that's been there for 80 years that shut down.

INSKEEP: Just in the last few months?

Mayor JAXON: In the last year. Hopefully we'll open back up when the economy picks up.

INSKEEP: But meanwhile people are out of work?

Mayor JAXON: People out of work.

INSKEEP: Mayor Jaxon, I understand you have met with members of Alabama's delegation in the Senate. And we should note that Senators Shelby and Sessions have not been fans of the economic stimulus plan.

Mayor JAXON: They would have preferred something a little more targeted, less expensive.

INSKEEP: Given that it's law though, are they telling you they're working to get as much as they can for Alabama?

Mayor JAXON: Well, and obviously I think if you - you start looking at some of the appropriations that have been historical, Senator has been (unintelligible) he's very good with that.

INSKEEP: So when you look at your situation, what do you want out of the stimulus plan? Do you each have a list of projects, or a single project where you want money to be spent?

Mayor CAMPBELL: We do have our list. But that's an interesting question, because with the very rapid turnaround time of these requests, we frankly didn't know what the guidelines were to put on the list. Another thing that I think coming here we learned very dramatically was the importance of green jobs, of sustainability.

INSKEEP: Meaning there might be a green opportunity for you. If you structure some jobs in a certain way or get to work with a company in a certain way there might be an opportunity for money that wasn't there before, you hadn't even imagined before.

Mayor CAMPBELL: Exactly.

Mayor JAXON: And I was surprised too at the ramp-up of the green jobs technology, because dealing with weatherization of existing structures, buildings, houses - these are jobs that can't be sent offshore. They're jobs that have to be done in Eufaula, Alabama, in Ames, Iowa, and around the country.

INSKEEP: It's paying somebody to put insulation in a building.

Mayor CAMPBELL: With local people.

INSKEEP: When I think about the various public works from the Depression, even today you can go around and see signs of how that money was spent. I can see a dam in Tennessee or a national park in Virginia, any number of other places. When you think about your cities, do you have in your heads something that might still be there 50 years from now, 100 years from now that could come from these hundreds of billions of dollars that people would look at and remember that this is what they did in the early part of the 21st century?

Mayor CAMPBELL: Well, I'm not sure that the kinds of things that are on the slate now are things such as came from the WPA. I think what we've been asked, because of the speed of this, to look at things that we already have that can be - the term we keep hearing - shovel-ready.

INSKEEP: Don't build a new highway, just fill the potholes in the one you've got.

Mayor CAMPBELL: Well, to simplify, yes.

Mayor JAXON: Or add a lane.

INSKEEP: Or add a lane?

Mayor JAXON: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Mayor CAMPBELL: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Mayor Jaxon, got any big ideas for Eufaula, Alabama?

Mayor JAXON: Well, rural health care is tough in almost all small communities. In fact, they say there are two things that you don't ever want to do as a public official, and that's to own a hospital or a golf course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor CAMPBELL: We own both.

Mayor JAXON: Yeah, well, we've bought our hospital and three other golf courses there, so we're not going to worry about that.

INSKEEP: You had to buy the hospital because…

Mayor JAXON: Well, we had - our hospital went from a county hospital to a for-profit in 1980, and it changed hands 11 times since 1980. And each new administration would come in, promise all the improvements, they'd put a couple coats of paint and that was it. So we stepped in and bought the hospital. So if you ask me, in this money, sure, would I like to have $25 million to have a new hospital and then we could put on there that it was a product of the Recovery Act of 2009? I'd furnish a bronze plaque if we can get the money. But I haven't seen that kind of money for those kind of projects of the lasting value that we're talking about.

INSKEEP: Jay Jaxon, of Eufaula, Alabama. Thank you, Mayor Jaxon.

Mayor JAXON: I enjoyed it. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Ann Campbell is the mayor of Ames, Iowa. Thanks very much for coming by.

Mayor CAMPBELL: Thank you.

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