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President Obama, today, takes his push for the stimulus package to Fort Myers, Florida. That's a city that has one of the nation's highest home foreclosure rates. He'll be joined by Florida's Governor Charlie Crist. The governor is a Republican, but one who has lobbied hard to get that stimulus plan passed. As NPR's Greg Allen reports, governors, counties, small towns and school districts are all scrambling to get a piece of the stimulus action.
GREG ALLEN: In pushing for the stimulus package, Governor Crist broke with other Republicans both in Florida and nationally. He was one of just four Republican governors to sign a letter urging its passage, and not a single member of the state's GOP delegation to Congress voted for the measure.
None of that bothers Crist. Yesterday he visited a jobs center in Orlando and said he was looking forward to the president's visit.
Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Republican, Florida): This is a time when our country needs all of us to pull together. You know, we've all heard before that we came here on different ships, perhaps, but we're all in the same boat now on this thing. And we've got to work together, now more than ever, in order to help our country. This is about our country. It's about our people. And it's about jobs, jobs, jobs - for Americans and Floridians.
ALLEN: Florida is facing a $3 billion budget deficit. The state had expected more than $13 billion from the House version of the stimulus package. The current Senate version cuts some of the money headed to the states.
Cities in Florida and across the country are also lobbying for their share of the federal largesse, and they want it sent to them directly, not funneled through state capitals.
Manny Diaz is Miami's mayor.
Mayor MANNY DIAZ (Miami): The state sets priorities. And of course, you know, the priorities are set up in Tallahassee and quite frankly, generally don't favor the major urban areas.
ALLEN: Diaz is head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a group that compiled a national wish list to revitalize the nation's cities. For Miami, Diaz put on the list a $100 million tunnel and a $280 million streetcar system. A new, pared down list of approved stimulus projects has less vision, but more practicality - mostly ball fields, street improvements and a parking garage. Diaz is also lobbying for an important provision in the stimulus measure, one that would allow cities to apply for funds directly, without going through the state.
Mayor DIAZ: And if you have water projects that are ready to go within a 180-day period, then you can go to the front of the line with your project instead of standing in line based on somebody else's determination of need.
ALLEN: Miami, like many other cities and counties in Florida, has a lobbyist in Washington. With so much money coming available, now even small communities are scrambling to find representation in D.C. Paul Vrooman is the mayor of Cutler Bay, a Miami suburb.
Mayor PAUL VROOMAN (Cutler Bay): I kind of liken it to a youth soccer game, a children's soccer game, where everybody's running after the ball. And then the ball gets kicked, and you run over after that person that's got the ball.
ALLEN: Cutler Bay is now looking to hire a lobbying firm in Washington. The town is just three years old and needs money to build a police station and to improve its storm water drainage. The problem, Vrooman says, is that no one knows yet how the billions of dollars will be allocated.
Mayor Vrooman: We're playing it safe, and we're barking up every tree in the forest right now, to try to be heard and make sure that we're in the right place at the right time when that process lands.
ALLEN: Joining cities in their lobbying, is nearly every other independent government body in Florida: transportation authorities, water districts and perhaps the most insistent group, the schools.
The recession has thrown many Florida school districts into crisis. The nation's fourth-largest district, Miami-Dade County, has already cut $300 million from its budget and is still facing a $50 million deficit. School district Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says the House version would inject more than $350 million of federal aid into Miami's schools. The Senate may cut that.
Also on the chopping block, $16 billion in funds for school construction. With half of the nation's school buildings at least 50 years old, Carvalho says eliminating money for school construction makes little sense.
Mr. ALBERT CARVALHO (School District Superintendent, Miami-Dade County): The economic stimulus nature behind that is evident. Right now, construction companies — private construction companies — are not working. The release of these dollars will allow for these companies to go back to work.
ALLEN: Local education officials are hoping the school construction money and other funding will be restored before there's a final vote. Yesterday, they received support from the lobbyist-in-chief. President Obama said he'd like to see Congress put back some of the money cut from education dollars.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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