The 2009 “stimulus bill,” the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), has stabilized the economy, created jobs, and spurred investment in green infrastructure and energy efficiency, according to Obama Administration officials who spoke at ULI’s 2010 Fall Meeting on October 14. Jared Bernstein, Advisor to the Vice President, Edward DeSeve, Assistant to the Vice President, and Catherine Zoi, Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy, were panelists at the session, “Using Federal Dollars to Spur Development,” which was moderated by Jon Bouker of Arent Fox.
Bouker opened the session by noting that the $787 billion Recovery Act had at least three main themes—it needed to be large enough to produce jobs, it had to quickly fund shovel-ready projects, and it focused on promoting green jobs and industries. Bernstein cited a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated that the Recovery Act added as much as 4.5% to GDP in the past year. President Obama’s recent call for $50 billion in additional spending on roads, rail, and runways, he said, seeks to build on the successful elements of the bill.
Bernstein also highlighted the Administration’s proposal for the creation of a permanent infrastructure bank aimed at leveraging private, state and local capital while working across jurisdictions and modes to fund projects that provide the “most bang for your buck.” He noted that it’s not easy for the private sector to invest in infrastructure outside of municipal markets.
Zoi said that the Recovery Act represented the largest investment in energy infrastructure in history, and described the programs the bill has funded, including $2.7 billion in energy conservation block grants, $3.1 billion for state energy programs, and $5 billion in weatherization assistance. She highlighted projects including the Green Impact Zone program in Kansas City, which is making energy upgrades to homes across the neighborhood, and the Green Rail Corridor project in Phoenix, which received $25 million under the Recovery Act to retrofit 3,500 homes along a rail line. A shuttered factory in Holland, Michigan received $300 million to manufacture lithium-ion batteries.
Most of the federal funding is flowing to the local level, and Zoi urged developers in the audience to speak to state and local officials if they are interested in learning more about the programs.
DeSteve cited an analysis he conducted for the Vice President, to be released soon, which notes the importance of collaboration between the Administration and state and city officials, accountability—which took the form of weekly internal reports and quarterly published reports—speed, and transparency to the implementation of the stimulus program. “Doing all four together,” he said, “is a real challenge.”
What happens next was on the minds of both the panelists and the audience. Bernstein noted that although the Recovery Act has had a token impact on the national deficit, there is a longer term need to return the government’s books to fiscal sustainability. An independent commission will release a report on December 1, 2010, with recommendations on how to do just that.