Stimulus spending in Ohio ramps up in 2010

AP News
Posted: Dec 28, 2009 3:46 PM

Ohio has plenty of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package left to spend in 2010, but it's the big prize that hangs in the balance: the prospects of landing funds for a marquee train project.

For now, the state, will give rebates to people who buy new, energy-efficient appliances; it will begin work on a massive new bridge for downtown Cleveland; and it plans to finish high-profile projects to improve drinking water in rural areas.

Still up for grabs is $8 billion in stimulus money that Obama has set aside for high-speed passenger rail projects. By late January, the Federal Rail Administration will decide if Ohio gets $564 million for a 79-mph, startup train service connecting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.

The agency reviewing bids from 24 states. Should Ohio win, it would be one of the state's signature transportation projects.

"This would restore passenger rail to Ohio and would serve as the first step of implementing high speed rail," said Amanda Wurst, spokeswoman for Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat. Wurst noted that the corridor from Cincinnati to Dayton to Columbus and to Cleveland is one of the most densely populated routes in the country without passenger rail service.

Republicans, however, have been less supportive of the project and have showed they may be reluctant to provide annual subsidies from the state to keep the trains running.

Obama's $787 billion stimulus package, signed in February, gave Ohio $8.2 billion to spend through 2011. Gov. Ted Strickland used much of it _ about $5.8 billion _ to help replace declining tax revenue and balance the state's 2010-2011 budget. The rest was spread out across state agencies, including millions for health, transportation and education programs.

Ohio had spent $2.1 billion in stimulus money through Nov. 30, the latest data available.

So far the stimulus package has created or saved about 650,000 jobs nationwide, including 17,000 in Ohio, according to an independent federal board monitoring the program. The figures are based on filings from businesses, contractors, nonprofits and state and local governments that received stimulus money.

Job creation _ a key measure of the stimulus program's success _ will get further scrutiny as more programs ramp up in 2010. And with the nation's unemployment rate at 10 percent, Democrats in Congress will debate another jobs bill early next year that calls for more public works projects.

"I don't think we've seen the last of the government's stimulus efforts," said Jason Seligman, an assistant professor who teaches public finance at Ohio State University.

Ohio has about 240 stimulus-funded highway projects, and payouts should peak in 2010, said Chris Runyan, president of the Ohio Contractors Association, a trade group.

The state's largest stimulus project _ a $400 million bridge for Interstate 90 in Cleveland _ goes out to bid in September. The project is getting $85 million in stimulus funds.

Other public works projects include a new drinking water system for the village of Buckeye Lake, about 30 miles east of Columbus. Construction should wrap up in July. The village, which has a population of about 3,000, is one of the largest in Ohio that doesn't have a public system.

Statewide, the stimulus package is funding 267 water pollution control projects and 65 drinking water projects.

Appliance sellers, such as Lowe's Cos. and Best Buy Co., figure to get a boost in 2010 when states roll out a stimulus rebate system modeled after the "Cash for Clunkers" program for the auto industry.

Ohio's $11 million program will provide about 90,000 rebates to consumers who replace old appliances with Energy Star certified refrigerators, clothes washers, dishwashers, gas heaters and electric heat pump water heaters.

The rebates will range from $100 to $250, depending on the appliance.

Elsewhere, stimulus money in 2010 will accelerate the clean up of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a Cold War-era nuclear weapons facility in Piketon.

The $118 million project _ funded by the U.S. Department of Energy _ is the largest stimulus award to a private contractor in Ohio. The contractor, LATA/Parallax Portsmouth LLC, has hired about 180 people to remove contaminated soil, demolish buildings and dispose of uranium material.