Stimulus summit answers some questions, but not all

JACKSON – State officials are learning more details about the amount and impact of the federal stimulus funds headed to Mississippi.
But Eric Clark, executive director of the state Community and Junior College Board, said, “This is an extremely complicated process … We’re building this airplane as we are flying it. This is an extreme example of that.”
Clark made his comments Thursday at Gov. Haley Barbour’s summit on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Several hundred local government officials, state officials and private consultants attended the meeting at the Jackson Convention Complex.
Both Attorney General Jim Hood and state Auditor Stacey Pickering warned the group that the spending of the funds will be monitored closely.
Hood said federal officials would make sure any contracts with private companies involving spending stimulus funds are above-board.
“We’re here to try to prevent people from making mistakes,” Hood said.
Paul Hurst, Barbour’s chief of staff, said the state will get $2.7 billion, with $1.2 billion of that being “stabilization funds” to offset state budget cuts, primarily in education and Medicaid.
From kindergarten through university level, education will receive $392 million in stabilization funds.
But Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds said that because of the formula for how the funds are disbursed through 2010, local school districts will not be fully reimbursed for cuts made during the current year.
The schools were cut $71 million because of a slowdown in state tax collections. The stimulus funds available for the current fiscal year will leave them about $20 million short of full funding.
While much of the money is targeted to plug budget holes, it also was pointed out that millions would be available in other areas, such as:
- $35 million to help local governments replace wastewater treatment plants.
- $3 million to help clean up underground gasoline storage sites.
- $30.9 million that will eliminate the backlog of parents waiting to get children into child care.
“This will allow a single parent to go to college,” said Don Thompson, executive director of the Department of Human Services.
Funds are targeted at weatherization efforts for low-income families and for environmental projects, such as retooling diesel-burning school buses to make them energy efficient.
Several programs focus on jobs training, and money is available to hire additional police officers.
Hood said he will use the stimulus money to hire a prosecutor and investigator to pursue cybercrimes against children.
Butch Brown, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said the $225 million in road-building projects funded through the stimulus package will be under contract by mid-July and are scheduled to be completed in two years.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal