Mississippi’s official plan to create transparency in receiving and spending $2.8 billion in federal stimulus funds could help restore confidence in the government’s ability to handle crises – economic upheaval and natural disasters – if expectations are met.
Gov. Barbour’s and State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s plans call for multiple Web sites detailing receipt of stimulus funds and their dispersal for public education, Medicaid, transportation infrastructure, and many other programs.
While many details remain murky about precisely how Mississippi’s share of the $787 billion nationwide stimulus can be spent, the plan announced by Barbour and Pickering, and the governor’s stimulus summit April 16 in Jackson, should produce state-level details of who gets what and when. Transparency is required in the act.
Congress acted quickly after Hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines a devastating blow in 2005, but as with the stimulus, the details were slow in the unfolding. Bureaucratic ineptitude contributed to a loss of confidence in federal emergency action during the Katrina response.
Congress passed a bailout for the financial sector in the fall of 2008, during the closing months of the Bush administration, following the collapse of major investment banking firms and credit markets. Another wave of failures and near failures, including the American auto manufacturers, widespread state revenue shortfalls, and loss of consumer confidence, led to the stimulus passed early in the Obama administration, but discussed during the closing weeks of the Bush presidency.
Now, following passage of the stimulus,, states find themselves waiting for the details.
“Over the past few weeks, some information has been made available from Washington on how state agencies should prepare to deal with their portions of funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” Barbour said in a prepared statement. “I hope by mid-April the federal government will have provided enough specific guidance so final plans can be made to maximize the use of these one-time funds.”
Legislators want information from the governor’s office, too.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Warner McBride, D-Courtland, said Monday in a Daily Journal interview that he and some of his colleagues believe the governor’s office also could be more forthcoming.
The Legislature, in recess because it cannot finalize a state budget for fiscal year 2010 until it knows the facts about the stimulus funds (and deals with vexing, necessary tax increases) is coming up against the federal government’s first major stimulus reporting deadlines in May.
Despite partisan criticisms about the stimulus, both parties have stakes in the success of the plan. If it works, we’ll be better off nationwide. If it fails, we’re all still in the same boat, just worse off.