In the days since Congress approved its bloated, borrow-and-spend "stimulus" package that is supposed to jump-start the economy, the financial markets reacted with a collective groan and dropped the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a 12-year low.
That shouldn't have been a surprise: Economists around the country, who seemed to have been stricken dumb during the blitzkrieg "stimulus" debate, spoke up only afterward to point out that cranking up the federal printing press to pay for the pent-up social demands of liberals would do little to stimulate the economy.
No matter. The bill is signed and the money is supposed to be available soon. Best of all, by April each of us is supposed to get an extra $13 a week in our paychecks.
I'm trying to decide whether to spend mine on lunch, or save up for a pony.
In any event, the nation's governors are gleefully or, in the rare cases of Georgia's Sonny Perdue and South Carolina's Mark Sanford, reluctantly standing by their mailboxes waiting for the fat checks to come in (not their personal $13, but the billions each state hopes to receive).
Likewise, cities and counties are anxiously waiting to see how much of that money trickles down from the state for local use, and what kinds of strings will be attached.
Tuesday, Columbia County's school board discussed conflicting numbers of anywhere from $2 million to $7 million that could come this way. The county government is waiting to hear about any potential funds for "shovel-ready" road-building or repair projects that could come to the county via the state Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, there's no need to wait and speculate. The county government already has its own "stimulus" package. It's real money, it's available right now, and county leaders are hard at work drawing up plans for spending it.
It's the $38 million in bond funds voters approved as part of the 2008 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum. When voters OK'd renewal of the sales tax, they also agreed to allow the county to jump-start projects with borrowed money that would then be paid back as the next sales tax cycle is collected starting in 2011.
Then, a few weeks ago, a gaggle of county officials junketed to New York to meet with bond-rating agencies. They came away with some of the best bond ratings (and, thus, lowest interest rates on the borrowed money) of any county in Georgia. The bonds have since sold, and the money is waiting to be spent.
Not to suggest money-wasting haste, but spend it.
Judging from a few comments I've heard or read rcently, some folks in the community seem to be under the mistaken impression that the county should be "frugal" and hold off on starting these projects, which include a jail expansion, new fire stations, a new health department, water and stormwater infrastructure projects and early work on Evans Town Center Park.
But the money is already borrowed and ready to spend (and unlike the federal money, the county actually has a plan to pay it back that doesn't rely on stealing from our grandchildren). Holding it back at this stage isn't just pointless - it's foolish, especially since we're already paying interest on it. Better still, these projects can help provide jobs and much-needed economic activity as construction gets underway.
In short, real "stimulus."
Remember: The money spent on such projects isn't just dumped in a truck and hauled away (or put in a vault next to the school board's sacred $25 million surplus, which I'm told is guarded by Scrooge McDuck). It pays the salaries for workers in the local community, and purchases materials that come, in large part, from local suppliers.
It's like the space program. Some people think it is horribly wasteful to send so much money into orbit, but in reality all that money stays on earth - much of it going into the pockets of real American workers.
Same thing here. And while the county should always seek the best bang for the bucks, this is a good time to encourage the use of local workers and suppliers to keep as much of that $38 million as possible here in Columbia County.
Crank up the bulldozers and the cement trucks, guys. It's time for some stimulatin' activity.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.
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