With the painfully slow economic recovery experiencing a hiccup, or perhaps worse, the importance of states spending the remaining federal stimulus money promptly and prudently has never been more critical. Despite his opposition to federal stimulus money, even Gov. Rick Scott has finally recognized their efficacy by signing a state budget that includes $370 million in stimulus funds. Now Scott needs to do more with the remaining federal dollars at his disposal.
About $11 billion in federal stimulus money was directed toward Florida, which led to the infamous presidential "man hug" and the derailment of a promising political career for then-Gov. Charlie Crist. But since 2009, according to federal government statistics, only about 60 percent of those original dollars from Washington, or about $6.4 billion, has been spent in Florida, mostly on education and infrastructure. The stimulus dollars are estimated to have saved or created nearly 60,000 jobs, including thousands of teaching positions. In a state struggling with a 10.8 percent unemployment rate, the stimulus money has helped keep a bad situation from getting worse.
The prospects for a second round of federal stimulus funds are unfortunately dim in Washington, even with the news Friday that the national unemployment rate rose slightly in May, to 9.1 percent. So Florida and other states with access to unspent stimulus dollars should move swiftly to spend what's left.
At the moment, depending on how federal and state number crunchers calculate the remaining stimulus money, Florida has between nearly $3 billion and $4.6 billion in untapped stimulus dollars waiting to be injected into the state's sputtering economy. Despite his opposition, Scott signed a budget into law that will spend $370 million in federal stimulus funds to aid disadvantaged children, combat wildfires, fight infectious diseases and assist public defenders and prosecutors — all worthy recipients. Now he has to move with deliberate speed to see that the rest of the stimulus money does not get caught in the state bureaucracy.
Stimulus dollars are best spent as they were originally intended — to aggressively spur job growth, which in turn stimulates consumer confidence and spending. Across the state, Florida has urgent infrastructure and construction needs from building and repairing roads and bridges, to beach preservation, to refurbishing public parks, to environmental restoration efforts. The demand for a robust stimulus infusion is clearly evident.
Using federal stimulus funding will not create a budgetary deficit. Wisely targeted and responsibly allocated, the money will help improve the lives and prospects of thousands of Floridians looking for meaningful employment, the very cornerstone of Scott's campaign last year.
Scott has taken a small but important step in tacitly acknowledging federal stimulus money is not the economic black spot he originally regarded them to be. Now the governor needs to take a larger leap of faith in ensuring the remaining stimulus money is spent quickly and wisely.