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County may get $80M of stimulus for roads

Citizen Staff Writer and The Arizona Republic



The federal stimulus package passed Friday likely means a boost for local street maintenance but not for major highway projects.

Pima County could get around $80 million dollars from the stimulus package.

But because projects that get the money must be “shovel ready” within 90 days, most of the money would go toward pavement preservation and other relatively minor work.

The Pima Association of Governments, which doles out federal money countywide, will vote on a prioritized wish list Thursday, said PAG Executive Director Gary Hayes.

“This is always a moving target,” Hayes said Friday. He did not have final numbers.

A draft of the PAG list shows $731 million in projects requested by Tucson and other cities, towns and tribes in Pima County.

High on the lists, each for various categories of federal money, are pavement improvements on arterial streets and roads (smaller roads are not eligible), bike lanes and a path at Hohokam Middle School, and a bridge improvement for Sabino Canyon Road over Tanque Verde Wash.

Lower on the list are $10 million for bus replacements, $8 million to widen Camino Seco from Broadway to Speedway Boulevard and $75 million for a modern street car in Tucson.

All of the listed projects have been deemed ready for construction within 90 days – the shovel-ready standard imposed by Congress, Hayes said.

The package will give the city a much-needed boost on routine repaving of major streets, said Tucson Department of Transportation Director Jim Glock.

“This is a great opportunity to catch up,” he said.

Glock did not know how much the city would see in the end.

“The city can absorb as much or as little as (PAG) decides to program our way. My hope is that we will see at least $10 million,” he said.

PAG has been working in recent weeks to narrow the regional wish list and get it into the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP), Glock said.

“If a project is not in the TIP, it is not eligible for that federal money,” he said.

State battle brewing

The Arizona Department of Transportation expects a windfall of about $590 million in Federal Highway Administration funds from the stimulus package. The challenge is that ADOT has identified $940 million in road-widening, paving and repair jobs that are eligible for stimulus spending.

Members of the State Transportation Board, which will make the decision, reflect competing interests and must wrestle with the classic conflicts of new vs. old and urban vs. rural.

ADOT Director Victor Mendez told transportation commissioners last week that the stimulus money isn’t enough to meet the state’s needs and that the extra money essentially cancels out the routine funds lost over the past two years.

The money is roughly equivalent to what Arizona spends in a year on highways.

Normally, highway projects are prioritized months or years in advance by cities and planning agencies such as PAG.

But the stimulus forces quick decisions on big money, often a recipe for behind-the-scenes lobbying from developers, transportation-project sponsors and politicians.

Si Schorr, who represents Pima County on the board, wants to focus on projects that most stimulate the economy. “I want to make sure that no matter what, we’re left with something meaningful,” Schorr said.

The Arizona Republic contributed to this report.

$80M of stimulus package could end up in Pima County road projects

Early look at Arizona’s

share of stimulus aid


Arizona is likely to get about $590 million for highways. Half the money must go toward work within four months.

Of the bill’s $8.4 billion for transit, Arizona expects about $112 million. An additional $8 billion in the bill goes to high-speed rail, but Arizona has no approved plans for such a system.

The state will get about $39 million to improve water quality, flood control or environmental restoration, according to an analysis of the earlier House bill.

ADOT says it expects to receive $80 million to $100 million for airport work. Arizona would have to compete for grants to complete the work. The bill steers $7 billion nationally to extend broadband Internet service to underserved communities. There was no immediate estimate of Arizona’s share.

Financial aid for college

Pell grants would rise by $500, to a maximum of $5,350 this year and $5,550 next year. The American Council on Education reports that 287,000 lower-income Arizona students received Pell grants last year.

The bill would temporarily replace the $1,800, two-year HOPE credit with a $2,500, four-year “American Opportunity Tax Credit” that is partially refundable to low-income students.

K-12, higher education

State fiscal-stabilization funds would require states to first use federal funds to replace any budget cuts made to K-12 education and higher education, Education Week reported Thursday. Any excess funds would be divided proportionally based on the percentage of students in each category. Arizona’s primary-education system faces about $300 million in cuts this fiscal year and universities face about $191 million. While details were unavailable Thursday, the bill’s $54 billion for stabilization is about midway between the original House and Senate funding levels. That suggests Arizona could be in line for nearly $1 billion total for both systems, some of which could also be used for refurbishing existing schools.

Tax breaks

About 95 percent of workers would get tax cuts up to $400 for individuals or $800 for couples through smaller withholdings. The tax cut is smaller for individuals earning more than $75,000 in taxable income and isn’t viable for those earning more than $100,000.

Millions of middle-class taxpayers in the U.S. would again be spared paying the alternative-minimum tax, a higher rate intended for the wealthy that isn’t adjusted for inflation. In 2004, less than 2 percent in Arizona paid it.

First-time homebuyers who purchase before September can receive up to an $8,000 tax credit that doesn’t have to be repaid.

A tax credit up to $7,500 is available for families that purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles. The stimulus allows a federal-tax deduction for the amount of state and local sales taxes paid on the purchase of new cars, including light trucks and SUVs.

Social safety net

Recipients of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, along with disabled veterans, would receive an extra $250.

Unemployment benefits would grow $25 weekly and the first $2,400 would be federal-tax exempt. Also, benefits would remain extended to 46 weeks. Arizona isn’t yet eligible to extend benefits to 59 weeks.

Food-stamp benefits would grow 13 percent, to offset rising food costs and allow spending for other items. Arizona’s 700,000 recipients averaged $112 in monthly aid in November.

Health care

The Arizona Republic

Health-care initiatives comprise more than $100 billion of the proposed federal-stimulus package, but it’s not clear yet how much of that money will flow through state coffers.

The largest chunk would come from the provision that sets aside $87 billion over the next two years to help states maintain their Medicaid programs. Officials with Arizona’s Medicaid program said late Thursday that they did not have a good estimate on what they would receive.

Other funds could flow to taxpayers, physicians and hospitals as subsidies and reimbursements. The package includes a 60 percent subsidy for up to nine months for laid-off workers struggling to pay their COBRA insurance premium.

An additional $19 billion would be set aside to encourage doctors and hospitals to switch from paper to electronic medical records in the next five years.

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