Vice President Joe Biden had some pointed advice Wednesday for state, county and city officials seeking guidance on spending the $787 billion in economic stimulus money approved by the U.S. Congress — don’t use it on stupid ideas.
“What is legal, what is authorized, may not be a good thing to do,” the vice president told dozens of local officials gathered for a White House conference.
“So guys, no swimming pools, no tennis courts, no golf courses, no Frisbee parks,” Biden said, even if officials can document that the project will create jobs quickly, generate revenue and keep people working over the longer term.
“The answer is: No. No. No,” he said. “It’s got to pass the smell test folks.”
Then he gave the warning some teeth.
“Because of the rules, the president and I can’t stop you from doing some things. But I’ll show up in your city and say, ‘This is a stupid idea,’” Biden warned, drawing laughs.
“I’m serious. I’m absolutely serious,” he said. “Every single dollar of this money has to be used … in a way that is actually producing or keeping jobs from being lost and perceptually makes sense.”
Biden has reason for concern. The administration has been promising to be open and transparent about how the money is spent, with projects being posted on a website where they can be tracked by anyone with an interest, from journalists and bloggers to folks who live down the street from the work.
“We have to get this right,” Biden said. “We have got to demonstrate to the American public that we can husband their money and their investments in a way that in fact makes sense to them. This can’t be govenment as usual.”
Local officials attending the event said they appreciated being consulted by the White House so early in the process and liked the high level of coordination among government departments.
Brian Reilly, the economic development commissioner for Buffalo, New York, said it was unusual to have the departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development all talking together with local communities.
“This is fantastic at the city level because we are the place where all of those agencies come together. In the past they haven’t always been coordinated,” he said.
“By this type of early collaboration,” Reilly added, “we’re going to see a different kind of service delivery and different kinds of outcomes at the local level.”
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Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Biden speaking to local officials about economic recovery money)