“Quick action” and “U.S. Congress” are not word combinations often used together.
But in a conference call with reporters today, Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said she believes Congress will get federal dollars to the states within a matter of weeks.
Federal money, of course, could help Minnesota – and other states – deal with massive deficits.
Kelliher predicted that the U.S. House will pass “The Recovery and Re-Investment Act” as early as next week and expects the Senate will pass similar legislation quickly, too.
In the end, she said, Minnesota should receive “a very significant” amount of federal money as it tries to deal with a $4.8 billion deficit, which is expected to become even bigger when new economic forecasts are revealed next month.
How much is “very significant?”
“Less than a billion but north of $500 million,” said Kelliher the DFLer from Minneapolis who was in Washington with House Majority Leader Tony Sertich of Chisholm for Tuesday’s inauguration.
The National Conference of State Legislatures is far more optimistic. In its anaylsis of the congressional package, it believes Minnesota could receive in the neighborhood of $3 billion in federal money.
While in D.C., the two Minnesota legislators met with most members of the Minnesota congressional delegation and came away from those meetings feeling optimistic that Congress will move quickly – and with generosity – in getting money to the states. A sense of urgency about the economy “shutting down” can be felt throughout the Capitol, she said.
Most of the money from Washington will not go directly into the general fund but nonetheless could be helpful in getting the state’s financial house in order. For example, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has targeted Health and Human Services for cuts, no matter how painful. Federal dollars could help lessen the pain.
Kelliher predicted that public education and public safety would be areas where the states could get a lifeline.
“Congress has heard that we can’t weather layoffs in those areas,” she said.
Job creation and retention are fundamentals of the federal legislation, Kelliher said. That will mean “significant” dollars for roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.
The message Kelliher and Sertich heard is that Congress wants “transparency” in how money is being used in the states.
The call for transparency became loud and clear after initial federal bailout money for the banking industry seemed to disappear into a black hole.
As a result, she said that she will recommend that Pawlenty name a “point person” to interact with the feds, state government and Minnesotans about the amount coming into the state and how those dollars should be spent.
The House speaker said she would suggest somebody who is “above politics” to serve in that role. She mentioned such noted Minnesotans as former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger or retired Medtronics CEO Bill George as ideal for such a position.
Kelliher was flying home, from Harrisburg, Pa., on Thursday evening.
“I used frequent flyer miles,” she said. “That meant flying in and out of Harrisburg.”
She said she hopes to at least speak by phone with Pawlenty about the federal money. The governor has shown little enthusiasm in recent weeks about federal money as part of the state’s budget fix, noting that the feds have not typically moved quickly.
“But the tone in Washington is changed,” said Kelliher. “People are actively engaged in how to repair the state-federal relationship.”