State officials start sifting through stimulus requests

By William L. Spence of the Tribune

Saturday, March 7, 2009

BOISE – The first hurdle for stimulus wannabes comes this weekend, when state officials start weeding out any requests that don’t qualify.

Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter received more than 1,000 requests for stimulus funding by Wednesday’s deadline. The vast majority came from local governments, school districts and private entities, but most state agencies also submitted proposals.

Wayne Hammon, Otter’s budget director, said applicants had to indicate which section of the stimulus bill they wanted to tap for funding. Some sections don’t require the approval or involvement of the state, he said, and those applicants will be notified of that. Other sections are administered by specific state agencies, and those requests will be forwarded to the relevant agency.

“This weekend, my staff will be sorting all the requests into different piles, depending on which pot of money they want to tap,” Hammon said. “Then we’ll start looking at that part of the stimulus bill and see what strings and conditions are required. We’ll sort out any inappropriate requests that don’t qualify and get it down to something manageable.”

Requests from non-state agencies alone totaled $4.75 billion. However, while the state expects to receive as much as $1 billion in stimulus funding, Otter only has about $44 million in stimulus that isn’t restricted to a particular use, such as education or transportation.

“The majority of the requests are chasing that $44 million,” Hammon said. “Realistically, the chances of anyone getting any part of that are statistically slim, just because of the shear number of requests we’ve received.”

Hammon said a $5 million request from the Port of Lewiston for a heavy crane lift pad and container dock extension was particularly interesting, but “just getting on the list doesn’t get you any money.”

After weeding out the unqualified requests, he said, the remainder will go to the governor’s “stimulus executive committee,” which consists of five former state budget directors and three former governors. The committee will likely develop its own criteria for which requests should receive priority, including items such as number of jobs created and overall community impact.

During a meeting at the Idaho Press Club on Friday, Otter said his priorities would be helping to retain or create jobs that don’t create false expectations of continued funding once the stimulus runs out. He didn’t indicate whether he would give preference to private or public job creation, saying much of that was already dictated by the restrictions in the stimulus bill.

The stimulus executive committee will start reviewing proposals on Monday. Otter is expected to make a final decision on which requests to accept by March 16.

Spence may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2274.