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Old Posted Dec 18, 2008, 8:15 PM
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City issues billion-dollar wish list (San Antonio)

From the San Antonio Express-News

City issues billion-dollar wish list

By Greg Jefferson, Gary Martin
and Jennifer Hiller
- Express-News

With President-elect Barack Obama and Congress looking to quickly pump billions of dollars into jobs-generating projects across the country, San Antonio officials have drawn up a preliminary wish list packed with projects that would cost a combined $1.1 billion.

If fully funded, an unlikely outcome, the work would create 9,380 jobs, according to city estimates.

It would also result in the environmental restoration of the San Antonio River’s southern reach; street and drainage work to ease the growth of Fort Sam Houston; another expansion of the Convention Center; and citywide streets and sidewalk projects.

The proposed package also includes a spate of renewable energy and energy conservation projects.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley said. “We have huge needs in the community, and there are many things we could move forward with.”

City Council members, who received the draft list late Wednesday, are expected to start sorting through the projects, possibly adding or subtracting some, and prioritizing them in early January. They’ll likely approve the final slate on Jan. 15 or Jan. 29.

In the meantime, the county and other local government entities are putting the finishing touches of their lists in anticipation of a crush of federal dollars that could approach New Deal dimensions.

Obama won’t take office until Jan. 20. But it’s already crunch time for cities, counties, school districts and other government entities across the country.

“Obviously, the list needs to be ready in the early part of January,” said Joe Aceves, the county’s director of infrastructure services. “We want to be among those at the head of the line.”

Bexar County is asking for $6 million to improve Olmos Dam, $14.4 million to rebuild Galm Road, and millions more for other street improvements.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the stimulus bill could top $600 billion, and said that package would be the first order of business in the 111th Congress. The House could pass the legislation by the first week of January.

Obama has said his stimulus package will have three key parts. The first is a massive effort to make federal buildings more energy efficient, by replacing old heating systems, to save taxpayer money. Also in the works is the modernization and upgrade of school buildings, including the installation of computers in classrooms to prepare students to compete in the 21st Century.

But the cornerstone of the program will come through infrastructure projects.

"We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s," Obama said.

This week, Obama hinted that the stimulus package could reach $850 billion, with some of the money dedicated to lower- and middle-class tax cuts and further relief for the unemployed.

By mid November, soon after Obama said he’d pursue a stimulus package to jump start the economy, Sculley said department heads had begun compiling potential projects. To make the list, she said, projects — either already designed or set for design/build — had to be ready to go out for bid in 90 to 120 days.

But can a major government-spending program invigorate the economy and add jobs?

Economist Ray Perryman, senior research fellow of the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, said it can.

“A major program to invest in infrastructure would be a good thing for the entire country, including Texas and San Antonio,” Perryman said. “We have done a number of studies over the years which reveal that the long-term payoff for infrastructure investments is enormous.”

But any construction projects would need to start fast to have a quick impact.

“The challenge is that the stimulus needs to happen quickly, which occurs by doing projects that are small and can get started, while the most valuable ones will take longer,” Perryman said. “Striking the appropriate balance between the two is important.”

The Associated General Contractors of America estimates that $1 billion in nonresidential construction spending in Texas would create 8,200 on-site construction jobs, along with 3,800 other jobs at firms that supply materials and services.
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