Vol. 4   No. 3
February 5, 2009
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                   Jumpstarting recovery
     As the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act winds its way through Congress, the federal and state
governments have been busy preparing for the rather quick approval and release of the almost $1 trillion package.
On February 5, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined a conference call of Midwestern
media outlets to talk about the infrastructure stimulus that would be coming down the pike. According to LaHood,
the projects will be 100 percent federally funded. All of the state secretaries of transportation have been invited to
the White House on February 11 to discuss the stimulus package and have been asked to bring ‘shovel-ready’
projects with them for US DOT to review. Ruben Anthony Jr., deputy secretary of WisDOT will be representing
Secretary Frank Busalacchi.
     The state of Wisconsin has been busy preparing for the stimulus package as well. Governor James Doyle
created the Office of Recovery and Reinvestment (ORR). The ORR is headed up on a volunteer basis by Gary
Wolter, ceo of MG&E. His deputy is Al Fish, a vice-chancellor at the UW-Madison. The ORR is staffed by state
employees who have been designated by their departments to work with the ORR
     Reggie Newson, WisDOT’s operations director for southeast region, is WisDOT’s liaison to the ORR. “We’re set
up to accept the stimulus funds through the Office of Recovery and Reinvestment,” Newson said in a phone
interview with The Capital City Hues. “And internally at WisDOT, we have an oversight committee made up of our
executive and senior management. Basically we are looking at the different pots of money that have been
identified currently in the House and Senate versions of the bill. We’re developing plans based on all of those
different scenarios and I think we should be prepared for whatever the final bill says to receive whatever allocation
is identified in the final bill.’
     Depending on the final version of the bill that will have to go through a House-Senate conference committee
and pass both houses of Congress before being signed by President Obama, ‘shovel-ready’ projects should have
crews out working by June.
     There are a number of projects the state is looking at. “Historically, we have more needs than funding,”
Newson said. “So we will be looking at a variety of projects statewide on the Interstate, state trunk highways and
local projects. Locals will also take on projects like repairing and extending the useful life of the roads. We will
also be repairing and extending the useful life of our bridges as well as looking at potential rail projects being put
in place.”
     Among the projects the governor is looking at is improvement of passenger rail service between Milwaukee
and Racine. Local governments would also receive infrastructure stimulus funds according to the current versions
of the bill. “In both versions of the current bill, you would see dollars come directly to the states for state projects,
but also to the local municipalities for projects of their own,” Newson said.
     While the bills are on a speedy process for passage, they would still have some traditional federal
requirements. “If there are federal dollars, there are DBE requirements,” Newson said. DBEs are primarily minority
and women owned small businesses.
     “The Office of Recovery and Reinvestment is working to understand the stimulus package, identify obstacles
and try to get things in place to help remove barriers and help funds move quickly,” Newson said. “We will also
attempt to serve as a resource to local governments and help them coordinate and access dollars that come out
of the stimulus package. I think it’s a pretty exciting time for the state of Wisconsin.”
     While many may look at Black History as something static, to be looked at in terms of things that happened
decades or centuries ago, Black History is happening right before out eyes. Imagine an African American U.S.
President pushing a stimulus bill through Congress and then an African American deputy secretary representing
Wisconsin at a White House meeting on the stimulus bill. Who would have thought? History continues to be made.
While it appears there may be some new opportunities for MBEs and people of color to do business with the state
of Wisconsin as a result of the federal stimulus package, everyone should be paying attention. This train is going
to leave the station quickly and soon. Everyone aboard?
The Inauguration
Barack Obama Inaugural Coverage
from Washington, D.C.