Central Valley

What can valley expect from spending bills?

WASHINGTON -- The San Joaquin Valley will get its share from three huge spending packages now on Capitol Hill.

But between a stimulus bill, an omnibus spending bill and a budget bill, it's easy to get confused. Here are some questions and answers that may help.

Q: Slow down. What are these three bills again?

A: The first, already approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, is the economic stimulus package. This is the one designed to jump-start the economy. The second, called an omnibus, provides federal government funding through Sept. 30. The third is the budget proposed by Obama on Thursday.

Q: How big are they?

A: Really big. The stimulus bill is $787 billion. The omnibus bill, approved by the House on Wednesday, is $410 billion. Obama's proposed fiscal 2010 budget is $3.5 trillion.

Q: What's the San Joaquin Valley going to get out of all this?

A: Well, let's start with $300,000 for Merced County to fight the methamphetamine trade. There's $900,000 to acquire land for the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge and $800,000 for a Yosemite National Park tunnel project.

Q: What's the grand total for the valley from the three bills?

A: Can't say. The stimulus, the omnibus and the budget are very different creatures. The omnibus, which awaits Senate approval, is jammed with 9,000 earmarks. These are the spending line items targeted to specific, and sometimes controversial, local projects. This, for instance, is where lawmakers included $385,000 for a low-income scholarship program at California State University, Stanislaus.

Q: Is there local spending in the stimulus bill?

A: Yes, but it's harder to find. The 1,407-page stimulus bill does not specify which state and local entities will receive federal help. Instead, each state's share must be estimated from current funding formulas. California, for instance, is expected to get about $26 billion. The amount to cities and counties will become evident over time. This week, for instance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced how it would distribute some $1 billion in community development block grant funds provided under the stimulus bill. Modesto will get $631,749 and Merced $336,919 in the block grants.

Q: Is there more of that kind of specific information?

A: Only in part. Among federal agencies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development seems pretty far along in announcing local funding from the stimulus bill. For example, the department said Modesto will get $966,016 and Merced $515,203 in homelessness grants provided under the stimulus bill.

Q: How about other cities and other grants?

A: Check out the Department of Housing and Urban Development's stimulus bill Web site at www.hud.gov/recovery.

Q: So that's the stimulus and the omnibus. How about Obama's budget unveiled Thursday?

A: It's more of an outline than a detailed budget. The 146-page document is only about one-tenth the size of the complete annual budget proposal expected to arrive in April. It doesn't even have the word "California" in it, let along "Modesto."

Q: But isn't there some way to know how this budget will affect the region?

A: In broad outline, sure. The budget outline presented Thursday, for instance, calls for a "Western water conservation initiative," which would serve 17 Western states. It proposes a dedicated new fund for fighting wildland fires, such as those afflicting California.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.

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