The Economy Today: More Stimulus Money for Your Mansion?

News from Montana, Utah, New Mexico, and elsewhere

Washington is considering a new agency that would protect consumers of financial products, Reuters reports, as part of an effort to “adopt[] a consumer-oriented approach” with regards to the regulation overhaul. The Washington Post writes that the government is preparing to send GM into bankruptcy; “fears that a bankruptcy could lead to cascading business failures,” it notes, “are spreading throughout GM’s vast chain of suppliers.” Backing this up, an Associated Press report notes that a record number of Americans are receiving unemployment aid, and that numbers are likely to rise throughout the summer because of factory closings by GM and Chrysler, and layoffs at auto suppliers.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Missouri Transportation Commission has voted to spend $50 million a year for twenty-four years “to replace or repair 554 failing bridges in the state.” The state will sell bonds that will be backed by future federal revenue (which amounts to a third of Missouri’s federal bridge money over the twenty-four years).

Libby, Montana, has received a $6 million health grant from the government to deal with asbestos-related illness. (More than 200 people in the Libby area have died from asbestos contamination, which has been blamed on the now-defunct W.R. Grace & Co. mine.) Meanwhile, the state is hoping that its renewable energy firms—particularly those producing camelina oilseed, “touted as Montana’s best bet as a biodiesel producer” but thus far not farmed on a broad scale—will receive a boost from a White House directive aimed at accelerating biofuel development.

The state of Utah is receiving $600,000 in stimulus money to prevent wildfires as part of a $15 million Interior Department spending package to reduce hazardous fuels on thousands of acres of federal land. Also in Utah, the AP has reviewed state finance records and determined that “Utah state agencies, excluding public colleges and universities, have spent more than $220,000 on bottled water since July.” It’s a small bit of the $5.1 billion state budget, but, as the AP notes, it’s more than twice the governor’s yearly salary. (San Francisco, by comparison, canceled city spending on bottled water in 2007, and saves almost $500,000 each year.)

Texas legislators are planning to use $11 million in federal stimulus money to rebuild the Texas governor’s mansion, which was damaged in an arson fire last year. (Gov. Rick Perry, of course, has been one of the vocal critics of federal bailouts.)

Under the blog headline, “Crowd wants in on federal stimulus cash,” a Santa Fe New Mexican reporter describes a recent meeting on federal stimulus grant opportunities. Fifteen people RSVP’d to yesterday’s meeting in Espanola, “but more than 100 showed up at the Northern New Mexico College for details on how to apply for the $2.8 billion that’s supposed to be available for a variety of projects.” Citing growing curiosity about “how the money will be handled and how transparent the spending will be,” the reporter promises updates on spending in New Mexico. Excellent.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.