Crist: Fla. ready for stimulus check

TALLAHASSEE — Florida has lists of “shovel ready” transportation and environmental projects that can swiftly put federal stimulus funds to work, state officials Monday told Gov. Charlie Crist.

The governor urged his newly formed Federal Stimulus Working Group to move fast so Florida doesn’t lose any stimulus money. Some provisions in the federal legislation set time limits designed to quickly “re-ignite — jolt — the economy,” Crist said.

Crist’s office estimates the state is in line for about $13.3 billion under the House-passed plan. The biggest slices of Florida’s stimulus pie would go to education ($4.5 billion), Medicaid ($4.25 billion) and transportation ($1.78 billion).

The Senate has yet to vote on its version, which may alter those estimates. Florida officials are hopeful a final bill, assuming one gets congressional approval, will be sent to President Barack Obama in time for him to sign it by Feb. 16.

“The states have to be ready as soon as this does happen with due speed,” Crist said.

Crist is heading the working group, which also includes Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp; the governor’s chief of staff, Eric Eikenberg; his budget director, Jerry McDaniel, and leaders from 12 state agencies.

Assistant Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole told Crist his “Accelerate Florida” initiative that started state-funded projects weeks or months early last year prepared their agencies for quick use of the stimulus money.

Crist said it was just good timing with “no crystal ball involved.”

“The money that comes to the state level, we can turn that around quickly,” Thibault said. City and county governments will need more help getting ready, he added.

Thibault said 45 percent of transportation stimulus money will go directly to local governments. He said state transportation officials already have been in touch with cities, counties and metropolitan planning organizations to help them prepare for the influx of cash.

Sole said he expects about $300 million for water and wastewater projects but Florida already has identified more than $1 billion worth ready to go.

Florida also would get stimulus money for food stamps, temporary assistance to needy families and other social services, said Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon.

“There’s a recognition that while we’re stimulating the economy we’ve also got to revive the safety net,” Sheldon said.

He added that social service spending also is a stimulus. Every dollar spent on food stamps generates $2 of stimulus to the overall economy, Sheldon said.

Crist, a Republican, has been lobbying congressional members from both parties to support the stimulus package. His efforts had little effect in the House where not a single Republican voted for it.

The governor also has spoken to U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., but received no promises.

“Like any prudent legislator, I think he’ll want to see what the final package is before he takes a position,” Crist said.