Local Commentary

Editorial: Grasping the Emergency




Last Friday’s urgently-called special briefing by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran to local government leaders in his district, including Arlington and the City of Falls Church, was one of the most extraordinary public meetings in the memory of this newspaper.

On the veritable eve of President Obama’s historic swearing in, it was a breathtaking advanced look at what the mammoth economic stimulus package the new administration has promised to kick off immediately upon taking office. From what Moran and his staff told those leaders, summoned on just 24 hours’ notice to the county board chambers in Arlington Friday, the House began marking up the bill Obama wanted yesterday, aimed at bringing some $500 billion in economic stimulus and another $250 to $350 billion in tax cuts, and that the president wants to be able to have it on his desk by Feb. 1 to sign into law. In government, that’s veritably moving at the speed of light.

Without dwelling for the moment on the reasons for such an unprecedented push – namely, the desperate condition of the national economy – it is important that local governments and non-profit organizations be prepared to act with their own lightning speed to come up with specific plans to absorb these funds. The federal government does not want to know what these entities need, so much as what they are capable of absorbing into job-creating, or job-sustaining, projects within a month or two. For example, Falls Church Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester reported to the News-Press after Friday’s meeting that Moran’s chief of staff would be meeting with her next week to elicit a list of “shovel ready” projects, including the city center parking garage, the daylighting of streams, and possibly also the funding of approved projects being spearheaded by non-profits, such as the Falls Church Arts-Creative Cauldron arts center at Pearson Square and maybe even some aspects of the affordable housing efforts of the Falls Church Housing Corporation.

Initial conversations with local officials and non-profit leaders were received with a certain reaction of disbelief last weekend, following Moran’s briefing. The urgency and the federal government’s apparent willingness to by-pass the “business as usual” approach to providing new funding is, indeed, hard to get one’s mind around, especially among those who’ve become so used to suffering indeterminable delays and bureaucratic red tape to get funding.

But it is the raison d’etre of the stimulus package that must be grasped to fully appreciate what’s underway now. That is, it is the fear of waves upon waves of job losses in 2009, already underway, that threatens the nation with a terrible, irreversible deflation and depression, which requires immediate and forceful action to mitigate. This, people, is an emergency.