Oddly Enough

Beer and bathtubs are U.S. stimulus ideas

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. public is bubbling over with ideas on how to spend the billions of dollars set to flow to states from the federal stimulus program -- including six-packs of beer, airboats and bathtubs.

A round of beers sit on a table inside McSorley's Old Ale House in New York, March 11, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Thousands of suggestions have poured into websites states have set up to give residents updated information on the money and where it might be spent, and in some cases asking them to submit their own ideas. Ohio, for example, had received a whopping 11,373 proposals as of Thursday.

President Barack Obama has pledged to keep citizens apprised of how the $787 billion (549 billion pound) stimulus plan is carried out through the website and has encouraged governors to do the same. Within a week of the bill passing at least a dozen states had created stimulus sites.

Some of the ideas for tapping into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act posted to the sites go beyond typical bricks-and-mortar infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.

Virginia has received scores of ideas since launching its website on February 10. A common theme was using stimulus funds to send the money back to taxpayers as a rebate or tax cut. Still, there were some unusual requests.

One Virginia resident proposed a “shovel-ready” idea to lift small business development by giving a six-pack of locally brewed beer to every adult in the state. The cost would be $48.6 million with the assumption that the beer’s price would average $7.99.

Another Commonwealth citizen suggested giving seniors and the disabled $2,500 apiece towards renovating bathing facilities in their homes, pointing out that the move would also help small contractors in the state.

Virginia plans to cut off submissions on March 6. State offices will review and categorize the proposals.

In Missouri, where Governor Jay Nixon launched a website on Monday, 1,296 proposals have been submitted so far.

One idea called for an airboat service on the Missouri River between St. Louis and Kansas City instead of adding another lane to Interstate 70.

Jack Lavin, Illinois’ chief operating officer, said the state’s website was a way to be transparent and accountable for the federal money. He added that while about half of the 1,200 submissions to the state’s website were road projects, one person wanted federal funding for a new car to help clean the environment and get to work faster.

Wisconsin, which is sifting through more than 1,700 proposals submitted to its website, is planning to hook up worthy ideas with the appropriate state department.

“It’s not really off-the-wall stuff, it’s just people who are just trying to make their part of the world a little better,” said Gary Wolter, director of Wisconsin’s office of recovery and reinvestment.

He added, however, that “demands for the dollars far outweigh the dollars available.”

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Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis