WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When it comes to passing a federal stimulus bill that could aid U.S. states and cities’ faltering economies, Miami’s mayor says rapidity is of the essence.
“I don’t think we can wait a week, but if we have to, we have to,” Mayor Manuel Diaz told Reuters on Monday.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has said that none of the funds approved in a recently passed financial bailout bill will be used to assist local governments. But recently mayors and governors have pressed the U.S. Congress to send some dollars to the local level, as most states have been hobbled by the housing downturn and rising unemployment.
In order to boost Miami’s economy, Diaz said he has already begun increasing spending on the Florida city’s procurements and is “trying to expedite as much as we can” in infrastructure expenditures.
Last week, the City of Miami Commission approved its own stimulus package that includes speeding up approval of construction contracts for capital improvement projects and creating a new urban center. President-elect Barack Obama has called for a stimulus package that is also heavy on spending on roads, bridges and public buildings and has said he would like to have a plan in place when he takes office in January.
Diaz said that using existing federal programs for infrastructure — such as the one for interstate highways — will help money trickle out of Washington and to the cities quickly. That, in turn, will create jobs.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which Diaz is president, has found 4,591 infrastructure projects that are “ready-to-go,” meaning they could begin immediately and would likely be completed by the end of 2009.
“It’s not ‘Give me money so I can figure out what to do with it,’” Diaz said in answer to concerns that infrastructure spending may take too much time to help the economy.
There was talk that Diaz, who has governed the city of more than 362,000 residents for nearly a decade, could be the Transportation or Housing and Urban Development secretary under Obama. But Diaz told Reuters, “It’s all speculation.”
For now, Diaz must deal with a city that, he notes, has become “poster child for the troubled condo market.” But he said the situation is not as dire as many believe. According to a report released Monday by the Florida Association of Realtors, condo sales were up 1 percent last month from a year ago in the Miami area, and resales of homes increased 23 percent.
Many condo-buying problems are related to tightening credit, with people having paid deposits for new construction but unable to get loans to buy the homes, Diaz said.
He said that thanks to the city’s property tax caps, Miami has not been hit by declining market values. Its property taxes are based on assessed values, not prices, and taxes can rise by only a certain percentage each year.
Still, Diaz expects the city’s revenue growth, which was in the double-digits in recent years, to be closer to 4 to 5 percent. The municipal bond market is coming back, but the city is not planning on issuing new debt to deal with the current economic crisis, he said.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Dan Grebler