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What Would YOU Do With $50 Billion?

by Susannah Kopecky, published

What would you do with $50 billion?

Would you balance a budget, and keep funds to spare? Would you hire more police and firefighters and/or increase their salaries? Would you invest heavily in infrastructure and restructuring a foundering education system? Funny thing is, with all of the many thousands of elected and appointed government officials throughout California, a consensus has yet to be reached on this question.

Theses are all questions California lawmakers must face in the near future, as a windfall of somewhere between $48 billion and $52 billion will fall into the laps of California governmental officials. This "gift" of sorts was provided through the nearly $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, AKA the "stimulus package."

Soon after news came of the February bill set to benefit California considerably, there was silence as to the question of, "Uh, exactly where will the money go?" You know there's a problem if, when offered money, an organization doesn't even know where to use it.

On April 3, the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-04-09, appointing Laura Chick, City Controller for Los Angeles, the ARRA Inspector General of the federal funds. Chick herself does have a record that includes monitoring and reporting instances of waste and fraud, so this should be an interesting ride ahead. According to a statement by the governor, Chick will be paid $175,000 per year in her new office.

"I am proud to announce this first-in-the-nation position that will make sure the funds we receive from the Recovery Act are used with accountability and transparency to stimulate our economy and create jobs," Schwarzenegger said. "Laura's impressive track record as a watchdog and public servant makes her uniquely qualified to ensure this funding is used as it was intended - to create jobs and help our state through this difficult economic time."

The governor's statement describes Chick's post as one in which she "will be watching for waste, fraud and abuse, and whether the estimated $50 billion in direct spending from the Recovery Act is used appropriately in California." Chick will review the California Recovery Task Force and "all funding that is funneled through the state as well as funding that is sent directly to cities, counties, school districts, non-profits or other entities over the coming two years."

According to, the website set up the state to help illustrate the general direction of where stimulus funds will go (though specifics are not available), Health & Human Services is the big winner, with a planned $15.3 billion set to be diverted to that area; Education and Labor aren't far behind, set to see an estimated $11.8 and $8.4 billion each, respectively. (By April 9, news came of the governor's request for $5 billion in federal funding for public education. No word yet on whether that was to be a part of the $11.8 billion or not not.) Tax Relief is allotted none of the funding, while Public Safety is slated to receiving $0.3 billion. (California... earthquakes... anyone?)

One can only hope that at least part of this sizable windfall may be considered to help balance the more-than $40 billion budget deficit, rather than half-baked temporary fixes and exceptionally confusing measures, such as the Lottery Modernization Act.

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