02/20/09 — U.S. Rep. Butterfield visits Wayne

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U.S. Rep. Butterfield visits Wayne

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on February 20, 2009 1:46 PM

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G.K. Butterfield

North Carolina 1st District Rep. G.K. Butterfield visited Wayne County Wednesday to speak to local students, tour Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and discuss the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Butterfield supported the $787 billion stimulus bill, which was signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

The stimulus package is a three-pronged attempt to stimulate the economy, Butterfield said.

"The first thing is tax relief not only for working families but for small businesses. The other component is to help the states balance their budgets," he said. "And the third thing is to invest in infrastructure, with the expectation that we can save or create three and a half million jobs in the next 18 to 24 months. So, it's a massive piece of legislation. It's a very expensive piece, but it's targeted, and hopefully it will turn the economy around."

The country has lost 3 million jobs in the past year, and the Employment Security Commission reported this month that more than 400,000 North Carolina job seekers are looking for and unable to find work.

In Butter-field's district, 10 of the 23 counties are experiencing double-digit unemployment rates.

"The government must pay attention to the plight of our economy," he said.

The legislation will provide much-needed assistance for North Carolinians, including addressing one of the biggest problems Gov. Bev Perdue and the state legislature are facing, Butterfield said.

"We're going to help balance the state budget. Gov. Perdue is looking at a $2 billion deficit. That's frightening," he said. "She is very concerned about the health of the state budget. So this is going to offer some assistance to the state to balance the state budget, which means that teachers will not be affected, hopefully, and public employees will not be affected."

That is a sharp contrast to what is happening in some states, such as California, where more than 10,000 state employees may lose their jobs.

"Look at what California's doing today. It's not good," Butterfield said.

However, "we're not going to be able to put 400,000 people to work using the stimulus," he said. "But hopefully if we can turn the economy around, the economy will regenerate and will sustain itself, and small businesses will be able to employ more people."

The bill also contains provisions that could help provide support for people in North Carolina facing hardship.

"We're going to extend unemployment insurance, that's going to help North Carolinians," he said.

The Wayne County unemployment commission paid out $1.882 million in unemployment benefits within a 30 day period earlier this year.

The legislation will also address health insurance and provide a $400 tax credit to people making less than $150,000 a year.

"Those who have been displaced because of the economy will be able to get COBRA insurance, and get assistance from the government," Butterfield said. "It's going to give the governor a massive amount of money she can allocate to community infrastructure projects."

"When those funds come to local community governments, there will be jobs created," he said. "Building bridges, highways, schools, water systems."

Butterfield himself participated in the committee that worked to make sure the bill included money to spread broadband Internet service to rural areas, like parts of Wayne County.

"We have a lot of communities that are unserved and underserved," he said. "If we're going to compete globally, every community's got to have the benefit of broadband, high-speed Internet access. So we've put $4.2 billion out there for broadband, which is very significant."

The results from the stimulus package will be evident over the long term, Butterfield said. The funding may create or save 105,000 jobs in North Carolina, 6,800 of which are projected to be in the 1st district.

But the legislation is not a silver bullet that will solve all of the problems America is facing, and it won't work overnight, he added.

"It's not going to be a panacea. It's not going to change the economic landscape dramatically. But it's going to be a step in the right direction. And hopefully over time, there will be a dramatic shift."

"Some of the leading economists in this country predict it will have a positive effect. We're not going to see an immediate result. I wish we could, but we're not," Butterfield said. "Not only do we need to create jobs, we've got to get what I call a twofer. We've got to get persons working, and we've got to create an asset for the community."

That's the purpose behind the package's infrastructure items, Butterfield said. While self-explanatory items such as providing money for the food stamp program sit side-by-side with funding for NASA, each item included in the legislation has a purpose, he believes.

"I'm comfortable that everything in the package is stimulative. There are some provisions that are more stimulative than others," Butterfield said.

"We've got to invest in a smart grid, if we are going to lower utility bills and take this nation to energy independence. We've got to begin the process of investing in smart grid technology. Every piece of this bill that I've seen so far is stimulative."

The stimulus package is focused and contains no earmarks, Butterfield said.

"We were determined not to succumb to any pressure to include pork in the bill. There is not a single pork barrel project or earmark project anywhere in the bill," he said.

But he couldn't put a number to the individual cost to North Carolina taxpayers.

"I can't break it down per taxpayer," Butterfield said.

And one unintended consequence of the bill, related to capping CEO salaries to $500,000, will likely be a reduction in income tax revenue.