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Published: Saturday, 3/7/2009

Obama tells Columbus stimulus saved police jobs

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
President Obama congratulates police recruits during their graduation ceremony in Columbus. The new officers faced layoffs until funds from the economic stimulus plan arrived. President Obama congratulates police recruits during their graduation ceremony in Columbus. The new officers faced layoffs until funds from the economic stimulus plan arrived.
JAY LAPRETE / BLOOMBERG NEWS Enlarge

COLUMBUS - President Obama Friday congratulated a graduating class of 25 police recruits who owe their jobs to his $787 billion federal stimulus package, using them to make a point on a day when unemployment numbers reached levels not seen in more than 25 years.

"For those who still doubt the wisdom of our recovery plan, I ask them to talk to the teachers who are still able to teach children because we passed this plan," Mr. Obama said.

"I ask them to talk to the nurses who are still able to care for our sick, firefighters and first-responders who are still able to keep our communities safe," he said.

"I ask them to come to Ohio and meet the 25 men and women who will soon be protecting the streets of Columbus because we passed this plan," he said. "I look at these young men and women, I look in their eyes and see their badges today, and I know we did the right thing."

The President, accompanied by Attorney General Eric Holder, came bearing gifts. The U.S. Department of Justice announced $2 billion in law enforcement stimulus money, of which Ohio would receive $61.6 million. Of that, $2.4 million is headed to Toledo.

Mr. Obama delivered his speech as February's unemployment numbers were released, hitting 8.1 percent for the first time since 1983.

"This economy needs your employment to keep it running," Mr. Obama told the graduating class. "Just this morning, we learned that we lost another 651,000 jobs throughout the country in the month of February alone. That brings the total number of jobs lost in this recession to an astounding 4.4 million - 4.4 million jobs.

"I don't need to tell the people of this state what statistics like this mean," he said. "I don't need to tell this graduating class what it's like to know that your job might be next. Well, that is not a future I accept for the United States of America."

Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman, who grew up in Toledo, had attempted to garner concessions from the police union to help close a $100 million budget gap. When that failed, he announced plans to lay off this new class of officers even before they hit the streets.

"This is our nation's stimulus package at work, people, and it's working right here in the city of Columbus," Mr. Coleman said. "Because of the federal stimulus package, these recruits are now Columbus police officers. Because of the federal stimulus dollars, our city will be safer.

"Because we are safer, it will make it easier for me, Gov. [Ted] Strickland, and businesses to create jobs and build the economy right back up," he said.

Whether these recruits will still have jobs next year remains to be seen. The more than $1.2 million garnered from the stimulus package for the city will cover the officers' salaries through December. Acting Police Chief Walter L. Distelzweig noted the city will pick up costs for benefits above that.

After December, the costs for these jobs, which pay about $40,000 a year, will be the city's responsibility.

While noting the importance of these police jobs, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine characterized the money as a "temporary solution to a long-term problem."

"We can't just borrow, spend, and tax our way out of this crisis," he said. "We need tax relief for working families, incentives for small businesses to create jobs, and fiscal discipline that pays today's bills today. Unfortunately, we heard nothing from President Obama or Governor Strickland about what they plan to do when these borrowed dollars run out."

Mr. Obama has held up Columbus in speeches as the poster child for how the stimulus package is partly designed to prevent state and local governments from compounding the nation's economic woes by laying off employees.

In all, the package holds about $2 billion nationally in new law enforcement support - putting new officers on the beat, keeping those who might have otherwise been furloughed, and funding drug and gang task forces, crime and domestic violence prevention efforts, courts, and treatment.

The state government's share of the $61.6 million Ohio pie is $38 million while $23.6 million would be divided among local governments.

Also benefiting in northwest Ohio were Lucas County, $26,363; Oregon, $13,290; Bowling Green, $20,916; Fremont, $33,335; Defiance, $21,788; Findlay, $55,776; Sandusky, $153,385; Lima, $257,312, and Allen County, $32,028.

The city of Toledo had varying numbers for the Lucas County entities.

Michigan will receive a total of $67 million, $41.2 million of which would go to the state and $25.8 million to local governments. Adrian would receive $59,745 with Lenawee County getting $20,474.

The money is allocated based on local population and crime statistics, with 60 percent sent directly to state government.

In all, the stimulus package holds about $8.5 billion in direct formula-driven funds for Ohio for highways, mass transit, general budget relief, water projects, school aid, alternative energy, rail, law enforcement, and other purposes.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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