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Davis sets meeting for stimulus talk

Congressman Artur Davis has scheduled a meeting with Black Belt leaders and others to discuss the progress of the stimulus and concerns raised over the state’s administration of stimulus funds.

The American Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus act, saw $1 billion poured into Alabama, extended health insurance for laid-off workers and provided tax cuts for more than 97 percent of Alabama’s residents.

Davis, who represents the 7th Congressional District, has planned the meeting for 2 p.m. June 30 at the Selma-Dallas County Public Library. The 7th District includes most of the Black Belt region of Alabama with the highest unemployment and poverty rates.

The Democrat, who is leaving his congressional seat in a bid for governor in 2010, has also invited representatives from the Alabama Department of Transportation and ADECA.

Questions about the apportionment of stimulus money have been raised several times by local officials. In late April, Selma Mayor George Evans invited James Main, who was at the time the state finance director, to discuss the stimulus package with city officials.

At the time of the meeting, Main told the group that the money is not there for the governor to give out, but local governments have to apply. He urged the city to become innovative and apply for grants that would require matches.

The city had proposed several projects, including stabilization of neighborhoods by rehabilitating foreclosed houses, infrastructure installation for the Riverfront park project, replacement of sewer and storm drainage lines, restoration of the historic Lovelady Building, employment of new police officers, restoration of the Selma Interpretive Center, resurfacing streets and installation of new traffic signals in the city.

At the time, Evans told Main, “We don’t need questions; we need answers. We need money.”

But the money hasn’t arrived. Some officials in the Black Belt approached Davis about the large empowerment cities of Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville and Mobile receiving stimulus money, while smaller cities, such as Selma had to scramble.

Davis wrote a letter to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley about the issue. In his letter, the congressman pointed out the benefits of the stimulus money coming into the state, but also said “my office has unfortunately received too many complaints regarding our state government’s administration of recovery funds that are targeted at infrastructure and community development. The consistent refrain from numerous business owners, local government leaders and community groups is that there is too little transparency in the process; they complain that not enough information has been provided regarding the process for competing for stimulus dollars or the method the state uses for evaluating projects for funding. There is another constant theme that some of the most distressed counties in the state, including two counties with 18 percent plus employment, Dallas and Wilcox, have received almost no stimulus infrastructure funds.”

Davis proposed Riley send representatives to the meeting slated for June 22. Since that time, the congressman rescheduled the meeting for June 30.

Riley’s office fired back a salvo accusing Davis of playing politics and using the stimulus issue as a bully pulpit for his race for governor.

Jeff Emerson, Riley’s communication director, said, “His own poll numbers revealed that after running for governor for more than a year, he was barely ahead of a candidate who hadn’t even announced yet.”

Emerson said Davis’ letter was released to the media before the governor received a copy and maintained that was further evidence of a campaign ploy. Additionally, the state is complying with reporting requirements, Emerson contended.

“If the the congressman believes stimulus money is not flowing to people quickly enough, he needs to scoot on down to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and complain about that,” Emerson said. “I’s been three months since the law was signed and the Obama Administration has paid out less than 6 percent of the money to the states.”

Todd Stacy, the governor’s press secretary, had no response Wednesday.