Evidence was scarce that Saratoga County is Republican territory Thursday afternoon as Vice President Joseph Biden and two other prominent Democrats gave messages of hope that the economy is turning around.
Biden, Gov. David Paterson and Rep. Scott Murphy spoke at the Shenendehowa High School about the millions of dollars of federal stimulus aid that has flowed into the state and how it is being spent.
Each man received rounds of applause and hoots from the crowd of about 600 when the message turned to job creation, tax cuts or improved roads and bridges.
Biden said the country will “come out of this God-awful recession” strong and confident.
He said the Obama administration is committed to the middle class and has demonstrated the commitment with income tax cuts, security for the banking system and money to improve the infrastructure, which has created or sustained employment.
“This is going to take a while,” Biden said to the crowd. “We’re cleaning up the wreckage of a storm.”
So far, $16 billion in Recovery Act funds have been obligated to New York State, including $2 billion for education, $700 million for transportation and many projects.
Paterson said federal stimulus money is already being spent to repair streets, roads and bridges and will be used across the state to create 6,800 jobs in the next few months. He said $391 million in federal highway money was dedicated to specific projects by the end of May, a month before the deadline set by Washington.
“Summer job programs for youth was suspended for 13 years, but there is a summer jobs program in effect right now,” Paterson said. He said the crisis is an opportunity to expand the economy.
Biden said the money for roads, bridges, water and sewer improvements represents the biggest government investment in infrastructure since the Eisenhower Administration.
“We have shovels in the ground, jackhammers in old concrete and new steel on bridges.”
Biden also announced that the U.S. Department of Labor had earmarked more than $275 million in unemployment insurance incentive funds to the state, making it easier for unemployed workers seeking part-time work and those unemployed for family reasons to be eligible for benefits.
The state Department of Labor can use the funds to pay unemployment benefits or, if appropriated by the legislature, for administering its unemployment insurance program or delivering employment services, according to Biden’s office.
The vice president singled out many of the local elected officials in the audience, including Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings.
“That’s a real job,” the vice president said. “I’d never take it, it’s too hard.”
Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton was also at the event.
The crowd at the high school began to gather before noon although Biden was not expected to speak until 2:30 p.m.
County Democratic Committee Chairman Larry Bulman said he had asked the vice president during inauguration festivities to come to Saratoga County before the year was out.
“I thought maybe he would come during track season, but this is great,” Bulman said.
Thomas Richardson, county supervisor from Mechanicville, said the visit spotlighted the area’s economic progress with the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant construction about to start and final approvals expected soon for a $40 million intermodal and automotive rail facility in Halfmoon and his city.
“The economy is in a downturn, but we’re still moving forward,” Richardson said. “We’ll take a pat on the back for doing a good job.”
Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Peter Aust said strategic planning by local officials over several years will come to fruition with federal aid.
“I think the recent infusions of stimulus money will make sure we don’t falter in our plans.”
Congressman Scott Murphy said he learned of the vice president’s plans to visit Clifton Park last week and welcomed the chance to highlight local projects.
“The 20th Congressional District has already received $211 million in recovery funding alone, which includes $41 million to replace outdated water and sewer systems and $41 million for roads and bridges,” Murphy said. “It will also be used to help small businesses and to bring new business in.”