CLIFTON PARK - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden touted his administration's economic stimulus plan June 9 during a speech he gave at Shenendehowa High School - and area Democrats basked in the spotlight in the event, the first visit by a U.S. vice president to New York's Capital Region in a decade.
In his speech, Biden said the Saratoga-Glens Falls region exemplified the prosperity that lies ahead, jump-started by the federal Recovery Act.
Countering recent criticism that the Obama administration hadn't taken enough action to spur the economy, Biden said the stimulus plan, with $16 billion committed to New York State, was already yielding benefits.
"People are putting shovels in the ground, jackhammers in old concrete and putting new steel on bridges," he said, referring to 300 infrastructure projects in the state, including transportation construction.
He said that New York State had been affected the worst by the "Great Recession" as he called it - so New York was getting the most help, and would gain the most from the Recovery Act.
"Six months ago, the market was in freefall. Our banking system was on the verge of collapse - job losses were staggering, there were foreclosures on every block - We inherited the largest economic crisis since the 19030s," Biden said, stressing that the economy recovery would take time.
"I guarantee you we will come out of this," Biden said to the crowd. "I guarantee you it's going to get better and you can see the progress we're making, right here in the Capital District."
Biden talked about the state's reinvestment of $1.14 billion in federal stimulus money in job retention and creation.
"Right here in New York State, it has meant $2 billion made available to the Governor and to localities to keep 26,000 teachers, that got pink slips, on the job," he said.
Biden praised Paterson for his work in putting the stimulus money to work quickly and appropriately.
U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy of Glens Falls was directly to the right of Biden, sitting on a high stool, as the vice president gave his speech. Murphy also talked about how the recovery would take time, but an economic turnaround was already underway in the 20th Congressional District.
"We've seen the over $200 million of projects here in the 20th District that have been green-lighted - a lot of these haven't been started yet."
Regardless of the euphoric crowd welcoming Biden, local Republican leaders criticized much of the stimulus act for which Biden was drumming up support in his multi-city tour.
Essex County Republican Party Chairman Ron Jackson, Town of Essex Supervisor, said he supported the way money was spent on infrastructure, but not on the obscure projects and studies, nor the corporate bailouts.
"The money spent on roads, bridges, water and sewer projects was all very good - particularly in the North Country where we're desperate for this infrasructure, and it's a good investment in the nation," he said. "But when you throw in the spending on a frog tunnel in Florida and a mouse refuge in California for millions of dollars, these are ridiculous and obviously pure pork for Democratic districts."
Jackson also criticized the bailouts of corporations as unfair. He accused the Democrats of imporoperly "buying votes" by making sure the workers were protected, while shafting stockholders with a loss of their entire investment - and bondholders with a loss of two-thirds of their assets.
"This wasn't fair, and it was a pure payoff to labor to buy votes - and our grandchildren will be paying for it," he said.
Warren County Republican Chairman Michael Grasso's criticism was stronger and wider in scope.
"Bailing out failing state government programs with less than 15% going to infrastructure improvements solves nothing, and trickle up expenditures just don't work," Grasso said, suggesting that instead private industries should have tax breaks and incentives to stimulare the economy. "The Recovery Act is late getting out and the 'shovel ready projects' do not appear to be so ready - Wasting money on such items as parks and perks will not stimulate the economy but mortgage our children's futures."
Nevertheless, in Clifton Park July 9, Biden's audience was enthusiastic and admiring, and Biden spent 20 minutes or so after his speech with the crowd signing autographs and posing for photographs.
Flanking Biden to the rear during his speech were Warren County Democratic Party Chairman Bill Montfort of Johnsburg and Saratoga County Democratic Chairman Larry Bulman of Moreau, who is also statewide vice chairman of the party.
After the event, Bulman said political opponents criticizing the Obama Administration's efforts were looking for instant economic solutions, which weren't about to happen.
Before the speech, Bulman and Biden chatted about the weather, the beauty of the surroundings, and about how Global Foundries' $4.2 billion semiconductor plant, now under construction, would soon be energizing the region's economy substantially. The development is expected to prompt prosperity in the upstate area, with 1,400 new jobs at the plant, and another 5,000 new jobs related to the operation, representing an additional $290 million in annual payroll for the region.
"Biden said to me, 'As a labor guy, you must really appreciate that,'" said Bulman, president of a local plumbers' and steamfitters' union.
Bulman said the crowd listening to Biden's speech was bipartisan.
"I definitely saw a lot of Republicans in the room," he said. Officials estimated the crowd was about 600 people. Many in Biden's audience had waited in line up to three hours earlier in the week to obtain tickets to the event. Biden told the crowd it was his largest turnout in all his recent community visits.
Montfort said he was pleased to be at the event, which he captured in photos with his cell phone, using one shot of Biden and the crowd as his new screen saver. He also conveyed a warm welcome to Biden from Warren County residents.
Montfort as well as Bulmer stressed that economic turnaround was a step-by-step process that would take many more months.
"Considering what has happened to the economy, it would be foolish to expect it to be straightened out in 140 days," Montfort said. "After a devastating storm, you have to clean up before you start the process of rebuilding."