KINGMAN - "I think it's a time of testing, a time of difficulty. We have had other crises in the history of this country and we have recovered, and we will recover," Sen. John McCain told a large crowd of Mohave County residents and the Board of Supervisors Thursday morning.
After meeting with officials in Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, the senator stopped at the County Administration Building to meet with the county supervisors and take questions from residents during a tour of Mohave County Thursday.
"It does require government intervention and government help," McCain said of the current economic situation.
"We desperately need dollars for Mohave County for county-level roads. We need to build new roads. We need to repair existing roads," Board Chairman Tom Sockwell said.
He also brought up the issue of expanding improvement districts, such as the one in Golden Valley.
"We absolutely need more of that," McCain said. Unfortunately, there was much less funding for transportation costs in the current stimulus package than he had hoped for, he said. And it was unclear how funds from the package would be disbursed to the states and down to the local level.
There are other disbursement provisions in the bill, he said, including $8 billion for a light rail system from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
"They might need a light rail from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, but I'd like to have Mohave County compete on an equal basis for those funds," McCain said. "I worry a lot about the provision in this bill that channels this money to projects that otherwise wouldn't be competitive with others. Including a bridge not far from here, which is very badly needed."
"I know there are some things in the stimulus package that are there to help people who cannot make their payments," said resident Joe Sheahan "The things I'm looking at are people like myself who do make their payments who have lost a lot of equity we had in our home. There's nothing there to help us. There needs to be something in there to help us."
"The hard part is, why should someone get help when I have worked hard and stayed in my home?" McCain said. "One of the answers to that is, if that person has to leave their home, then it's going to affect the value of your home, and it's going to continue to decline. So, we had to take steps to stabilize home values. It was home values that started this conflagration, and it's the stabilization of home values that will bring us out.
"It's kind of a careful balance between trying to help someone stay in their home, and at the same time, certainly not help the speculator," he said. "There's no good answer to one of these things."
If a person walks away from a home, it then becomes a liability for the county and the city, which have to look after the abandoned property, he said.
McCain said he believes that the federal government mishandled the $750 billion of the Trouble Asset Relief Program.
"I think the president's proposal may be headed in the right direction for the first time, focusing our attention on homeowners," he said.
The amount of money for the stimulus package was "staggering," McCain said.
"We're talking about amounts of money we've never contemplated before," he said. "The thing I'm worried more than anything about is, who's going to pay off that debt. It's going to be our kids and our grandkids."
Resident Penny Pratt asked about funding for education in the stimulus bill.
"Our students are not going to receive the education that they need with the loss of some 57 to 60 teachers," she said. "That hits us both, here now with our children and also in our future."
The increase in class size will only increase the educational problems, she said.
At a certain point, class size does become a problem, McCain said.
"I think the No Child Left Behind Act was a good beginning," he said. "But it was the first time we had gone in this direction, and so we need to review it. We need to fix the problems that we have found and we need to improve it.
"My great worry, as we go through this economic crisis, is the cuts that are being made in education," he said.
Resident Verna Schwab asked if McCain could help with the push for funding for the expansion of the Golden Valley Water Improvement District.
A number of residents live on fixed incomes and cannot afford the assessment cost of the expensive project.
McCain said he would make sure that the process was open and competitive and the best use of taxpayers' dollars with emphasis on creating jobs for Americans.
"The quicker we can put that money into job creation, the more important the project is. We need to create jobs in America, and we are in the most difficult time of our lives," McCain said.
Resident Denise Bensusan asked about current efforts at the U.S. House of Representatives to expand or restart uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
McCain said he had not seen the bill yet because it had not yet left the House.
"But I understand the controversy of the issue associated with the issue of uranium mining. And we need to balance the creation of jobs with the effects of the past and the effects on the Colorado River," he said.
"It seems to me we haven't had enough of a dialogue on both sides of that issue."
Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan asked about illegal immigration, the protection of the state borders and 2nd Amendment gun owners' rights.
"I recently visited the border. We are making great progress on building the fences. I think it's about 80 percent complete," McCain said.
"There's a huge problem going on right now on the Mexican side of the border, and unfortunately, it's spilling over onto our side of the border," he said. Mexican drug cartels are causing all sorts of problems for the Mexican government and in turn causing problems for the U.S. and the Arizona governments, he said.
"I'm very worried. It is our demand for drugs that's fueling this. It is our demand for drugs that is providing millions and billions of dollars to these drug cartels," he said.
"So, maybe we also ought to try to do something here at home."
McCain still supports securing the border, but he reminded residents that around 40 percent of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. currently came on legal visas. Many of them did not return home. "Even in these difficult economic times, I still think we need a temporary worker program in some areas, such as agriculture," he said.
Kingman City Councilwoman Janet Watson asked the senator about other bills he might be working on in the Senate. He said there were a few bills he was working on in order to help control cost overruns on defense projects. "There's something badly wrong with our system, and it's your dollars that are being wasted," he said. "We need to reform the way we do business in Washington to restore some of the trust in Congress."
There are a number of congressmen who are currently embroiled in troubles and a system of earmarks that needs to be eliminated, he said. He pledged to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats in order bring back public trust in Congress. After leaving the Board of Supervisors, McCain met with officials from the city of Kingman.
Kingman Mayor John Salem described the 20-minute meeting as "very productive," covering a number of economic issues central to Kingman's fiscal well-being, including mining and contractor concerns. "We talked, obviously, about the state of the economy, what was being done on the federal level," Salem said. "As far as the economy goes, from his point of view, based on the expertise of economists that he knows, we're probably not going to be pulling out of this state of the economy until the end of this year."
In their conversation, Salem said he emphasized the myriad cuts Kingman has already had to make at the local level in order to stay fiscally sound. He expressed his concern over any further cuts that might affect Kingman's population. "With us, its about how, at the local level, we've already made budget cuts to make adjustments for the economy," Salem said. "We're concerned with cuts at the federal level that will directly affect people living here in the Kingman area, like health care."
Salem added that McCain expressed a desire to tackle pork barrel spending in the stimulus program, particularly programs he believed would not actually stimulate job growth and consumer spending. "From the things that he said, I would say that the outlook was a little on the bleak side, from his perspective," Salem said.
The senator also met with the editorial board of the Miner on a variety of topics including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the stimulus package, the economy, green energy and more. McCain also made a point of greeting each employee in the building before he left.