If a state stimulus plan wins final legislative approval this week - as expected - as many as 3,000 Oregonians will be hired by April 1 to work on various "shovel ready" repair and maintenance programs around the state.

The effort by itself won't make a big dent in Oregon's unemployment rate - at 9 percent among the highest in the nation - but it's part of a broader push by state and federal leaders to start doing something right away to boost the economy.

Other larger public works proposals, including a big road and bridge improvement package, will be considered by the 2009 Legislature.

"It's a choice between putting Oregonians to work, or paying for their unemployment checks and food stamps," Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt said Monday in advance of this week's expected House vote in favor of the $175 million package of projects.

People who get jobs under the program won't be employed by the government but will be hired by private companies who sign contracts with state agencies to do about 500 public works jobs across the state. Many of the projects will be at universities and community colleges.

The state Department of Administrative Services is responsible for making sure those projects create or maintain jobs in the private sector and that Oregon businesses have a fair shot at getting the work.

There's no requirement that the jobs go to unemployed people, but with joblessness running especially high in the construction sector the idea is to provide work for people who've been laid off or are at risk of of losing their jobs, backers of the program say.

Construction shed 4,500 jobs in December, almost twice the 2,400 that is usual for the season, according to Oregon Employment Department figures.

The plan to sell $175 million in bonds to pay for public works projects was approved by the Senate last week over objections from Republicans who said the state is taking on years of debt to pay for routine or even make-work type maintenance jobs.

John Mitchell, a Portland economist, said the public works program by itself will have "minimal" effect on the overall economy, but he said this and other stimulus efforts are aimed at building public confidence that government is acting decisively.

"There's a feeling that, OK, we're trying to do something," Mitchell said. "It's part of a larger effort to end this economic downturn."

Legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski agree, saying the $175 million program that's up for a House vote is just a beginning step toward creating thousands of new jobs this session through public works programs.

Kulongoski, for example, is pushing a $1 billion transportation package that calls for a 2-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase and higher vehicle fees to pay for road and bridge improvement projects that will sustain 6,700 jobs a year.

In all, the 2009 session could end up approving projects that will create as many as 15,000 public works jobs, said Kulongoski spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor.

"The governor is pleased that the Legislature is moving on this issue quickly," Richter Taylor said.

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