This past week marked the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s signing of the federal stimulus act. It’s a fair question to ask how much good, if any, the stimulus act did in creating new jobs or saving existing jobs.
If you listen to the people and the organizations who actually know what they’re talking about and have some expertise on economic matters, you’d have to conclude that the stimulus program has performed fairly well.
The Congressional Budget Office issued an estimate that as of September 2009, a little over six months after the stimulus act was signed, 640,000 jobs had been created as a result.
Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com, said in an Oct. 29 speech: “Although the exact number of additional jobs that would have been lost without the fiscal stimulus will never be known, it is clear that the number is significant. The research of Moody’s Economy.com suggests that a million fewer jobs would exist today.”
Moody’s and other economic research firms such as IHS Global Insight and Macroeconomic Advisers have estimated the number of jobs attributable to the stimulus act spending so far at 1.6 million to 1.8 million, with an ultimate job impact of 2.5 million.
Let’s take it down to the state level. One of the major recipients of stimulus funds was the Georgia Department of Transportation, which pulled in about $930 million to pay for highway construction projects.
Vance Smith, the DOT commissioner, was a Republican member of the Georgia House for 17 years before he got his current job. For more than 20 years he ran a family construction business in the Pine Mountain area. Smith understands that when you undertake a construction project, roads and buildings don’t magically appear by themselves: people have to show up and work to get it done. A construction project, in other words, creates jobs.
As a conservative Republican from rural Georgia, Smith can’t be very happy about the fact that a black Democrat is the president.
Nevertheless, even Smith’s DOT says that the stimulus funds created jobs in Georgia. A couple of weeks ago, the department estimated that highway projects funded by stimulus money resulted in 961 jobs over the past year and added that “more will be employed as more projects get under way.”
“The message is pretty simple,” Smith said at a news conference. “Transportation investment equals good jobs now and produces lasting assets for the future . . . Even though with all the stimulus funds we have, we still have great needs in the state of Georgia.”
A report issued in January by the state’s Office of Stimulus Accountability estimated that stimulus funds had accounted for more than 20,000 jobs in Georgia. That office is headed by Sid Johnson, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Sonny Perdue. Perdue, if memory serves, is a Republican who has been one of Obama’s biggest critics.
At a legislative hearing last July, state school Supt. Kathy Cox, who is a Republican elected official, testified that without the $1.5 billion in stimulus funds that Georgia had received from the federal government for education, the state budget cuts to public schools would have been “devastating.”
“We have had a positive impact on saving jobs in education with this money,” Cox told legislators. She added that the stimulus funds are “helping our systems focus on student achievement.”
Georgia’s Republican congressmen have routinely contended that the stimulus hasn’t created any jobs. But it’s amazing how many of them have requested stimulus funds for the jobs the money would create back in their district.
Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, for example, voted against the stimulus act. Isakson called the stimulus act an example of “throwing money at the symptoms” of the recession. Chambliss said it was proof that “Washington is more concerned with pet projects than with the welfare of taxpayers.”
But last summer, the dynamic duo went to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and asked him to steer $50 million in stimulus money for one of their own “pet projects,” a bioenergy initiative proposed by one of their constituents.
Gates turned down the request, but Chambliss and Isakson have continued to be graceless hypocrites about funding from the Obama administration. Last week, Obama announced the federal government would guarantee $8 billion in loans to help the Southern Co. build two nuclear power plants near Waynesboro in east Georgia. Chambliss and Isakson promptly issued a news release praising the loan guarantee, but did not mention Obama’s name a single time.
We saw that same kind of classy behavior from Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah last summer. In a July 28 floor speech, Kingston ranted: “Mr. President, where’s the stimulus package? Where are the jobs?”
On the same day as that anti-stimulus speech, Kingston’s press office sent out news releases boasting about a total of $245,000 in Department of Justice grants that went to local police departments in Alma and Jesup.
“We’ve seen from experience that local initiatives go a lot further toward solving local problems that policies set in Washington,” Congressman Kingston said. “This funding will provide tax relief by savings local tax dollars and, under the stewardship of Chief Takaki, will go a long way to fight crime more effectively through community policing.”
Both of those grants in Kingston’s district were funded by Obama’s stimulus act.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), like Kingston, voted against the stimulus act and has criticized it at almost every opportunity. But last October, Gingrey presented an oversized ceremonial check of $625,000 to the city of Cedartown to help pay for a local beautification program:
The money comes from federal stimulus funds and will fund the second phase of Cedartown’s Streetscape project, with new sidewalks, landscaping and other improvements to the downtown area . . .
Believing that the project qualified for federal stimulus funds as a “shovel-ready” project, Gingrey presented the proposal at the federal level, his spokesperson, Linda Liles, explained.
In a recent interview with the Gainesville Times, Rep. John Linder said that all spending of stimulus money by the federal government should be halted: “The first thing I’d say is no more spending. Of the half of the stimulus money that hasn’t been spent, we won’t spend it. We’d just put it back. We’ll just stop all that.”
Linder also blogged last October that the stimulus act “has done nothing for job growth in this country.”
Before he posted that particular blog item, Linder evidently had a higher opinion of stimulus funding. As reported by the conservative Washington Times:
Two weeks earlier, Mr. Linder had sent a letter to Mr. Vilsack [the agriculture secretary] backing an application for stimulus money by the Elauwit Community Foundation, records show. With unemployment in Georgia topping 10 percent, “the employment opportunities created by this program would be quickly utilized,” Mr. Linder wrote.
Let’s bring it down to the local level again with state Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger), a delicately handsome legislator from Gordon County who is running for the 9th Congressional District seat this year. Graves, who has never been in charge of the Georgia Department of Transportation and has never been responsible for governing a local school system, sent out this statement last week: “The stimulus has failed and the American people know it.”
Graves did not have that aversion to stimulus dollars last year when it came time to vote on the state budget. During the 2009 General Assembly session, there were four votes in the House to pass the amended state budget for fiscal year 2009 and the state budget for fiscal year 2010. Both of those budgets incorporated nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funds. Without the federal stimulus funds, both budgets would have run an unconstitutional deficit.
Graves voted all four times to adopt those stimulus fund-laden budgets.
Other ultra-conservative Republican lawmakers who voted four times to accept the same budgets included: James Mills, Mark Burkhalter, Charlice Byrd, Sharon Cooper, Jerry Keen, Mike Keown, Martin Scott, Chip Rogers, Chip Pearson, Tommie Williams, John Douglas, Bill Heath and Mitch Seabaugh.
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