Stimulus not Stimulating | Citizens Against Government Waste

Stimulus not Stimulating

The WasteWatcher

The White House announcement on May 20 of 100 projects in 100 days of the stimulus, a plan that was intended to be “timely, temporary, and targeted,” was greeted with great skepticism, including an ongoing dispute about the amount of money that has been spent and how many jobs have (or have not) been created.

The White House claims $112 billion has been spent, while President Obama claims that the legislation has saved or created 100,000-150,000 jobs.  The Wall Street Journal estimated that only $29 billion has been spent, while the House Republican Conference cited Department of Labor unemployment figures that show 16,000 jobs have been lost each day, for a total of 1.6 million jobs, over the first 100 days of the stimulus.  An aide to House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) said that 99.7 percent of the $10 billion approved for the Transportation Department has not been spent.  He told the Associated Press, “To some extent, I think the administration oversold the transportation aspect of this. … It was sold as the heart and soul of the package, and it really isn’t.”  The Journal noted that 97.2 percent of the $20 billion approved for the Department of Education has not been spent.

President Obama lauded the achievements of the stimulus during his remarks at Nellis Air Force Base, conveniently located in the state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).  He cited the solar energy facility at Nellis, which has 72,000 solar panels and provides 25 percent of the energy at the base, as an example of what should be done around the nation.  He announced the availability of $350 million in Recovery Act grants for geothermal energy projects and $117.6 million in Recovery Act funding to expand and accelerate the use of solar energy.  He apparently missed the irony that the solar panel project at Nellis was completed in December, 2007, or 14 months before the passage of the stimulus bill, and that none of the 100 projects in the White House report were in Nevada.

The White House divided the projects by region; the report is a list of “normal” grants and contracts that federal agencies provide on a routine basis.  Other than being financed by Recovery Act funds, there was nothing special or stimulating about the list.

In fact, the report contained many questionable expenditures, such as “$865,000 for the Allen Parish Fire Protection District #4 in Kinder, Louisiana, to purchase four new fire trucks, modernizing their fleet with an upgrade from the 25-year-old trucks they currently have.”  There was also $14,658 for the Town of Sunset, Louisiana, population of approximately 2,400, to provide police cars with new radar equipment and cameras.  The White House report stated that the “radar units will help reduce speeding in the community, reducing accidents and injuries, and the cameras will provide documentation and safety for police officers as well as citizens..”  Sunset is 67 miles west of Baton Rouge and 144 miles from New Orleans.

According to, from 1975-2007, a period of 22 years, Sunset reported 17 fatal accidents and 18 fatalities, which amounts less then one accident and fatality per year.  While it may achieve this goal, the stimulus was not sold as a bill that would try to completely eliminate fatal accidents in a small town in Louisiana.

Kinder, which received the four new fire trucks, is closer to Beaumont, Texas than Baton Rouge.  According to the website of the Louisiana Interagency Coordination Council, the District #4 Fire Station in Kinder has 40 firefighters protecting 5,000 people.  That is equivalent to 800 firefighters per 100,000 population.  The city of San Diego has 940 firefighters, or 71 firefighters per 100,000 population, meaning Kinder has 11 times the protection from fires that is provided in San Diego.  Kinder does not need four fire engines, and certainly not four new ones at the taxpayers’ expense.

Another absurd project is $850,000 for a backup runway for the “Airport for No One” in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, being funded through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  The airport is named the Murtha Johnstown-Cambria Airport after porker extraordinaire John Murtha (D-Pa.) who chairs the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  Rep. Murtha has stuffed more than $150 million in taxpayer money to the airport since 1990.  While the airport can handle the largest commercial jets, it is served by only six commercial flights a week, and those are small planes.  It is hard to imagine that funding a backup runway for barely used runways will help stimulate economic growth around the country or be one of the best projects that could be funded by the FAA.  But that didn’t stop members of the House of Representatives from voting 154-263 on May 21 against an amendment to eliminate the $850,000 for the runway.

In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a city with one of the state’s highest home foreclosure rates and a $10 million budget deficit, “$550,000 in federal stimulus money is coming to build a skateboarding park and renovate tennis and basketball courts at Jenks Junior High School,” according to the March 17 Providence Journal.

The Journal reported that Federal Reserve Board claims that stimulus money is going to states that need it the most.  But the Associated Press reported that within the states, money is not going to areas with the lowest unemployment.  Because the projects had to be “shovel ready” the communities hit the hardest by the recession do not have the millions of dollars often needed to contribute to projects funded by the stimulus.  The AP reported that high-unemployment counties are getting 16 percent of the money, compared to 20 percent in areas with lower jobless rates.

During his first White House press conference on February 10, 2009, the President promised that citizens would be able to track every dollar spent in the stimulus bill, since it would contain “an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability.”  However, the government website that tracks the funds “won’t have any details on contracts and grants until October and may not be complete until next spring,” as reported in USA Today on May 6, 2009.

It may or may not be a coincidence that Rep. Murtha sits on the Appropriations Committee, as does Rep. Rodney Alexander (D-La.), who represents Sunset.  However, taxpayers deserve to know if there has been any communication from members of Congress to federal agencies in regard to the stimulus, which would violate President Obama’s pledge that the bill would be earmark-free.  Citizens Against Government Waste has sent Freedom of Information Act requests to federal agencies asking if they have been contacted by members of Congress, and to provide copies of any such communications.  As soon as information is available, it will be released to the public.

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