The Associated Press adds today to a distressingly small body of media-watchdog work on the still unfolding stimulus. AP dug into the transportation dollars, which the White House talked up as a centerpiece of the initiative’s job-creation potential. Turns out shovels full of money are pouring into counties with low unemployment, while the ones struggling the most are getting little, er, stimulation. AP explains:
The very promise that Obama made, to spend money quickly and create jobs, is locking out many struggling communities needing those jobs.
The money goes to projects ready to start. But many struggling communities don't have projects waiting on a shelf. They couldn't afford the millions of dollars for preparation and plans that often is required.
It’s important to note that we’re only talking about the transportation money, which as AP notes is just $38 billion of the $787 billion expenditure. Other communities may do better when we get to stuff like school construction, for instance. But the president himself made lots of noise about the immediate economic bump the “shovel-ready” transportation projects would provide. The need for an immediate payout, in fact, crowded out lots of smart-growth and development plans beyond building more highways. Now, it turns out the new jobs aren’t coming to the places where they’re most needed.
AP’s report buttresses findings from an ongoing ProPublica investigation of the stimulus spending. ProPublica found a similar disparity at the state level back in February, when it crunched numbers based on the allocation formula. Wyoming, with an unemployment rate of just 3.2 percent, was slated to get a little over $20,000 per unemployed worker. Michigan, with its 9.6 percent unemployment, was to get just under $2,500 per unemployed worker. Check out ProPublica’s interactive map and chart comparing stimulus transportation dollars and jobless numbers.
All this wonkery is not nearly as fun as opining about the swine flu and Rush Limbaugh. (And hey, I’m a fan of both topics, certainly.) But for all the screaming—on both sides of the partisan isle—about government’s role in our economy, somebody needs to be reading the fine print. There’s a whole lot shaking inside the Beltway these days. And as we’ve seen—drug war laws, the Patriot Act, Iraq invasion—haste too often makes waste on Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue. So let’s hope we see increased and ongoing scrutiny for the implementation side of President Obama’s many important ideas.