The value of the government’s economic stimulus program has been a hot topic of debate, particularly during this political season, but — not surprisingly — the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act gets warm reviews in Oak Ridge, reports Frank Munger.
The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office received about $1.9 billion from the 2009 Recovery Act. About $1.2 billion of that windfall was designated for projects — ranging from environmental cleanup to construction of new research facilities — to be carried out in Oak Ridge. Now into the fourth year of the program, DOE still holds tens of millions of dollars to be spent in 2013.
While the precision of stimulus job counts has been questioned by the Government Accountability Office and others, DOE spokesman Mike Koentop said a total of 3,863 jobs had been created or saved in Oak Ridge as of the end of July. At that time, there were still 424 workers supported by Recovery Act funding, Koentop said.
Much of the Recovery Act work in Oak Ridge has been carried out with subcontracts, which end as projects are completed and don’t impact the regular contractor workforce at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex and other federal facilities. Because the work was spread out over four years, there haven’t been the huge employment spikes — followed by steep layoffs — seen at other DOE sites with a lot of stimulus money to spend.
“The economic benefit has been huge,” Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said. “It’s spilled over into retail and housing and the services industry. It’s had a dynamic effect.”
U.S. Rep. Phil, R-Tenn., is one of more than 120 House Republicans who voted against the 2009 economic recovery package and then sought stimulus funds, according to the Kingsport Times-News, citing a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) claim.
Last week, Roe presented Takoma Regional Hospital officials in Greeneville with a $1.3 million stimulus check as partial reimbursement for the hospital’s investment in electronic health records. Afterward, the Tennessee Democratic Party fired off an e-mail to news media outlets calling the check award a “hypocritical handout.”
The TDP e-mail said: “Congressman Roe doesn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars but he’s happy to dole it out. This is exactly the kind of sham leadership that has Tennesseans so frustrated with the Republican Congress.”
When contacted for a response, Roe said in an e-mail: “You can’t spend over $816 billion dollars and not do some good things. But the real question is, was the stimulus legislation a waste of taxpayer dollars? ”
Until now, new charter schools in Tennessee got between $600,000 and $700,000 in federal grants to cover startup costs in their first three years, including big-ticket items such as building leases. But the money has dried up reports the Commercial Appeal.
“It’s a significant strain to say the least,” said Freedom Prep principal Roblin Webb. “That’s the money you use to find and lease facilities, pay your teachers. “We could not have started without the money. This is huge.”
Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton expects he will have to delay opening of several of the seven charter schools he hoped to open in the fall of 2012 in Orleans Elementary, Manassas High and Booker T. Washington High in Memphis.
“In all candor, I was shocked to hear the new startups would not have necessary ingredients to launch new programs,” he said. He plans to seek funding from philanthropic and corporate sources.
For years, Tennessee charter operators got $225,000 to use the year before the school opened, followed by another $250,000 to cover operational costs before state per-pupil tax money began flowing to the schools, said Rich Haglund, director of charter schools at the state Department of Education.
“If a school opened with 100 students, they would get one-tenth of their (Basic Education Program tax funds) that August. That is not going to pay their operational costs,” he said.
From The Tennessean:
In July, Tennessee’s transportation commissioner applauded the opening of the state’s first truck- stop electrification terminal at TR Auto Truck Plaza in Dandridge, a project taxpayers paid for with a $424,000 federal stimulus fund grant.
Thursday, the shiny new equipment languished uselessly as U.S. Bank took possession of the bankrupt business after an auction at the Jefferson County Courthouse failed to solicit a single bid.
While not as spectacular a flop as Solyndra — the California solar panel manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy last month after receiving a $535 million guarantee from the federal government — the truck stop’s collapse further illustrates flaws in the way stimulus projects were evaluated that extended to the state level.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Transportation approved the stimulus grant to Mountain Plaza Inc., the truck stop’s owner, despite many red flags. The company, whose creditors included the state and federal governments, filed for bankruptcy protection in the middle of the process. A review of public records shows evidence of the company and its owner’s past and present financial troubles was readily available.
TDOT officials stress that the department was simply passing along the federal grant funds it had applied for and that no state money was involved.
…Mountain Plaza’s grant was part of $2 million that TDOT received from the EPA as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The money was doled out to truck-stop electrification projects along Tennessee interstate corridors. The systems reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality by allowing truckers to hook up to air conditioning and electricity so they can shut down their engines.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created 17,622 Tennessee jobs in first quarter 2011, according to a Memphis Business Journal analysis.
As of March 31, 2011, the Recovery Act created 879 projects in Tennessee with an average of 20 jobs per project. The median number created was 1.7 jobs. The 25 largest job-creating projects accounted for 81 percent of the jobs created in the quarter.
Eleven of those projects focused on creating jobs and making improvements statewide. Job-creating projects in Tennessee received an average of just under $2.8 million in federal funds.
The median amount of funds received was $297,277. The top 25 projects based on number of jobs created accounted for 55.8 percent of funds received in Tennessee during first quarter 2011.
While criticizing federal stimulus funding as he campaigns for governor, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp is also praising some projects that have benefited from the money, Andy Sher reports. The leading example is Alstom, which recently held a grand opening for its $300 million Chattanooga plant, hailed by Wamp without mentioning that Alstom collected $63 million in tax credits thanks to the American Recover4y and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
“Alstom’s investment into Chattanooga means good high-end manufacturing jobs for our region’s workers,” Wamp said at the grand opening. “The location of this factory underscores the importance of Chattanooga and the Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor for energy technologies in the nation.”
The Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor is an economic development promotion effort that the Chattanooga congressman founded and has touted during his gubernatorial campaign.
…Rep. Wamp voted against the federal economic stimulus program and repeatedly has criticized it. In a news release last December, for example, he labeled it as “excessive government spending that has not led to economic recovery or job creation.”
Still, the Alstom plant is one of several projects or programs, aided at least in part by federal stimulus funds, that the congressman has lauded since the stimulus package passed. That fact has not gone unnoticed by Democrats and other Republicans.
“While there are many stimulus hypocrites … in the Republican Party, Wamp seems to flip-flop on his stimulus position on a near-monthly basis,” said Think Progress, a blog operated by the Washington-based liberal Center for American Progress, last week.
Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s blog took aim too, calling Rep. Wamp’s praise of the Alstom plant “yet another entry in the chronicles of Recovery Act hypocrisy.”
In an interview with Chattanooga Times Free Press editors and reporters last week, Rep. Wamp defended his praise of such projects as Alstom, despite voting against and criticizing the federal stimulus.
“There’s always a silver linhttp://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2010/jul/04/anti-stimulus-wamp-quick-to-praise-its-projects/ing in the cloud,” he said. “I said probably 15 percent of this will actually create some economic development and 85 percent of it is going to saddle us with long-term debt.”