:Chattanooga; :Oct 13, 2009; :Front Page; :1

Stimulus adds, saves jobs, report trumpets

By Andy Sher asher@timesfreepress.com

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NASHVILLE — Tennessee officials reported Monday that the state has spent $203.7 million in federal stimulus funds that so far have created or retained an estimated 7,710 jobs.

    The information is part of the state’s first comprehensive report transmitted to the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

    It comes to about $26,420 per job created or retained through Sept. 30. The state received $215 million in federal stimulus funds during the period, according to a state spreadsheet.

    The re-port says stimulus dollars so far have helped fund 310 projects, 258 of which were in transportation. Spending for highway and bridge work totaled $107.5 million and created or retained 417.6 jobs, according to the spreadsheet.

    Deputy Gov. John Morgan said in a statement that the state’s Recovery Act team
and other state employees devoted “hundreds of hours” with “no additional staff hired to handle the reporting process” to generate the report. He noted “it’s important to remember the Recovery Act is a two-year program and this is just the first reporting period.”

    Additional reporting will come quarterly. Tennessee is expected to receive a total of $5.6 billion in stimulus funding over the next two years.

    The Recovery Act is providing states, which have been hit hard during the recession, with more than $246 billion of the $787 billion appropriated by Congress for the stimulus. President Barack Obama’s administration says the money will create and retain jobs, result in new infrastructure investment and is speeding economic recovery.

    But Drew Johnson, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a free market-oriented think tank, charged the stimulus “isn’t a jobs creation program” at all.

“This is a wealth distribution program and a scheme that our kids and grandkids are going to be paying for for the next 50 or 100 years,” he said. “No matter how rosy the picture the state wants to paint, we would have been better off if we had been able to keep more money in our pockets to stimulate (the economy) ... rather than the money having to pass through the hands of dozens of government agencies who each take a chunk.”

    Tennessee officials said the most jobs created or retained — 3,574 — came from $44.2 million in “stabilization” funds intended to help state budgets weather the current economic storm. The money went toward jobs in K-12 education and higher education, which otherwise faced large-scale cuts, said Finance and Administration spokeswoman Lola Potter.

    She had no figures immediately on how many jobs may have been created versus retained in the category.

    Ms. Potter noted federal rules require some state agencies, such as the Transportation Department, to first expend state funds and then be reimbursed by the federal government. According to figures, the state Transportation Department had received $85 million in federal reimbursements of the total $107.5 million it had spent as of Sept. 30.

    But in another area, the state Finance Department has received $34.5 million in stimulus funds — primarily for state and local law enforcement — and has distributed just under $1 million, according to state figures.

John Morgan

Drew Johnson