The Economy Today: Stimulating Paperwork

News from Georgia, Montana, Nebraska, and elsewhere

In national headlines, USA Today reports that “less than one-half of 1%” of the money set aside for highway repair and construction has been distributed, according to the federal transportation department. Predictably, Republicans are saying there’s too much red tape, while Democrats are calling for more patience. The two sides will get to air their thoughts at a committee hearing today (check out the live Web cast here at 11 a.m.), “where agency officials will report on progress in spending the package’s $64.1 billion in transportation and infrastructure funding.

A McClatchy report shows that every state and five U.S. territories have already declared how they’ll spend at least half of the highway funds allotted them in the stimulus package. The deadline for doing so is Monday, June 29, and all the states got their reports at least ten days in advance, with Hawaii the final state to do so. Of the 5,300 approved transportation projects (representing $19 billion set aside), about a third are under way.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reports that in the first quarter, the economy “tumbled at a 5.5 percent pace,” at a slightly slower pace than the 5.7 percent annualized decline reported a month ago. The revised GDP reading was released today by the Commerce Department, and a report on the second quarter will be released at the end of next month.

The village of Buckeye Lake, 30 miles east of Columbus in Ohio, is one of the largest in the state that doesn’t have a public drinking water system. Stimulus money will fund the bulk of the construction, which began yesterday, and the project is scheduled to be completed by July 2010, according to the Dayton Daily News.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports on five highway projects for which the state is seeking funds, noting that some more ambitious projects are off the table because funding is contingent upon projects that can be completed by early 2012. At a news conference, Gov. Dave Heineman rebuked the Federal Highway Administration for showing “more interest in stimulating paperwork than jobs.”

Gov. Brian Schweitzer yesterday unveiled a Web site that will track how federal stimulus dollars are being used in Montana. But the Billings Gazette notes that thus far, the site is lackluster, currently offering only a list of approved projects, general areas for which the state’s nearly $2 billion have been allocated, and a user-unfriendly 334-page monthly report that included errors. Here’s hoping the Gazette will continue to keep track of improvements in the site’s accuracy, usefulness, and user-friendliness.

Schools in Richmond County, Georgia, are worried that teaching jobs saved with stimulus dollars will be temporary. “If the state economy doesn’t turn around in the next year or two, jobs saved could become jobs lost,” says the Augusta Chronicle. Employees “not being paid out of the system’s general fund will have to sign paperwork acknowledging they are paid out of the stimulus.”

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.