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5 years later, economic stimulus’ legacy is a thing of debate

Some signs of the law, including people, serve as reminders

POSTED: February 23, 2014 12:19 a.m.

The federal stimulus was certainly a boost to Christie Pinson’s personal economy.

Five years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers used part of its share of the congressionally authorized money to hire summer workers, including Pinson.

Today, the former seventh-grade English teacher from Alabama is working full-time for the corps, managing day-use parks at Lake Lanier.

“I would not have had this position and opportunity, otherwise,” Pinson said. “It definitely changed my life for the better.”

The politically charged federal law’s impact may be debatable or at least more evident in some economic sectors than others beyond its stated purpose: jump-starting the battered economy five years ago.

But the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17, 2009, has left some reminders, such as teachers hired, roads resurfaced and new technology acquired.

“Stimulus funds were used to make up for the state cuts, so that we could keep people employed,” said Merrianne Dyer, superintendent of the Gainesville school system. “This was the largest expenditure of (the money).”

Will Schofield, Hall County schools superintendent, agreed.

“It allowed us to hire a number of teachers. I’m sure a lot of them are still around.”

The law’s fifth anniversary last week was recognized in Washington, D.C., reopening old wounds, with rhetoric flying along partisan lines,

White House economic adviser Jason Furman said the $787 billion spending bill made targeted investments that will pay dividends for years to come.

By itself, the stimulus bill saved or created an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years through the end of 2012, he said in a White House blog post.

Republican leaders in Congress had a different take on the law.

“The ‘stimulus’ has turned out to be a classic case of big promises and big spending with little results,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement. “Five years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, millions of families are still asking ‘Where are the jobs?’”

Nearly $7 billion flowed to Georgia, including $87 million to Hall County, because of the law, according to a U.S. government website, recovery.gov.

Education grabbed the lion’s share, with almost $50 million going to Hall alone.

One huge casualty of the Great Recession, which lasted 2007-09, was school districts seeing their funding evaporate through eroding property values.

“We lost 21 percent of our tax digest,” Schofield said.

In addition, the state made deep cuts, known as “austerity reductions,” which “resulted in the potential loss of jobs to teachers,” Dyer said.

The stimulus money “really backfilled (those losses), helping to keep the lights on,” Schofield said. “We used it for operating costs.”

Transportation was another big sector affected by stimulus, with Hall receiving $5 million, according to recovery.gov.

“All Hall projects were resurfacings, so they were planned and needed based on the annual review of pavement condition,” said Teri Pope, district spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“These projects were sitting on the shelf, shovel-ready. They would’ve been done as funding allowed.”

The corps received $8.6 million for projects on Lanier, including electrical upgrades in campgrounds, painting and asbestos removal at the Buford Dam powerhouse, and restrooms at several parks.

“We have an operational management plan that shows us a five-year outlook of what we want and need to do, and usually we can’t do any of it,” said Tim Rainey, the corps’ operations project manager at Lanier.

“We have a lot of deferred maintenance that we still have to do that we can’t ... afford to get to, but (the stimulus) did allow us to make great strides.”

The corps also got money to study the lake’s depths and map it, which helped the corps in comparing flood and conservation storages, work that is ongoing.

Under the law, there also were a wide variety of grants that went for different purposes, such as a $762,600 Energy and Efficiency Conservation Block Grant for Hall County.

The money allowed the county “to retrofit its existing buildings with more environmentally friendly and cost-friendly upgrades,” including replacing old light fixtures with newer, energy-efficient models, said Katie Crumley, Hall’s spokeswoman.

In an overall effort completed a year or two ago, the county also updated its heating, ventilating and air conditioning units.

“I believe a number of other, smaller changes were also made to conserve energy and become more energy-efficient countywide,” Crumley said.

Much of the stimulus also was expected to boost the construction industry, which was hammered by a halt in home building and commercial projects.

“Unquestionably, it did help a number of contractors survive by putting projects out for bid that might not have been funded otherwise and at a time when private demand was rapidly disappearing,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America.

“And it left the country with quite a large number of highway, water, sewer and other projects that should be providing value for decades to come.”

The impact on the construction industry itself is harder to gauge.

“I would say that total construction employment has been growing, although slowly, since the beginning of 2011, which is about the time the stimulus funds for construction were used up,” Simonson said.

“Whether it was a question of stimulus jump-starting private demand or demand would have come back on its own is almost a matter of theological belief rather than sure economic measurement.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Previous versions of the captions with this story included an incorrect agency for Ranger Christie Pinson.


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