August 21, 2009

Stimulus Jobs: Finagling the Definition of "Retained"

Monique Chartier

In a scene presumably also unfolding in other municipalities, the Woonsocket Education Department has applied for $2.4m of federal stimulus dollars so as to retain forty positions in the school system; more specifically, to prevent the closing of the [correction provided by MikeinRI] Davies technical school Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center.

The goal of stimulus spending was stretched from the get-go with the clever addition of the qualifier "saved", as in "3.5 million jobs created or saved". I understand and sympathize that Woonsocket has serious budget problems. At the same time, isn't it now stretching the goal of stimulus dollars beyond recognition to utilize them to address budget issues on the local level, especially in view of the state's upside down teacher pay to student achievement ratio?

Woonsocket school officials would contend - in fact, do so in the application - that they are applying for these funds in part to address academic shortcomings identified in the district. But is this not a matter that would have been more appropriately and effectively addressed during the course of contract negotiations over the course of the last fifteen years?

Now, if we multiply Woonsocket's request to spend stimulus dollars for this reason by school districts around Rhode Island and the United States, we are faced with the questions of utility, efficacy and possibly even honesty. Does the expenditure of stimulus funds - which are, we should remind ourselves, not free money but tax dollars - on public sector contracts of questionable feasibility truly benefit the economy?

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It does seem that an excessive amount of "stimulus" funds are going to failed governments.

It has not escapedmy attention that there is a special section of the Bankruptcy Code, just for governments. Chapter 12, I believe. I have never seen an editorial recommending that action. It seems so obvious, good enogh for GM , good enough for Woonsocket.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 21, 2009 6:41 PM

Monique, Davies is in Lincoln and does not service students from Woonsocket. Do you mean the Woonsocket Area Vocational? There is no threat that Davies will close. My nephew starts his senior year at Davies next week.

Posted by: mikeinri at August 21, 2009 9:19 PM

Funny, I was just looking at that, MikeinRI. The application says "to keep our career center open". As you said, that must mean the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center, not Davies.

Posted by: Monique at August 21, 2009 10:01 PM

The stimulus money (i.e. OUR tax dollars) were supposed to go towards improving infrastructure (i.e. investments in hard assets).

Instead, the stimulus has gone to fund Union-hack contracts ...another kiss to the Unions from Washington.

Rather than making the necessary decisions to lower the currently out of control and unsustainable cost structure that is driven by Entitlement-minded Union contracts, we have simply kicked the can down the road in usual fashion.

The only thing the stimulus is stimulating is the tit that our Public Unions suck from.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 22, 2009 8:09 AM

I've read - and seen no refutation - that feminists and others in Obama's coalition prevailed upon the administration to steer stimulus funds toward more feminine dominated areas (i.e., social services and education) and away from the traditional stimulus areas (infrastructure) the beneficiary / workers in which tend to be male.

Of course, infrastructure (except bridges to nowhere) at least provides some tangible and real benefits.

As we all know, throwing more money at welfare and unionized public education produces nothing of benefit to the general pubic, it just further enriches the unions and welfare recipients.


Posted by: Tom W at August 22, 2009 9:21 AM

Why the Stimulus Flopped - Mark Steyn - National Review

"That’s why the “stimulus” flopped. It didn’t just fail to stimulate, it actively deterred stimulation, because it was the first explicit signal to America and the world that the Democrats’ political priorities overrode everything else. If you’re a business owner, why take on extra employees when cap’n’trade is promising increased regulatory costs and health “reform” wants to stick you with an 8 percent tax for not having a company insurance plan? Obama’s leviathan sends a consistent message to business and consumers alike: When he’s spending this crazy, maybe the smart thing for you to do is hunker down until the dust’s settled and you get a better sense of just how broke he’s going to make you. For this level of “community organization,” there aren’t enough of “the rich” to pay for it. That leaves you."

Posted by: Tom W at August 22, 2009 9:58 AM

Tom, have no fear. When the economy begins to recover laudatory comments will be heaped on the "Stimulus" program.

In its time, WPA was a pork barrel. Today it is revered. The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) which employed young men in the Depression continued, with increased budgets, into 1944. In 1944, the midst of WWII, every young man was in the service or working two shifts.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 22, 2009 1:22 PM


The WPA was an investment in infrastructure ...hard, long-lived assets such as roads, dams, side-walks, etc.

The current stimulus is simply writing checks to fund outrageous Union-hack pay & benefits.

Union teachers, Police, Firefighters, etc., many of whom pay nothing or next to nothing for healthcare and receive Ponzi-scheme Pensions that allow them to Retire in their 40s & 50s, are not being forced to join the real world and absorb pay-freezes and/or cuts due to the fact that Obama-bucks continue to feed the beast, rather than starving it.

There is a BIG difference between making investments in hard assets vs padding the pocket-books of Entitlement-minded Union-hacks that feed at the public trough.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 22, 2009 2:22 PM

"The WPA was an investment in infrastructure ...hard, long-lived assets such as roads, dams, side-walks, etc."

That is the way we are taught to remember it, reinforced by the sidewalk plaques. Forgotten are all of the make work jobs for artists and writers, etc. The travel guides and murals. There is a measured drawing of my house in the Library of Congress, courtesy of the WPA. This is the tip of the bureaucratic iceberg. Whether they are valuable or not is an open question. But, I stand by my opinion that not all of the WPA work was "hard assets", only those that remain.

A look at literature from the time will show that many methods were used that prolonged work, rather than perform it efficiently. For instance a lot of "pick and shovel" work. The argument could be made that this provided work for the unskilled. On the other hand only half of the possible "hard assets" were produced. That leads to the philosophical question of whether you wanted to provide jobs, or hard assets.

The question was also posed at the time of why the depression lasted so much longer here, Europe was recovering. An example would be Germany. While we struggled to produce the Merrit Parkway, they built the AutoBahn and an equipped army 6 times larger than ours. The population was not starving during all of the German build up.

I note that that at present, the European economy is recovering while ours continues to decline. For reasons I don't fully understand, Germany is once again in the lead on recovery. It is notable that they were the only European country, of size, to avoid "stimulus".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 22, 2009 5:17 PM


Your points are well taken.

However, it is clear that today's stimulus dollars are NOT being spent to create anything NEW.

Rather, they are being spent to maintain the otherwise UNSUSTAINABLE existing public employee ENTITLEMENTS.

I wouldn't mind seeing our dollars spent on people inefficiently using picks & shovels if it meant (1) a job was created for an otherwise unemployed individual and (2) something productive was being done, albeit inefficiently.

Spending stimulus dollars to fund ENTITLEMENT-minded public employee Union contracts for Teachers, Police, Firefighters, etc., rather than having them accept the necessary reductions in their Unsustainable compensation to match the economic realities that we find ourselves in, is just setting us up for future problems.

And do think all those depression era construction workers demanded and received Union "prevailing wages"?

Posted by: George Elbow at August 22, 2009 6:34 PM

George, I couldn't agree with you more on the points made. See my initial post.

If you are old enough to recall the early 80's, you may recall CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act). The canard at the time, when you saw someone standing around, was "It must be a CETA job".

I am/was related to a WPA worker. I can assure you that conditions were miserable and they certainly did not receive "prevailing wage".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 22, 2009 11:24 PM