State Web Sites Fail to Track Stimulus Money
By Aaron Glantz, Editor At New America Media
The state of Illinois has already received more than $10 billion in federal stimulus money, but good luck figuring out what happened to it.
The state’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) Web site does not contain a list of projects funded with stimulus dollars — let alone a list of companies who received contracts, a breakdown of stimulus money spent by region, or an estimate of the number of jobs created by those projects.
There’s no way to know if the federal dollars – which are meant to help the country climb out of its recession — are being routed to economically depressed areas like East St. Louis or Chicago’s tony North Side.
Indeed, a new report, Show Us the Stimulus, released Wednesday from the non-profit research center Good Jobs First, said the Prairie State has the worst Recovery Act Web site of any state in the nation.
A spokesperson for Illinois Governor Pat Quinn failed to return phone calls seeking comment for this story. The state’s Recovery Act Web site does not list a phone number for public inquiries.
Other states scoring poorly included Utah, which only gave information about money earmarked for highway projects, and Kentucky, which has only broken down the $3 billion it has received into general categories like Medicaid, education, roads, and energy.
But of the 50 states, Illinois was the only one to score a double zero for failing to provide any relevant information about how it is spending the largest public investment in infrastructure since the Great Depression.
“It’s ironic President Obama’s home state would be the only one to score double goose eggs,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First. “Regular people there are going to have a lot of trouble finding out what’s going on.”
In Chicago, good government organizations were not surprised by their state’s poor showing. “The Web site is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Ralph Martire, director of the state’s Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.
“Illinois tends to lag the nation in everything meaningful,” he said. “We have the least transparent government in the land. Our most recent governor (Rod Blagojevich) was impeached and the governor before him (George Ryan) is now in prison.”
Martire said the $980 million in stimulus funding earmarked for Illinois’ roads and highways is being spent “without any regard to minority participation or which parts of the state have been most hard hit by the recession, or any of the other federal guidelines that stipulate the money be allocated to distressed communities.”
Instead, he said, the state government decided to allocate 45 percent of the money to the Chicago metropolitan area, with the balance going to “downstate” communities and then applied for a federal waiver after the fact.
While Illinois was the worst, Good Jobs First found only a handful of states were doing a good job showing the public how their money was being spent.
“It’s not surprising that the average taxpayer is bewildered by the stimulus,” said the organization’s research director, Phil Matera.
“The paramount objective of the Recovery Act is job creation and retention. Yet only four states—Colorado, Maryland, Washington and West Virginia—currently provide any employment data for individual projects on their main ARRA site,” the report read.
“Very few states juxtapose the geographic distribution of stimulus spending with patterns of economic distress, such as county unemployment rates or foreclosure levels,” it added.
A few states were singled out as having good Web sites, including Colorado, Washington, and Maryland, which was given the highest score (80 out of 100) for it’s recovery Web site.
Maryland’s Recovery Act site, StateStat, lists individual projects funded by the Recovery Act and the contracts tendered to carry out those projects, gives a geographic distribution of stimulus spending overlaid with local unemployment rates, and lists the number of jobs created by each project.
Good government groups in Maryland said they were not surprised by the accolades. Ryan O’Donnell, the spokesperson for Common Cause Maryland, said his state’s governor, Martin O’Malley, has long been a leader in putting important government information on the Internet.
“Your average citizen isn’t interested in every last penny,” said O’Donell, “but they want to know that the money is going to the recipients that it’s supposed to go to. They want to know that the money isn’t going to be shifted around and used for programs that it wasn’t meant for. That’s where the Web site is important.”