Figures belie claim red state gets no green

Figures belie claim red state gets no green

June 26th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

A Georgia official says the state is losing out to Florida on federal funding because President Barack Obama doesn't expect any electoral votes from the Peach State in the 2012 election.

But Florida received less stimulus money per person than Georgia, according to federal records.

At the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission meeting this month, Executive Director Bill Steiner told members the state had received only one federal brownfield grant - used to clean contaminated areas - compared to 18 in Florida.

One reason for the disparity might be election projections that show Georgia as a reliably red state for Republicans but say Florida could go either way, Steiner said.

"I've seen it before," he told the group.

But according to recovery.org, the federal website for tracking stimulus funding, Georgia received $6.75 billion federal dollars, or $674 per person, while Florida took in only $587 per person.

North Carolina - which went for Obama in 2008 - received $800 per person, and Tennessee - which didn't - was awarded $901 per person.

At $1,004 a head, South Carolina received the most stimulus money in the region, and it's been solidly Republican in the last three presidential elections. It's also the home to Rep. Joe Wilson, who infamously shouted "You lie!" at the president during a 2009 health care speech to Congress.

After the regional commission meeting, Steiner said he didn't have any facts to back up the statement and acknowledged the claim was based on limited observation.

The Obama administration said Steiner's claim is false.

A COMPETITIVE PROCESS

A White House spokeswoman, who didn't want her name used, said federal grants, including the brownfield grants, are awarded through a competitive process based on merit and detailed criteria. Selecting the grant recipients is not politically motivated, she said.

A staffer with Obama's 2012 campaign, who also didn't want his name used, wouldn't say how the campaign sees the election outcome in Georgia, but said hundreds of volunteers have made thousands of phone calls on the president's behalf over the last few months.

Dalton State College political scientist Ken Ellinger, who admittedly leans left, said Steiner's claim is a "cheap shot" at the president.

"Georgia politicians specialize in taking cheap shots at Obama," he said. "They seem to think that's part of their job."

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia, however, is not convinced. He thinks politics enters into the equation.

"There is no question that federal policies and funds are used as political tools by the Obama administration, with the president's stimulus bill and health care law being the primary offenders," Graves wrote in an email last week.

Graves, who was elected last year and already has made a name for himself as a staunch spending cutter, said Obama is not the first leader to spend federal dollars politically, but he called for an end to the practice.

"Decades of using taxpayer dollars for political pandering has put even the most worthwhile projects at risk," he said.

Over the past year, Georgia officials have lamented a lack of success with federal transportation grants on everything from high-speed rail from Atlanta to Chattanooga to a streetcar in downtown Atlanta. State leaders also have been rebuffed on attempts to get federal money for $600 million worth of improvements to Savannah's port.

That may be changing, however. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told The Associated Press he believes there is a "significant appropriation" coming from Washington to the port this year. Reed, a Democrat with close ties to the Obama administration, was one of several mayors invited to the White House earlier this month.

A CHILL IN THE AIR

But while Reed has positive ties to the administration, most other Georgia leaders have negative connections, and some pundits have suggested that a chilly relationship between lawmakers and the president doesn't help Georgia win friends.

As a congressman, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was among the lawmakers demanding to see Obama's birth certificate, and he stayed in Congress just long enough to vote against the president's health care legislation before resigning the night after the vote to run for governor.

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican, was criticized for using the racially charged term "uppity" to describe the Obama family in September 2008.

Georgia Rep. Paul Broun was chastised for not immediately condemning an audience member who asked after a February town hall meeting, "When is someone going to shoot Obama?"

Broun responded by acknowledging "a lot of frustration with this president," according to media reports, and said he looked to the 2012 election as a chance to elect a conservative leader who would repeal federal health care legislation spearheaded by Obama.

Graves, along with Republican Reps. Jack Kingston, of Savannah, and Phil Gingrey, of Marietta, are among 21 lawmakers protesting Obama's use of "autopen" technology to sign the renewal of the Patriot Act in May. Obama was in Paris, France, for a G8 financial meeting when the act was passed by Congress late in the evening, and it had to be signed before a midnight deadline that would have let several provisions of the Patriot Act lapse.

But Ellinger said those conflicts shouldn't and probably don't factor into funding decisions.

"Presidents and administrations can't get away with taking revenge on people who criticize them," he said. "I don't think there are a lot of Georgia politicians on Obama's Christmas card list, but the personal relationship is a different issue."