Most stimulus aid for construction work not spent in first year

Most stimulus aid for construction work not spent in first year

July 13th, 2010 in Stimulus

PDF: Onvia Stimulus spending report


United States: 73,587 projects for $204.7 billion

Tennessee: 1,648 projects for $4.7 billion

Georgia: 3,126 projects for $6.7 billion

Alabama: 1,922 projects for $5.3 billion


From first year of stimulus







Source: Onvia Government Analytics,


The states that paid out the lowest shares of their stimulus money for completed contractor jobs through March 2010 include:

1. South Carolina, 0.2 percent

2. Delaware, 3.7 percent

3. Idaho, 5.7 percent

4. Ohio, 6.7 percent

5. Virginia, 7.0 percent

6. Illinois, 7.4 percent

7. Tennessee, 7.7 percent

8. Rhode Island, 7.8 percent

9. New Mexico, 7.8 percent

10. Georgia, 8.3 percent

Source: Onvia Government Analytics

Nearly a year and a half after Congress approved the $787 billion stimulus package, Whitfield County Commissioner Chairman Mike Babb still is waiting on money to pave local roads and help cut Dalton's double-digit jobless rate.

So far, Whitfield and neighboring Dade counties are yet to get any contracts from the biggest stimulus in U.S. history.

"Whitfield County is kind of like a middle-class American," Mr. Babb said. "We're not broke enough or big enough to demand attention from the federal government, but we're not poor enough to get some of these benefits."

Across Georgia and Tennessee, more than $11 billion has been designated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for everything from building roads, bridges and new locks on dams to helping pay for weatherization upgrades and new high-speed data links, according to government reports.

But a new study by the government contracting firm Onvia Inc. found that only 7.7 percent of the money allocated for projects in Tennessee and 8.3 percent of the money set aside for Georgia projects had been paid out by the end of March.

Both states were among the 10 slowest states to put money in the hands of contractors performing work under the federal economic stimulus program.

"The early projects last year involved shovel-ready projects which were cued up and ready to be funded," said Michael Balsam, chief strategy officer of Onvia, the Seattle-based company that tracks government contracts and conducted the stimulus study. "But the funding mechanism and pipeline for most other projects included in the stimulus package takes time to be set up, and then contracts have to be bid out and ultimately the work completed. In many instances that will take several years, and a lot of these contracts have been slow in coming."

Much of the stimulus package was used to provide $246.9 billion in tax cuts and to give $95.1 billion in aid to state and local governments faced with recession-induced loss of tax revenues. But among the federally funded infrastructure grants for construction and rehabilitation, most of the money is yet to be paid out.

Differences across region

The amount allocated under the stimulus program varies widely across the region, depending on the availability of federal facilities and the number of local requests for government assistance.

In Anderson County, Tenn., for instance, $877.6 million in federal funds are being provided through the stimulus program for a variety of research, cleanup and energy development programs.

Nearly one of every five stimulus dollars coming to Tennessee is being funneled through Oak Ridge , making Anderson County the top per capita county recipient of federal funds under the stimulus program of any county in Tennessee, Georgia or Alabama.

In contrast, however, the Onvia data indicates that no stimulus projects yet have been awarded in Dade or Whitfield counties in North Georgia.

"We were rejected in our initial request for two road projects around Dalton, but we've applied again," Mr. Babb said.

The Obama administration says many projects are being finished this summer, ranging from more than $52 million of work on a coffer dam and walls for a new and larger lock at the Chickamauga Dam to $1.6 million in road-paving projects in North Chattanooga.

Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Steel workers assemble one of the last piling cells that will close in the new Chickamauga Lock.

Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Steel...

With May unemployment at 10.4 percent in Tennessee and 10.2 percent in Georgia, both states could use the help.

State officials insist they are being judicious with the federal funds to avoid a sudden ramp-up in state spending and hiring only to be followed by budget and staff cuts once temporary funds expire.

"We've taken a very conservative approach to stimulus spending, because what we didn't want to do was to forward all of that spending into the first year and then be left with a big budget gap if, as what happened, the economy didn't immediately recover," said Bert Brantley, director of communications for Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Mr. Brantley said that strategy was used "so you would not have a big ramp-up and then a falloff that would have brought hiring and then layoffs with peaks and valleys in spending."

Lola Potter, communications manager for Tennessee's Department of Finance and Administration, said the state now has obligated 70 percent of its stimulus funds. But the Onvia study indicates that not all local agencies have awarded contracts, and much of the money is yet to be paid out because contract work is ongoing.

"We exercised due diligence in all steps required to distribute the funding," Ms. Potter said. "If that's taken a little more time, we believe it's time well spent."

Continue reading coverage of stimulus spending.

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Are stimulus funds being spent wisely in the Chattanooga area?