While most of its lawmakers didn't vote for the stimulus package, Tennessee still is among the top states in jobs generated through stimulus-funded federal contracts, according to an early report on the program's progress.
Aided by projects at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and ongoing work to build a new lock at the Chickamauga Dam, Tennessee ranked fifth among the states in the number of jobs the government estimates were saved or created from contracts directly awarded by the federal government.
Data about the federal contracts awarded and received during the fiscal year, which ended last month, provides an early snapshot on how some $16 billion of the massive $787 billion federal stimulus is being spent nationwide.
According to the federal Web site www.recovery.gov, there was $1.14 billion in contracts in Tennessee awarded from February through Sept. 30 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
So far, however, only $75.6 million of that amount has been received by federal contractors, who estimate the projects collectively have generated 1,156 jobs. More jobs are expected to be saved or created through these contracts as the full $1.14 billion filters through and when subcontracts are taken into account, officials said.
Three of the 10 biggest contracts awarded nationally are for Department of Energy contractors in Oak Ridge.
For example, UT-Battelle LLC, which manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has been awarded a $338.7 million contract that includes $60 million for a new Chemical and Materials Sciences facility as well as $73.3 million for a high-performance computer project dealing with climate modeling.
Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services was awarded a $270.3 million contract for the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge and Bechtel Jacobs Co. received a $227.1 million contract involving environmental cleanup in Oak Ridge.
In Chattanooga, the stimulus package also is helping the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expedite more than $62 million in funding for the new lock at the Chickamauga Dam. Although not all of the contracts have been awarded for that work, Chickamauga Lock project director Wayne Huddleston said the stimulus money is helping to sustain funding cut in the Corps' appropriated budget.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said some of the stimulus-funded projects are worthwhile. But overall, Sen. Alexander said, the spending plan has failed to revive the economy as promised.
"What the stimulus did was run up the debt, and we know it's not working because more than 10 percent of all Tennesseans are now out of work," he said. "These 1,100 jobs or so are not anything compared with the millions of Tennesseans who work and the hundreds of thousands who want jobs."
When Congress approved the stimulus package in February, there were 287,200 Tennesseans out of work and the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent. Last month, Tennessee's jobless rate was 10.8 percent with 326,700 persons unemployed - 39,500 more than seven months earlier.
Georgia Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane V. Kidd said she thinks the stimulus overall has helped prevent the economy from getting even worse by helping state and local governments and providing needed work for many contractors.
Without stimulus funding, she said, "we would have had to close some schools and lay off teachers and consolidate in some areas."
3rd district gets the most
Tennessee's 3rd congressional district represented by U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., was the biggest beneficiary of federal contracts of any congressional district in Tennessee or Georgia.
"There's a huge federal presence in my district," Rep. Wamp said. "We have done a better-than-average job in our state of actually taking the stimulus money and getting it out in the field, and we're ranked high there. Sure there is going to be some silver lining in this, but the dark cloud is still there."
Rep. Wamp said only 15 percent of the spending in the $787 billion bill was productive.
"You can't spend your way into prosperity," he said.
Nationwide, an estimated 30,383 jobs have been saved or created from the stimulus package. But many of the contracts list no jobs in the initial reports released Oct. 10. The Southeast Tennessee Human Resources Agency is getting $855,317 to buy buses, tracking systems and offices for the Cleveland, Tenn., area. But so far the project didn't identify any jobs created from the program.
Sen. Alexander made no apologies for fighting to secure federal funds from a package he opposed.
"Oak Ridge always gets a lot of money out of the federal government - that's how it exists," he said. "I'm glad it's getting the money, and we're going to fight for more because some of what the stimulus is doing is for good purposes."
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration reported earlier this month the state had received $203.7 million in federal stimulus funds that had created or retained an estimated 7,710 jobs.
But Sen. Alexander warned the debt incurred to provide the stimulus will prove costly for future generations and limit future economic growth.
"What we need to do is to get our debt under control and to start creating jobs in the private sector," he said.