Politics & Government

Job stimulus report suffers from fuzzy math

New numbers released by the federal government Friday estimate that the federal stimulus package has helped create or save 34,500 total jobs in Washington, making it the state with the third-largest reported number of stimulus jobs, behind California and New York.

But there’s a caveat on those job creation numbers: 24,000 of them probably weren’t in danger in the first place.

State officials used a chunk of stimulus money to cover paychecks for 24,000 teachers who were already contracted to finish out the school year. That money came from a pot of stimulus funds given to the state to help offset budget cuts.

Without that funding, the money to pay the teachers would have come out of the state general fund, said Jill Satran, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s main adviser on stimulus projects.

That would have meant cuts elsewhere, Satran said, but the job losses that would have resulted from such cuts is difficult to quantify. Few, if any, of the 24,000 teacher jobs would have been among them, Satran said.

“It would not have likely come from those teachers,” Satran said Friday. “Somewhere along the way, we would have had to make some really dramatic cuts or looked at other options.”

Cheryl Arvidson, spokeswoman for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board that oversees stimulus spending, said that the federal Office of Management and Budget gave states and grant recipients guidelines on how to calculate jobs created. Beyond that, the board hasn’t taken steps to correct or challenge job numbers they’ve received, she said.

Federal agencies distributing grants had a chance to comment on the reported job numbers earlier this month, but only the reporting agencies can correct the figures, Arvidson said.

Regarding Washington state’s inclusion of the 24,000 teacher jobs in its count, “that’s a state political issue,” Arvidson said. The board is mainly responsible for getting the information to the public via the recovery.gov Web site, she said.

“We are simply reporting on our Web site what has been reported to us,” Arvidson said Friday.

The county-by-county breakdown of jobs created by state stimulus spending includes the teacher numbers that don’t fit neatly into the categories of “jobs created” or “jobs retained.”

According to state data, stimulus grants funneled through the state to Thurston County have amounted to $137 million, about $27 million of which has been spent so far. State officials estimate that money has resulted in 1,503 jobs, which includes both jobs retained – ones that supposedly would have been cut without the funding – and new jobs.

That number doesn’t include the number of jobs created by Thurston County projects that received stimulus funding directly from the federal government instead of through a state process. As of Sept. 30, the stimulus package had funded a total of 171 grants and contracts in Thurston County, according to the federal data.

In all, state agencies, local governments and businesses in Washington were awarded $5.5 billion in stimulus funding between Feb. 17 and Sept. 30, according to the data released Friday. By the end of the reporting period, about $1.4 billion had been spent statewide.

Whether the stimulus is working as intended has become a hot button political issue.

Senate Republican budget chief Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, pointed to the state’s 9.3 percent unemployment rate as proof that all is not well.

“The question is has the stimulus affected opportunities for private, full-time employment, and certainly it hasn’t,” he said.

Zarelli said when the stimulus money runs out, the state will have to replace it or make cuts – unless the federal government sends more.

More data will be released in January as funding recipients report their progress during the next quarter of the year.

Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058

melissa.santos@thenewstribune.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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