By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Political sides were sharply divided Wednesday one year following the signing of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill here in Denver.
While Republicans are calling it a “failed” plan, Democrats here in Colorado say if it weren’t for the $6.7 billion Colorado is expected to receive from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the state would be struggling to close much more than its already more than $2 billion budget deficit.
Gov. Bill Ritter pointed out that on the anniversary of the stimulus signing, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $10 million for Colorado’s U.S. 36 corridor project between Denver and Boulder — a part of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant Program, which is part of Obama’s stimulus legislation.
“Every state is facing transportation challenges and the TIGER grant program was designed to help our nation address some of the most critical needs while helping our economy,” said Ritter.
Supporters of the stimulus plan point out that in Colorado, it has funded about 50 roadway projects, and has put more than 13,000 people to work just in the construction industry alone.
The stimulus dollars also allowed Colorado to prevent cuts to higher education through more than $520 million in budget stabilizing funds, saving about 3,400 full-time jobs; provided more than 600 loans with lower fees to small businesses; provided almost $600 million in contracts to 125 Colorado companies; funded 31 projects with the aim of improving drinking water and wastewater systems; and provided extra food stamp benefits to more than 370,000 Coloradans, according to just some of the recovery data released by the governor’s office.
The White House estimates that in Colorado, an estimated 33,000 jobs were created or saved by the Recovery Act.
Republicans see things differently
Republicans, however, point to different numbers. Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said supporters of Obama’s stimulus plan here in Colorado said the legislation would create 60,000 jobs in the state. But he points out that Colorado has lost an estimated 86,000 jobs over the past year.
Wadhams not only lashed out at Obama for the stimulus bill, but also powerful state Democrats who joined the president at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science last year for the now legendary signing ceremony.
“President Obama asked Coloradans to ‘hold us accountable’ one year ago today and now it’s time to do so,” Wadhams said Wednesday. “(Denver) Mayor (John) Hickenlooper, Sen. (Michael) Bennet and Gov. Ritter are just as responsible as President Obama for this failed ‘stimulus’ bill that has done nothing but drive up unemployment and the federal debt.”
Critics point out that over the year, the state’s unemployment rate rose from 7.2 percent to 7.5 percent — though that number has dropped back down to around 7.3 percent. Critics also point out that an estimated $247,000 was spent just on signs promoting stimulus roadway projects.
Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, believes the Obama administration and Colorado Democrats are inflating the stimulus data to make it look like more jobs are being created or saved. He says the administration does this by “moving the goal posts by redefining the terms ‘saved or created.’”
“The administration has continually lowered standards on accounting for stimulus money and now no longer tries to keep track of jobs saved, jobs created, or even a running total,” said Coffman. “All they report now is a quarterly total of jobs funded with stimulus money. It’s a meaningless number that does nothing to provide insight on real economic growth — because there just hasn’t been any.”
Obama defends stimulus
Obama himself defended the stimulus legislation Wednesday, lashing out at Republican critics who say it hasn’t been working. In a White House speech, the president said Wednesday that he believes the stimulus will save or create 1.5 million jobs in 2010 after saving or creating as many as 2 million jobs thus far.
“Our work is far from over but we have rescued this economy from the worst of this crisis,” he said.
The president pointed to Blake Jones, chief executive of Boulder-based Namaste Solar, who introduced Obama last year during the stimulus signing ceremony and joined the president Wednesday at the White House.
“One year ago, Blake gave us a tour of one of his company’s solar installations, on top of a museum in Denver, right before I signed the Recovery Act into law,” said Obama. “And at the time, Blake was pretty sure that the recession would force him to lay off about half of his staff. One year later, because of the clean energy investments in the Recovery Act, he has instead added about a dozen new workers, and expects to hire about a dozen more by year’s end.”
Ritter praised Obama and his stimulus plan for improving the state’s economy and allowing the nation to recover.
“The act is keeping people on the job,” said Ritter. “It’s keeping the doors of small businesses open. It’s improving our infrastructure, keeping the safety net from collapsing and providing tax cuts, unemployment benefits, job training, health care and education opportunities for our children. And there is much more to come.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters