Archive for January, 2010

Report: States Are Making More Effective Use of Web to Inform Taxpayers About Economic Stimulus Spending

January 26, 2010

Some states are making dramatic improvements in websites designed to disseminate information about their share of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), but others are still failing to make effective use of online technology to educate taxpayers about the impact of economic stimulus spending.

This is the finding of Show Us the Stimulus (Again), a report released today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit research center based in Washington, DC. It updates a similar study published by Good Jobs First last July.

The full text of the report as well as state-specific appendices can be found on the Good Jobs First website at www.goodjobsfirst.org/stimulusweb.cfm.

“Some states are making great strides in fulfilling President Obama’s promise that the Recovery Act would be carried out with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “Led by Maryland, which again receives the highest score, these states’ ARRA websites do a good job in helping taxpayers understand and evaluate the role of the Recovery Act in job creation and state fiscal relief.”

The Good Jobs First study examines the quality and quantity of disclosure by official state websites on the many different ways more than $200 billion in ARRA funding is flowing through state governments to communities, organizations and individuals. It looks at the availability of information on spending programs as well as specific grants and contracts, with emphasis on data relating to jobs and the geographic distribution of spending within states. Using seven main criteria, each state is graded on a scale of 0 to 100.

“We are impressed by ‘Cinderella’ states such as Kentucky and Illinois, which were ranked at the bottom in our previous assessment but broke into the top tier in the new ranking,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of both reports. “Numerous others have also improved their sites and are effectively incorporating the data states are helping to collect for the federal government’s Recovery.gov website. The state sites and Recovery.gov both have vital roles to play in helping the public evaluate the Recovery Act’s performance.”

The states with the highest scores in the new report are: Maryland (87), Kentucky (85), Connecticut (80), Colorado (72), Minnesota (72), Wisconsin (72), California (69), Illinois (69), Oregon (67), Massachusetts (65), Georgia (64), West Virginia (64), New Mexico (62), New York (62), Pennsylvania (62), Montana (61) and Arkansas (60).

At the other end, there are 11 states with scores below 20, reflecting the absence of adequate data on ARRA programs or specific projects. Starting from the bottom, they are: North Dakota (5), District of Columbia (6), Missouri (10), Alaska (13), Vermont (13), Louisiana (16), Mississippi (17), Idaho (18), Oklahoma (18), Texas (18) and South Carolina (19).

Although changes in methodology make exact comparisons impossible, the following states experienced major changes in ranking from GJF’s previous survey: Kentucky, which soared from 47th place to 2nd (an increase of 45 places); Illinois, which jumped from 50th to 7th (43 places); Minnesota, which climbed from 34th to 4th (30 places); and Utah, which rose from 50th to 24th (26 places).

Here are highlights of specific findings:

  • Most states do a good job of providing information on the composition of their ARRA spending, both in broad program categories (energy, housing, transportation, etc.) and in narrower ones. Only the District of Columbia provides no program allocation information at all.
  • Geographic breakdowns (by county or other division) are less common than summaries of spending by program category. Twenty-seven states provide geographic information, often with interactive maps.
  • Only three states—Kentucky, Maryland and Wisconsin—juxtapose the geographic distribution of spending with patterns of economic distress or need within the state.
  • Besides overall spending amounts, state residents may be interested to know where individual ARRA projects such as the repaving of a road or repair of a school building are taking place. More than half the states (28) now have some kind of project mapping feature on their ARRA site.
  • Via maps or otherwise, 41 states provide one or more of the following types of detail on projects funded through ARRA grants and contracts: description, dollar amount, recipient name, status, and the text of the contract or grant award. Four states—Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New Hampshire—have all five elements.
  • Despite the ready availability of jobs data at Recovery.gov, 10 states still have none on their websites: Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and the District of Columbia. By contrast, 16 states have jobs data on individual projects as well as totals by program area and for the state as a whole.
  • No state provides comprehensive data on wage or benefit levels in ARRA jobs or on the demographics of the workers in those jobs.
  • Only five states—Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi and New Hampshire—provide the full texts of at least some ARRA contract awards.
  • No state reports the share of ARRA contracts going to minority, women-owned or other disadvantaged business enterprises, though Pennsylvania is expected to begin doing so soon.

Based on our findings, Good Jobs First offers the following recommendations:

  • Put a summary of key information about ARRA spending at the top of the home page of the site. A graphic showing the main spending flows goes a long way in helping the average user begin to see what the Recovery Act is all about. There should be clear links to pages with details about the various specific programs.
  • Provide a map or table showing how overall ARRA spending and the amounts in key categories are being distributed among counties (or other geographic division) around the state.
  • Also show how the spending is distributed across the state in comparison to patterns of economic distress such as local unemployment and foreclosure rates.
  • Along with information on spending streams, provide details on individual projects—such as a particular transit improvement or weatherization effort—funded by an ARRA grant or contract. These details should include a description of the project, the dollar amount, the name of the recipient entity, the status of the project, and the number of jobs generated by the project, along with the text of the contract or grant award.
  • Where possible, display the location of the projects on maps. Interactive displays that allow one to drill down for details are better than static maps.

“At a time of intense public concern about the effectiveness of government spending designed to mitigate the economic crisis, states should be maximizing their use of online tools,” Mattera said.

Good Jobs First co-chairs the Coalition for An Accountable Recovery (http://www.coalitionforanaccountablerecovery.org), which works at the federal level. It also coordinates States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery, or STAR Coalition (http://www.accountablerecovery.org), which works with state-level organizations.

Report Deciphers Bond Provisions of the Recovery Act, Focusing on Accountability Issues

January 20, 2010

Perhaps the most obscure aspect of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is how it seeks to expand bond programs for public infrastructure and private economic development projects.  A report released today by Good Jobs New York explains how the Recovery Act’s new and expanded bond programs are facilitating economic recovery and where opportunities exist for public input. The report is available at www.goodjobsny.org.

The impacts of Recovery Act bonds are potentially enormous with billions of dollars in new lending authorized nationwide. Yet, there is little public discussion about how they work or if the projects they finance will create good jobs, concludes the study, Bonds and the Recovery Act: A Guide to Municipal Bonds Enabled Under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Their Potential Impacts on New York Communities.

“We hope this report will become a useful organizing and educational tool for many groups of New Yorkers,” said Bettina Damiani, Project Director of Good Jobs New York. “The report documents what the goals of specific bond programs are and if there are leverage points to make sure projects are accountable and create good jobs.”

The report reviews new and modified bond programs (private activity and governmental) through the lens of community needs and increased transparency and accountability: Are there public hearings? Are there prevailing wage requirements? Is priority given to low-income communities? What projects have already received such financing?

“Thanks to the Recovery Act, there are new and expanded municipal bond programs,” said Allison Lirish Dean, GJNY’s Research Analyst and lead author of the report. “But the process for issuing these bonds hasn’t changed despite the Recovery Act’s emphasis on transparency and accountability.”

The report includes commentary on approximately $74 million in approvals for Recovery Zone Facility Bond projects in New York City such as a parking facility at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, and a retail center known as “City Point” in Brooklyn.  Both projects were controversial because of the small number or low quality of jobs expected to be created. Also, the City Point project was widely opposed by Brooklyn residents and small business owners because in 2007 the City displaced numerous small, mostly locally owned stores for the development.

Bonds and the Recovery Act, while primarily a resource guide, does include policy recommendations:

  • Where possible, the Bloomberg Administration should include jobs created by Recovery Bond projects in the New York City Stimulus Tracker.
  • Any amendments to the private activity bond programs associated with the Recovery Act should increase the requirements for public input and include mechanisms that would guarantee low-income New Yorkers directly benefit from projects. Current language in the Recovery Act and additional guidelines put in place by the City last summer are too weak to guarantee that projects benefit New Yorkers who most need jobs or that they create good permanent jobs.

Bonds and the Recovery Act is online at: www.goodjobsny.org.

Study: States Should Grow Their Own High-Tech Jobs, Shun the Tax-Break “War Among States”

January 20, 2010

Pennsylvania and six other states vying with one another to grow their high-tech economies will best succeed by focusing on their existing employers and shunning the “economic war among the states” involving costly tax-break competitions.

That’s the finding of a major study released today by Good Jobs First. Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia are the states compared.

As states experience their most severe revenue crisis in post-war history, the study charts a positive alternative strategy for the most effective job-creation investments.

The study draws its conclusion from two unique analyses of Pennsylvania. One details where the state’s high-tech jobs have come from since 1990; the other reveals the effective tax rate for high-tech companies in all seven states. It finds only minimal differences among tax rates—even when the states’ most lucrative economic development incentives are accounted for.

“Over time, all the growth in Pennsylvania high-tech jobs comes when existing workplaces expand and new ones are born—not from smokestack-chasing,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First and primary author. “We believe the same analysis would find similar results for the six other states.”

Instead of competing with each other for specific companies, states’ resources will best be spent strengthening small, young and locally owned businesses, and improving the skills of workers to match industry needs, the study concludes.

Although interstate movement of high-tech jobs is almost negligible, offshore job flight is a far more significant issue. The study recommends redress be sought through federal trade policy, not to be confused with state tax policy. The study provides eight case studies of big-ticket incentive deals including Dell, Google, AMD, Westinghouse, two pharmaceuticals, a plastics factory, and a research lab.

The study was funded by the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments, a regional philanthropic leader in developing strategies to spur high-tech job growth. The public announcement of the study came just before a meeting sponsored by the Endowments to discuss implications of the findings with participants from the seven states and other economic development organizations. Good Jobs First is a non-profit research center based in Washington, DC promoting best practices in economic development. The study is online at www.goodjobsfirst.org/PAhightech.cfm.


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