Weekly Wrap: Early Stimulus Reports Show Gain in Teaching, Construction Jobs

Teachers, construction workers and public safety officials appear to be the initial winners from the states' share of the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package, according to the first quarterly reports filed by states to show how many jobs the rescue plan saved or created.

States were required to file the reports to the federal government by Oct. 10, but federal officials won't release the complete state-by-state information until Oct. 30. Many governors made public their states' reports this week after forwarding them to Washington, D.C., offering a preliminary glimpse of whether the stimulus has been effective.

"The fact is, it's working," asserted Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D), who stressed at a news conference that Oregon would be worse off without the $4 billion the state will receive from the package. So far the spending has created more than 8,200 jobs, mostly in education and highway construction, the governor said.

Despite the stimulus, education jobs have been one of the casualties of the recession. A federal jobs report issued by the Labor Department Oct. 2 showed a record year-to-year decline in education jobs in September.

In Ohio, more than half of the 13,144 jobs saved or created were education-related, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer . Ohio will get $8.5 billion from the stimulus. New Mexico officials said more than 8,600 teachers, construction workers and police officers kept their jobs or found new ones because of the stimulus. The state will receive $3 billion in all.

In North Dakota, the Associated Press reported, window installers, arts coordinators and new teachers for children with learning disabilities are among the jobs credited to the first dollars spent of the state's $571 million share of the stimulus pie.

According to a tally by the Associated Press , the stimulus created 62,000 jobs in education in California, 2,600 teaching jobs in Utah, 8,500 school jobs in Missouri and 5,900 in Minnesota. Michigan officials said they saved or created 19,500 jobs, three out of four of which are in education.

Alabama tallied more than 4,450 jobs - including 1,640 in construction and 836 in education. A University of Alabama economist said 50,000 jobs eventually may be created from the state's $2.4 billion share of stimulus funds.

"This early data confirms that the Recovery Act is working across the country to keep tens of thousands of teachers in the classroom and construction workers on the job during these tough economic times," Elizabeth Oxhorn, spokeswoman for the White House recovery office, told the AP.

Still, some state officials said no one should be sanguine about the overall fiscal condition of states, especially as the stimulus dollars dry up after next year.

"It's been a godsend on many fronts, but it hasn't been enough to save us from what's coming," former New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya (D) told the Santa Fe New Mexican . Anaya heads the state's stimulus office.

On Thursday (Oct. 15), the federal government posted the first job-creation reports from contractors who received federal stimulus grants. The contractors reported creating or saving more than 30,000 jobs so far, according to the Associated Press , with construction jobs leading the way.

But analysts cautioned about making too much of the reports because they cover only up to $12 billion in contracts and contain inconsistent data from contractors showing the number of jobs saved or created.

"The jobs data included in the recipient reports should not be interpreted as a full measure of the impact of the Recovery Act," said John Irons, an analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C.

President Obama's goal is 3.5 million jobs saved or created. The White House Council of Economic Advisers said last month that the stimulus plan had kept a million people from losing their jobs. Republican critics said the numbers were inflated.

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At a time when states are cutting spending and raising taxes to cover budget gaps, any whiff of waste, fraud and abuse in government will not go down well with residents.

Virginia is the latest state bedeviled by troubles with its information technology system. State auditors said Virginia's system, run by giant California defense contractor Northrop Grumman, is riddled with network crashes, implementation delays and personnel clashes. The state is spending $2.3 billion on a 10-year project to update its IT network, the largest outsourcing contract in Virginia history.

According to the Washington Post , the problems have affected almost every state agency that uses a computer. A prison was left without incoming phone service for hours, the Virginia State Police in Newport News lost Internet access for more than three days and computers in motor vehicle offices crashed.

Auditors said canceling the contract and switching to a state-run system could cost the state $400 million. Even if the state had the money, officials would not have anyone to run the system if Northrop pulled out. Northrop Grumman, which is asking the state for additional money to complete the contract, said the state shares the blame.

"If this were a divorce, where are we? ... Counseling," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R) said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch . "Clearly, I would like to see a reconciliation, but only time will tell whether that's effective."

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New Mexico is joining neighbors Arizona and Nevada among the states hardest-hit by the recession. The state's revenue shortfall swelled to $650 million this week on the eve of a weekend special session of the Legislature to balance the budget. In August, the gap was $433 million. State officials also face a Medicaid financing deficit of up to $300 million.