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If you want to incite lively conversation during halftime of your next Packer party, ask how many jobs have been created by the federal stimulus.
Let’s just say that opinions differ -- widely -- on how effective the stimulus has been.
If your party-goers include Tom Nelson, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, he might chime in before anyone reached for another cheese curd.
"I have a track record of dealing with tough budgets as a vehicle, as a means to get people back to work," Nelson said in a radio interview that aired a week before his Sept. 14 primary win. "And we were one of the first states in the country to pass and to implement a statewide stimulus that has led to the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in every corner of this state."
That’s a lot of new jobs.
Nelson, the majority leader of the state Assembly, used the term "statewide stimulus." But he told PolitiFact Wisconsin he meant the federal stimulus money that was distributed throughout the state.
More specifically, Nelson said he was referring in the radio interview to the 2009 Wisconsin Act 2. That law, which Nelson voted for, was adopted in February 2009 by three-vote margins in both the Assembly and the Senate. It was a budget-adjustment measure that also directed an initial $300 million in federal stimulus funds to the state Department of Transportation. The money was for 47 projects, mostly on highways and freeways.
So, for Nelson’s "tens of thousands" of jobs statement to be correct, that $300 million would have to have created at least 20,000 jobs.
From the beginning, stimulus job-count figures have been beset with problems, in Wisconsin and around the country.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for example, found that an October 2009 report by the White House -- claiming stimulus money created or saved more than 10,000 jobs in Wisconsin -- was rife with errors, double counting and inflated numbers. In January 2010, the White House abandoned its method of counting jobs "created or saved." Instead, it began labeling jobs as having been funded by stimulus dollars.
That isn’t to say the stimulus has not had any effect. A July 2010 paper by two economists -- one from the public sector and one rom the private -- said stimulus spending created 2.7 million jobs.
But Nelson’s claim was not about all stimulus money, just that initial gush of cash given to the DOT.
Nelson said he based his jobs statement on "talking points," which he later said were based on two sources:
- The state website that tracks federal stimulus spending, which says 63,000 jobs have been created or saved.
- A November 2009 news release from state Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), which cites two statements about new jobs. One statement, from a contractors group and three unions, referred to a study that said the 2009 state budget would create more than 25,000 jobs. The other statement, from a transportation builders group, predicted the state budget and "remaining federal stimulus dollars will support" more than 28,500 jobs.
But Nelson is mixing apples and oranges.
The first talking point refers to jobs created or saved, when Nelson’s comment referred only to jobs created. What’s more, the 63,000 figure is based on all stimulus money given to the state as of August 2010, not the initial $300 million Nelson originally cited.
The second talking point moves everything to a different source. It claims the state budget -- not stimulus money -- would create the jobs cited. Or the budget and remaining stimulus money. Again, Nelson is off point.
There are hard numbers -- rather than predictions -- that Nelson could have used to gauge the effect of the $300 million given to DOT.
PolitiFact Wisconsin analyzed figures from Recovery.gov, the federal website that tracks stimulus funds. The latest data available show that, through the first half of 2010, the $300 million cited by Nelson funded 1,203 jobs.
There’s no way to know how many were created and how many were saved. But that’s miles away from Nelson’s original claim.
OK, almost time for the second half kickoff.
Where does all of this leave us?
Nelson stated that an initial $300 million in stimulus money for road projects created tens of thousands of jobs in Wisconsin. As evidence, he turns to much broader measures -- jobs created or saved, all stimulus spending, the state budget and stimulus money. But the actual jobs figure from the initial allotment barely exceeds 1,200 -- and even that is a mix of jobs created and jobs saved.
We rate Nelson’s statement False.
Wisconsin Public Radio, Hopefuls for Lieutenant Governor share job growth plans, Sept. 7, 2010.
How the Great Recession Was Brought to an End, report by economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi, July 27, 2010
A stimulus report card, PolitiFact.com, Feb. 17, 2010
Council of Economic Advisers, The Economic Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (page 26 of report, page 31 of pdf), Jan. 13, 2010
U.S. Government Accountability Office, Recovery Act -- Recipient Reported Jobs Data Provide Some Insight into Use of Recovery Act Funding, but Data Quality and Reporting Issues Need Attention, November 2009
Recovery.gov, How Jobs Are Calculated
National Governors Association, Wisconsin governors list
Wisconsin State Assembly, 2009-2010 Assembly Officers
E-mail interview with lieutenant governor candidate Thomas Nelson, Sept. 20, 2010
State of Wisconsin, Wisconsin 2009 Act 2
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Seeing double with job numbers, Feb. 4, 2010
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Don’t count on stimulus job tally, Nov. 4, 2009
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Stimulus jobs tally changes, Jan. 13, 2010
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Legislature passes budget-repair measure, Feb. 19, 2009
Wisconsin Office of Recovery and Reinvestment, Recovery Act Job Creation
State. Rep. Mark Pocan news release, Nov. 24, 2009
Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association news release, Nov. 24, 2009
Wisconsin State Legislature, Thomas Nelson biography
Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, Wisconsin Legislative Spotlight, Feb. 20, 2009
Princeton University, Alan Blinder biography
Moody’s Analytics, Mark Zandi biography
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