Stimulus Funds Spent On Stimulus Road Signs

You've probably seen a lot of these signs popping up lately.

You’ve probably seen them at least once or twice in the past year, those signs informing us that whatever pothole-filling project happens to be tying up traffic at the moment was paid for by the 2009 “stimulus” package. Well, ABC News reports that those signs have been paid for with about $ 20 million of stimulus funds:

As the midterm election season approaches, new road signs are popping up everywhere  millions of dollars worth of signs touting “The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act” and reminding passers-by that the program is “Putting America Back to Work.”

On the road leading to Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC there’s a 10′ x 11′ road sign touting a runway improvement project funded by the federal stimulus. The project cost nearly $15 million and has created 17 jobs, according to recovery.gov.

However, there’s another number that caught the eye of ABC News: $10,000. That’s how much money the Washington Airports Authority tells ABC News it spent to make and install the sign  a single sign  announcing that the project is “Funded by The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act” and is “Putting America Back to Work.” The money for the sign was taken out of the budget for the runway improvement project.

ABC News has reached out to a number of states about spending on stimulus signs and learned the state of Illinois has spent $650,000 on about 950 signs and Pennsylvania has spent $157,000 on 70 signs. Other states, like Virginia, Vermont, and Arizona do not sanction any signs.

One state brags it posts signs but manages to keep the process cost-effective. The Tennessee Department of Transportation boasts, “There are a total of 324 signs statewide for a total cost of $12,931 and an average of $37.67 each.” The reason for the small cost, they say, is that their signs are small– about equal to a speed limit sign.

In response to questions by ABC News, Jill Zuckman of the Department of Transportation said, “The best estimate is that states have spent about $5 million of the $28 billion spent on road projects on signs  or less than .02 percent of overall project spending.”

Still, some Republicans are crying foul. Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Earl Devaney, Chairman of the Recovery Act and Transparency and Accountability Board, requesting an investigation to “determine the scope and impact of the Obama administration’s guidance” regarding signs to stimulus recipients.

Rep. Issa writes that the passage of the Stimulus Bill, “has provided an opportunity for the Obama administration to claim political credit for the various projects around the country that have been funded by this redistribution of taxpayer dollars.”

At the center of the controversy are a series of guidelines provided to stimulus recipients. In the letter, Rep. Issa cites what he calls “perhaps the most overly political guidance on stimulus advertising” involving the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a stimulus recipient. According to investigators from the oversight committee, HUD provided the Office of Native American Programs with information on “signage requirements.” The document suggested a sign template informing the public the projects had been, “Funded By: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Barack Obama, President.”

Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) has joined the chorus of Republican outrage over stimulus signs and claims at least $20 million has been spent on them. He told ABC News, “I think it’s a bit of an oxymoron to spend tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, borrowed money, on a bunch of signs to tell them how we are spending their taxpayer money.”

Indeed, but it is quite honestly a time honored political tradition, especially as we get closer to Election Day. Politicians love to remind voters who’s responsible for the latest make-work project, especially if it helps to distract them from figuring out who’s responsible for paying for that project.

It’s hardly outrageous then, and at least you’ll know who to blame while your stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic thanks to road construction.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    Given the pointed fact that the stimulus has been less than stimulating, i can see these signs having a follow-on use.

    Post one with a new caption: When you see this sign, do you feel the Stimulus or the shaft?

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Well it stimulated the sign makers didn’t it? If Schock is shocked over a tradition that’s as American as apple pie we can comfortably assume is outrage largely phony.

  3. Tano says:

    Hmmm, a rather interesting take on things….

    “Politicians love to remind voters who’s responsible for the latest make-work project”

    Where does this “make-work” stuff come from? That America is burdened with a crumbling and deteriorating infrastructure is hardly in dispute. The several stimulus projects going on in my town are all very desperately needed, and there are few more projects that should be funded.

    ” especially if it helps to distract them from figuring out who’s responsible for paying for that project.”

    Huh? Are you saying that without those signs, drivers would be sitting in their cars trying to figure out who would be paying for this work they are passing? And that a sign – making it perfectly clear that the money is coming from the stimulus act, is somehow obfuscating that?

    “It’s hardly outrageous then, and at least you’ll know who to blame while your stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic thanks to road construction.”

    Is there some magical way to fix roads without causing traffic tie-ups? Are grownup people really unable to understand that, and have some need to “blame” someone because their roads are being repaired??

    And could someone please explain to Rep. Schock what an oxymoron is?

    “Rep. Issa writes that the passage of the Stimulus Bill, “has provided an opportunity for the Obama administration to claim political credit for the various projects around the country that have been funded by this redistribution of taxpayer dollars.””

    And whats wrong with that? They should include on the sign – ” …..stimulus act, which was passed despite near universal opposition by Republicans”
    Real truth in advertising – and an informed citizenry…..all that kind of stuff

  4. Franklin says:

    I must admit, I agree with many of Tano’s points. Our town’s been trying to round up some funds for the crumbling 4-lane bridge that has, for safety reasons, been reduced to a 2-lane bridge for the past couple years. Talk about traffic congestion – that’s what happens withOUT stimulus money.

    But still, I’ve seen these signs and they’re perfectly unnecessary. ALL road construction is coming from one tax or another, you don’t need to tell me.

  5. Herb says:

    It’s awesome that you posted a sign from Colorado. I see these everyday, and at first I thought it was a bit rude. It was like a finger in the eye to all the anti-stimulus folks having to drive by it everyday. (The sign in the pic above is pretty innocuous. There are signs on our roads that actually thank Barack Obama on behalf of Bill Ritter.)

    But make-work? Maybe in your neck of the woods, but out here…..long-delayed and long overdue, not to mention much needed, projects are finally happening. Here. In this country. On my commute.

    Thanks, Democrats. I’ll thank the Republicans for wasting trillions in Baghdad later.

  6. just me says:

    I am not sure signs have been a long tradition for road projects.

    Up until the stimulus I have never seen a “Paid for by . . .” sign at a construction site. Although I do think in general politicians are very good at making sure they get credit for bringing bacon home, just not convinced it involves posting a “paid for” sign by the project. Although there are a lot of buildings and roads named after famous politicians who are good at bringing home the pork.

    I do confess to cursing Obama and the current congress multiple times over my recent 34 hour round trip in my car everytime I hit another construction delay.

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    I have seen quiet a few ‘make work’ projects mostly because stimulus rules required ‘shovel ready’ projects in order to speed things along. In my area that meant asphalt overlays and mostly where it wasn’t yet needed.

    The sign thing has bothered me for years. It’s not the cost, that’s minimal compared to the projects themselves, it’s the self serving nature of the agencies putting them up. Hey, look at us we’re building you a road. Spare me, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. Putting up those signs is patting yourself on the back even though it’s us taxpayers footing the bill. How about STFU and just do your job?

  8. JKB says:

    Well, if the funds are being used to fund projects delayed due to their unimportance, then all we’ve gotten for the stimulus is debt to pay off for uneconomic investments. Any of these projects actually geared to create a path for economic development or just to ease the mindless commutes of a dying metropolitan area?

    If the bridge franklin mentions would have improved the economic fortunes of his town, then the city leaders were negligent in their inability to float a bond issue.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    I wonder if we could run an experiment hooking electrodes to people’s brains to see if they have a positive or negative reaction to seeing these signs (and also test for partisan differences). I suspect that more people have a negative reaction to these signs, either because they signal construction delays or crass politics.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    BTW/ Congressman Schock’s proposal to cut spending on road signs was a part of YouCut, the GOP website for identifying places the government can save money.

  11. John Burgess says:

    …that’s what happens withOUT stimulus money.

    Wrong. That’s what happens when states and counties and municipalities mis-prioritize their spending. Instead of hiring more bureaucrats, those entities could have spent their tax income on infrastructure. But roads and bridges don’t vote or kickback.

  12. Tano says:

    “mostly because stimulus rules required ‘shovel ready’ projects in order to speed things along”

    This is totally false. There certainly was an effort to find some shovel-ready projects, because the stimulus was needed quickly. But the majority of stimulus money was designed to be spent from 1 to 3 years out.

  13. Herb says:

    “If the bridge franklin mentions would have improved the economic fortunes of his town, then the city leaders were negligent in their inability to float a bond issue.”

    “That’s what happens when states and counties and municipalities mis-prioritize their spending. ”

    You know….these criticisms would have a whole lot more weight if a certain “Not with my tax dollars” philosophy had less clout. Here’s the problem:

    I live in a city run by a City Manager. He’s a professional hired by the City Council. He is in charge of a $615 million city budget and 2,676 full-time employees. Last year, he made about $175K for his efforts.

    I know, I know….that sounds like a lot of money. But think about it….

    Most of the people competent enough to manage a $615 million budget and 2,676 employees is going to want to be paid a little more than $175K a year, no?

    So let’s put it to voters. Shall we give the city manager a raise? “Not with my tax dollars!”

    Okay then. You get what you pay for.

  14. Steve Plunk says:

    Tano,

    I chair my county roads committee. What I said was true. 1 – 3 years is not enough time for a real design and build project of any magnitude.

    Let’s face it, the stimulus was a gift to state and local governments. Oh, and it didn’t stimulate.

  15. Herb says:

    Steve,

    Does your county have any road projects that have been in planning stages for years, but weren’t started/completed for lack of funds? How big is your county? Do you have any major cities in it?

    Speaking only for Denver….we’ve got a lot of road/rail construction projects that have been in the works for years, but thanks to our fickle population, they have been left underfunded, scaled back, or canceled altogether.

    Can you explain why knee-capping these projects is more stimulative than completing them?

  16. pylon says:

    The idea behind stimulus is to spend money in any fashion to stimulate the economy. Theoretically, spending money to hire people to digs holes and fill them up again satisfies the economics of stimulus, which is not so much about what the project is than pumping money into the system.

    So spending money on signs isn’t objectionable froim a theory of economic stimulus point of view. Of course, whatever the biggest bang for the buch is is better. That said, who’s to say that making signs isn’t a better stimulus than anything else?

  17. Steve Plunk says:

    pylon,

    Then why not a tax cut? It beats digging and filling holes. Plus the private sector gets a bigger bang for the buck.

    Herb,

    There are projects continuously in various stages. The stimulus rules gave a narrow window of time and therefore things like overlays were bumped up over more worthy projects. No one is knee capping projects. Generally if a project is canceled it was marginal to start with and for every project scaled back there are 20 that run over budget.

    It’s not a fickle population but an incompetent bureaucracy that fails us on infrastructure projects.

  18. Tano says:

    “I chair my county roads committee. What I said was true. 1 – 3 years is not enough time for a real design and build project of any magnitude. ”

    But thats not what you said. You stated that the stimulus required “Shovel-ready” projects. And that was a false statement.

    And it certainly is possible to design a project, up to the level of being able to recieve stimulus funds, in 1-3 years.

    I don’t find your analysis credible at all.

  19. Herb says:

    “It’s not a fickle population but an incompetent bureaucracy that fails us on infrastructure projects.”

    Hmm….an interesting thing for the chair of the county’s road committee to say. That’s the inside view of the “incompetent bureaucracy that fails us on infrastructure projects,” I take it?

    I don’t know about where you live…but where I live, the local governments in particular have found new and creative ways of cutting costs. From mandatory furlough days for employees to service cuts, the government’s been doing what they can with what they got.

    But one thing they can’t do: Raise taxes.

    Yes, I blame the incompetent bureaucrats (whose probably on an unpaid furlough day right now) for that.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    “Let’s face it, the stimulus was a gift to state and local governments. Oh, and it didn’t stimulate.”

    If that money helped local governments to plug holes in their budgets so as to not lay off people or cut programs that helped people, what’s wrong with that? And why isn’t that considered stimulating?

  21. Steve Plunk says:

    Tano, My take on this is correct. You said the stimulus was designed to spent over 1 – 3 years and I’m saying that means ‘shovel ready’ projects since the others take too long. Sure things could be sped up but the decision makers chose not to take that chance and instead pushed things like the overlays.

    Herb, It’s not just liberals who serve on volunteer committees and commissions. Sometimes conservatives like myself get in there to provide a more balanced viewpoint. I don’t go to my meetings to get along but to call it as I see it. Even the county employees recognize the failures of bureaucracies and the loss of efficiency. Raising taxes is not the answer if you want improved efficiency.

    AIP, Plugging holes in budgets postponed the inevitable and was done with borrowed money. It made no sense and didn’t help the private sector where jobs are actually created. We’re talking about how best to stimulate the economy and what we got was a flop by any common sense measure.