CAVE SPRING, Ga. — Last week, under a brilliant blue autumn sky, a platoon of Georgia officials broke ground for a brand-new vocational training center for Georgians who are deaf, blind or suffer other disabilities. It will replace a smaller facility, which has been located in this small town near Rome since 1962.
Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, who planned the new building, noted the good fortune of a $10 million project in the midst of severe state budget cuts. He called it “miraculous.”
It isn’t. The new center will be constructed with funds from the same deeply unpopular federal government program that has cut taxes, bought groceries and paid college tuition in households around the country for more than a year — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the “stimulus.”
Among the officials grabbing a ceremonial shovel was Eddie Lumsden, the Republican chairman of the Floyd County Commission. While he believes the new Cave Spring Rehabilitation Center will be a “plus for the community,” like most GOP officials, he’s no fan of the Recovery Act.
“The argument was that it was going to do a lot to bring jobs and help business. But our economy here has not rebounded,” he said.
The Recovery Act was no cure-all, but an analysis by two economists has concluded that stimulus programs under the Bush and Obama administrations added about 2.7 million jobs. (In 2008, in response to the sluggish economy, the Bush administration sent out tax rebate checks. That was a little-noted early stimulus plan.)
In a July report, Princeton University economist Alan Blinder and Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, who advised John McCain’s campaign, concluded: “The stimulus has done what it was supposed to do: end the Great Recession and spur recovery.” Without the stimulus programs, they said, the unemployment rate would be around 1.5 percent higher.
Thurmond, whose department oversees vocational training programs, said that he set aside stimulus funds for the project because the old training center was dilapidated and “an embarrassment to the state of Georgia.”
The stimulus funds were “a Godsend, the money coming in the midst of a recession when state funds were being cut, to address this huge need we had,” he said.
Since he has mounted a quixotic challenge to popular GOP incumbent Senator Johnny Isakson, Thurmond might consider another aspect of the project useful to his campaign: It will generate some 200 construction jobs, according to John Farmer, a director of construction for the Beck Group, which won the state contract.
“That doesn’t count the jobs in manufacturing. All the materials have to be manufactured,” Farmer added.
But the Recovery Act remains little appreciated among average voters. Few seem to know, for example, that nearly one-third of the $787 billion Recovery Act came in the form of tax cuts, which benefitted 95 percent of households. The tax cuts didn’t go out as separate checks but took the form of slight increases in take-home pay, as the federal government withheld less.
That strategy was intentional; President Obama and his advisers believed that consumers would more likely spend small increases on items such as groceries and clothes, stimulating the economy. A larger check might have gone to savings accounts, with no effect on retail sales.
So the economic effect was just what the president and his advisers had hoped. The political effect, however, was less than useful for Democrats — voters who don’t believe their taxes were cut. Meanwhile, Republicans and their allies in the rightwing noise machine have done everything possible to persuade voters that the stimulus legislation was a model of government waste.
The new rehab center, which is expected to open in November 2011, will include a dormitory, cafeteria and classrooms, as well as modern greenhouses, an amphitheater and a basketball court. Its opening will no doubt draw an even larger group of politicians, many of whom insist that the Recovery Act was a disastrous mistake.