Officials: Stimulus helped NH retain jobs
New Hampshire has used its $708 million in federal stimulus funding to create more than 2,000 jobs, pay for scores of road projects, upgrade health centers, fund research projects at universities and provide public schools with computers and supplies.
The state agencies and local companies that received the funding said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act kept people on the payroll and paid for important projects. But advocates of fiscal responsibility had mixed opinions as to whether the millions spent were worth it.
Since the Recovery Act was signed into law in February 2009, more than $540 million has gone directly into the state treasury to fund infrastructure projects, schools and other government agencies. Another $167 million went to counties, health centers, housing authorities and universities.
Chris Clement, director of the state Office of Economic Stimulus, said New Hampshire used $146.5 million specifically to prevent state employee layoffs.
Called the "State Fiscal Stabilization Fund," this pool of stimulus money created or saved 1,264 jobs in education and 463 jobs in other state government agencies last year, he said.
Kathleen Murphy, director of the state Department of Education Division of Instruction, said the stimulus funded renovations, teacher training and supplies.
Whether it was a new wheelchair ramp or classroom laptop, the stimulus paid for things that will last for years, she said.
The funds also prevented layoffs and kept programs such as all-day kindergarten alive in local districts.
If not for the stimulus, Murphy said, "teachers would have lost their jobs and students wouldn't have had access to those programs."
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation received a sizable chunk of funding as well -- $139 million -- and used it to pave 750 miles of roads, fix 78 bridges and tackle a few expensive projects like the $20 million reconstruction of the Exit 20 interchange on I-89 in Lebanon.
NHDOT spokesman Bill Boynton said the state paved three times as many roads as it does in a normal summer and bumped up the expected completion date of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport access road by two years.
Not only are projects getting done faster, Boynton said, but they are costing less.
"The bids we had for projects were 15 to 20 percent under what we had expected," said Boynton.
"As a result we had $8 million at the end of these projects (and) had money we could turn around and put into other projects."
Mark Charbonneau, president of Continental Paving, said the funding helped him keep a full staff of 300 employees.
"If it wasn't for that we'd probably be down 70 to 80 people," said Charbonneau. "We feel it saved 75 jobs at our company last year."
Although the beneficiaries of the Recovery Act are pleased with the results, some have concerns about the size of the package and what will happen when the money runs out.
The stimulus was a boon for his company last year, but Charbonneau said he is worried about the next few years. The federal funding came just as private sector work in the paving industry dried up.
Unless the state boosts spending on road projects, these businesses will likely struggle once the stimulus money is gone, he said.
"We are very concerned about the future looking forward," Charbonneau said. "The stimulus was a Band-Aid and we need to look at solving our funding problems in the state of New Hampshire."
Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and an advocate for less government spending, said he is concerned about the amount of money the stimulus package is adding to the deficit.
"It almost certainly wasn't worth it," said Arlinghaus. "The federal government bailed us out with money they borrowed. ... Allowing us to use their credit card doesn't move us toward fiscal responsibility. It does the opposite."
Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan group that promotes fiscal responsibility, said the stimulus money has added to the deficit, but doing so temporarily to keep the economy afloat is sometimes necessary.
"I think in this particular recession, things got so bad even responsible states got caught short," Bixby said.
Where he warned states to be cautious is when accepting money meant for new programs. Relief from the federal government should be "targeted and temporary," he said.
"It's like taking a pain killer," said Bixby. "It's not going to cure the economy but it's going to smooth out the edges. It's not something you want to get hooked on."