The first round of federal stimulus spending created or saved 1,100 jobs in the sprawling First Congressional District, which includes Rim Country, according to an analysis released by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.
The first-term congresswoman prepared the analysis partly to determine whether rural districts like hers got their fair share of help from the bundle of federal stimulus legislation.
Her office’s survey of local agencies combined with existing federal figures showed that the first congressional district got more jobs from the stimulus package than any other Arizona district — with the exception of the district that includes the state capitol and central Phoenix.
“I think 1,100 is a conservative number,” said Kirkpatrick, of the jobs generated or saved by spending 28 percent of the stimulus money.
However, some analysis have challenged many of the job estimates posted on various federal Web sites, saying non-existent, part-time or short-term jobs were included.
Kirkpatrick said she’d tried to avoid those problems by not relying entirely on the federal numbers, without double checking them and augmenting them with her own survey.
Moreover, the 1,100 figure “doesn’t account for jobs saved through state agencies and teachers able to keep their teaching jobs at the state level in our district.”
Yet, despite her belief that the first round of stimulus spending provided vital relief to recession-plagued communities, Rep. Kirkpatrick said she hasn’t yet decided how to vote on a second round of spending focused more directly on generating as many jobs as possible, since the jobless rate remains above 10 percent despite resumption of economic growth nationally.
“I’m very concerned about the deficit,” said Kirkpatrick. She has called for the White House to use money being repaid by bailed out banks to pay down the ballooning deficit, rather than to spend it on more economic stimulus. She also voted against a measure that would have allowed a $290 billion increase in the debt ceiling along with $75 billion in new spending.
The national debt has soared to $12 trillion.
The proposed new spending would have attempted to generate more jobs with grants for roads and infrastructure and additional grants for teachers, police and fire.
Still, the freshman Flagstaff Democrat, a former prosecutor and state lawmaker, also tried to garner political credit for the modest job gains produced by the first multi-billion-dollar round of federal spending, mindful that nearly a year after passage, less than a third of the money had actually been spent. She took pains to laud the jobs created, while also calling for fiscal responsibility — mindful she’s likely to face a strong Republican challenge next year in a swing district where Republicans normally have an edge.
“Based on this report, the Recovery Act has served District One well. We have preserved important public services and taken real steps towards creating new opportunities for working families,” Kirkpatrick said.
Rim Country did well in the stimulus sweepstakes, with $10.5 million to Payson for the Blue Ridge pipeline, several million to the Forest Service to thin fire-prone forests, several million to the Tonto Apache Tribe to complete a sewage treatment plant, several million in extra funding for the Payson Unified School District and hundreds of thousands to several small communities for wells and water system improvements.
It was unclear from Kirkpatrick’s analysis whether she had counted all the jobs produced by those projects. Some produced substantial local benefit, but few jobs — including the $10.5 million Blue Ridge grant for Payson.
A big chunk of that money will go to pay for the pipe itself, which will generate manufacturing jobs elsewhere. The money will produce only a handful of engineering and other high-end jobs in the short term.
Kirkpatrick estimated that the 1,100 in her tally represents less than half of the jobs that will ultimately be generated by the stimulus spending in her district, which extends from the Navajo Reservation to Casa Grande and includes Flagstaff, Payson, Show Low, and a number of other rural towns.
Kirkpatrick warned that rural communities often have a hard time getting grants and then jumping through all the hoops necessary to actually spend the money.
“A real economic recovery cannot leave out rural America,” she said. “We are seeing warning signs that our small towns could be left behind.”
Still, the millions spent on federal stimulus measures have done little to reduce the 10 percent unemployment rate in Gila County, although the most recent figures registered a 1 percent drop countywide and less than half a percent drop in Northern Gila County.
Gila County accounts for only about 10 percent of the population in the first congressional district.
Much of that improvement appears connected to private sector spending.
For instance, a huge proposed copper mine near Globe will produce an estimated 1,000 new jobs if the federal government can complete a land exchange and if objections by environmental advocates don’t stall it.
Kirkpatrick agreed that real reductions in unemployment rely on the recovery of the private sector.
“We need to look at cost-free projects that create jobs,” like the Copper Basin Mining Project, “which will revive mining in Superior.”
She noted that federal stimulus spending can support job growth in rural areas mostly by providing critical infrastructure, like highways, roads and expanded broadband, high-speed Internet access.
She said she agonized before supporting the first stimulus bill.
“It was a hard vote for me — but I think we were at a dangerous moment in our economy and we had a lot to lose if we didn’t do something. It has helped stabilize the community. Clearly, we still have to do more to create jobs, but it’s the American people who are going to pull us out of this economic downturn — not the government.”