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Officials drafting stimulus reports

Officials drafting stimulus reports

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by: RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Saturday, October 10, 2009
10/10/2009 4:15:58 AM

See information about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The $787 billion stimulus program's impact is expected to come into focus over the next three weeks as analysts sort through a massive data dump.

Midnight Saturday is the deadline for detailed reports on every stimulus transaction through Oct. 1. The Obama administration says the reporting creates a new standard of government transparency and accountability.

For those responsible for compiling the reports, though, the undertaking has been one big headache.

"I think the rules must have changed about a billion times," said state Finance Director Michael Clingman, whose office has the job for the state of Oklahoma. "Goodness knows how this thing is going to work. My poor staff has been working like crazy trying to get these done."

Although Saturday is the report deadline, states have 10 more days to make corrections and updates.

The federal government then has 10 days to resolve any questions.

Clingman said most of the problems are because no one has taken on the job before.

"You have all of these agencies and each one of them has its own way of doing things," he said.

All told, it appears that the stimulus impact on Oklahoma could top $4.5 billion, counting the tax cuts and incentives that make up a little more than one-third of the total package.

The Tulsa World has identified at least $862.5 million in stimulus-funded capital improvements in Oklahoma, including a $75 million rebuild of Tulsa's Inner Dispersal Loop.

That's part of $465 million the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is receiving over two years through the stimulus program.

Todd Saxton, senior vice president of Manhattan Road and Bridge, said stimulus projects have saved more than 100 jobs with his company and allowed it to expand.

"Where I think it has the biggest impact, though, is at the layers below us, the fabricators and suppliers," he said.

Saxton said that as big as the program is, it might not be big enough.

"In my opinion, the stimulus was good in regards to infrastructure, but it probably is not significant enough to create a long-lasting effect."

David Belk of Belk Bridge said the stimulus has not been as good for smaller contractors.

Commercialcontractors without experience in road- and bridge-building are "jumping over into (road construction). A lot of their bids just don't make sense," he said.

In addition, Belk said, contractors from Kansas and other states with budgets even tighter than Oklahoma's are bidding on jobs here.

"Instead of four or five bidders," he said, "we're seeing seven or eight."

Perhaps the most persistent criticism of the stimulus program is that it does not include more brick-and-mortar spending. Aside from the tax relief component, the World has identified at least $1.9 billion in expenditures for purposes other than capital improvements.

Almost half — $860.8 million over two years — is for education. An additional $444.8 million is for Medicaid.

According to Gov. Brad Henry's office, about $641 million in stimulus aid went into this year's $7.2 billion state budget.

That allowed education to escape without the 7 percent cuts imposed on most state agencies.

State Education Department spokeswoman Shelly Hickman said, "Since 90 percent of schools' budgets are for salaries, we are confident in saying many jobs were saved."

Randy Krehbiel 581-8365

Copyright © 2009, World Publishing Co. All rights reserved

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