Playing with stimulus numbers is a national, bipartisan sport. But during a recent editorial-board meeting at The Press, U.S. Rep. Frank Lobiondo, R-2nd, presented an interesting local example of how the numbers can get skewed - and how the Ocean City-Somers Point causeway project wound up No. 26 on the Obama administration's list of the top 100 stimulus projects in the nation.
According to LoBiondo:
When the stimulus bill was being considered by Congress, the state transportation commisioner under Gov. Jon Corzine visited the congressman and tried to convince him to support the bill, saying it would mean a lot of jobs in his district. LoBiondo asked him to explain. He cited the Ocean City-Somers Point causeway project. LoBiondo pointed out the state had already committed funds to the $400 million project, and the first phase had already been under construction for two years.
The commissioner told him the state was going to reprogram the money if the stimulus bill passed.
It passed. The cash-strapped state simply didn't have to spend $70 million it had already committed to the second phase of the project, replacing the money with federal stimulus funds that were supposedly going toward "shovel-ready" projects.
The road reconstruction had already been in the works for two years. The first phase was nearly complete. It wasn't just "shovel-ready" - the shovels had been in the ground for some time.
Well, money is fungible. And you can make a good case that New Jersey needed that money, and it went to other, worthy projects. Still, LoBiondo has a point: That's not what the stimulus funding was supposed to be about. And it's hard to say the funds created or saved jobs when people had been working on the project for two years - and would continue to work, stimulus or no.
Last month, the Obama administration released a list of the Top 100 stimulus projects nationwide, and the Ocean City-Somers Point causeway was No. 26.
It created 500 high-paying jobs, the report says.