Boston — The federal stimulus package isn’t just a boon to many of the country’s citizens and industries. It’s also a gift for politicians.
From the White House to statehouses across the country, the law has given politicians 787 billion reasons to crow about all the good the government is doing for the people. And that’s what Democrats and Republicans have been doing, even if not all of them supported the measure signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17.
“I am so proud to see Recovery Act funds taking care of critical needs here at the station and putting people to work,” Vice President Joe Biden said Monday in announcing $20 million for renovation work at the Amtrak station in Wilmington, Del., he frequented for years.
That same day, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called a news conference at a Boston bus station to announce he was using $114 million in stimulus money to pay for construction of dedicated bus lanes on a major travel corridor. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and a flock of local politicians were there, too.
In mid-April, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist had his turn: “These federal stimulus funds will help create jobs, boost local economies, improve aging water infrastructure and protect our health,” said Crist, a Republican, as he highlighted $130 million in stimulus funding for Florida water projects.
The public relations announcements make sense, said Harvard Business School Professor John Quelch, a marketing expert. Politicians are offering reassurance about solving the nation’s recession while underscoring how tough recovery will be. He said elected officials are finding it useful to “break down the complexities of the overall stimulus package into bite-sized pieces that can be announced from one week to the next.”
“The public must know what is being stimulated and what they should be responding to,” he said. “Because any stimulus is only as good as the response it creates.”
The publicity campaign began in earnest the day Obama signed the law in Denver.
The initial headlines did not focus on the law but what the White House said would be 3.5 million jobs created or saved over two years. State officials complained later they did not understand how those job figures were calculated, but it hasn’t stopped them from celebrating the measure.
“Hawaii is well positioned to take maximum advantage of the federal stimulus package and create jobs for our residents,” Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, said in March, announcing $246 million in stimulus money for state transportation projects.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, said in February: “Within three days of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act being signed into law, 19 highway and bridge projects totaling more than $56 million are moving forward.”
And while Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was among a group of Republican governors who complained the stimulus package came with policy strings they did not like, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee ended up accepting capital project money under the law.
According to information attributed to Palin in a March news release: “We need to ensure that these stimulus dollars are used for job opportunities for Alaskans while preserving the regular operating spending decisions through the normal budget process.”