Target 11 investigates stimulus spending 3 years later

by: Rick Earle, Target 11 Investigator Updated:


None - PITTSBURGH -- It's been three years since President Barack Obama began the economic stimulus program. The goal was to jump-start the economy and create jobs.

Target 11 discovered that western Pennsylvania received millions of dollars, and the money is still flowing into many communities. Was it well spent? Did the program work?

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle discovered the answer to those questions depends on whom you talk to. Supporters say it's been worth every cent, but critics contend it hasn't done what it was supposed to.

Brand new energy efficient lights will soon be going up in the city-county building in downtown Pittsburgh thanks to a federal stimulus grant.

"It's an investment of $3 million upfront, but long term, we are going to recognize a significant amount of savings in terms of our energy consumption," said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, whose city received about $20 million in stimulus cash.

"It's been very, very important money that if we didn't have, we wouldn't be able to put people to work. We wouldn't have been able to invest in important projects. We are certainly glad the president pushed that forward. We think we spent that money very wisely here in Pittsburgh, and we have all the projects to show for it," Ravenstahl said.

Target 11 discovered exactly how some of the money was spent in western Pennsylvania.

The University of Pittsburgh received $317 million. A lot of the money went to pay for research studies such as one conducted on the immune response in human cancer.

Carnegie Mellon University got $41 million. The money went for a number of research projects and studies like innovating supercomputing molecular dynamics.

The Pittsburgh School District got $71 million. But that money only delayed the inevitable, according to the Allegheny Institute's Eric Montarti, a research analyst for the conservative think tank.

"Now we see that just put off what has become a day of reckoning for the state budge and the fiscal difficulty for school districts," said Montarti.

Perhaps one of the most controversial projects in our area has been the Allegheny County Port Authorities North Shore connector. That project received $63 million in stimulus funds. That's approximately the same deficit now facing the financially struggling authority.

"How are we going to explain to our riders and taxpayers that we are broke, can't run the buses, going to cut services going to lay people off, and here's a new expansion of our system?" said Montarti.

Montarti contends the stimulus program wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He points to an unemployment rate that has hovered around 7 percent just before and after stimulus.

And while the state received a total of $33 billion in stimulus funds, state officials have said the money helped to create or save 136,000 jobs. Target 11 did the math and that comes out to $242,647 per job.

"I think on those measures, the unemployment rate and the cost per job, you have to be much more on the skeptical side," said Montarti.

Supporters have said it's unfair to place a costs on the jobs because many more have been impacted by stimulus.

Target 11 questioned the secretary of energy about the stimulus program. Secretary Dr. Steven Chu told Earle that the program worked.

Chu cited the automobile industry as a prime example of an industry that's benefited from federal stimulus.

"Look at the money. We have tens of thousands of direct jobs it's generated. If you look at the auto industry, where many people said hey they were acting badly, forget it, just let free enterprise run the course, it was a good decision. The stimulus money, the loan program for Ford, I mean Ford is making fabulous cars. GM and Chrysle are back," said Chu. 

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