Vice presdent Joe Biden may be wishing he didn’t shower so much attention on a bus factory in Minnesota as an example of stimulus success.
From the New York Times
It was just five months ago that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made the New Flyer bus factory here a symbol of the stimulus. With several cabinet secretaries in tow, he held a town-hall-style meeting at the factory, where he praised the company as “an example of the future” and said that it stood to get more orders for its hybrid electric buses thanks to the $8.4 billion that the stimulus law devotes to mass transit.
But last month, the company that administration officials had pictured as a stimulus success story began laying off 320 people, or 13 percent of its work force, having discovered how cutbacks at the state level can dampen the boost provided by the federal stimulus money. The Chicago Transit Authority did use some of its stimulus money to buy 58 new hybrid buses from New Flyer. But Chicago had to shelve plans to order another 140 buses from them after the state money that it had hoped to use to pay for them failed to materialize. The delayed order scrambled New Flyer’s production schedule for the rest of the year, and led to the layoffs.
One of those laid off was David Wahl, 52, who had worked there for a decade and who sat behind the vice president at the town-hall-style meeting, soaking up the optimism of the moment. “With mass transit being pushed so hard,” Mr. Wahl recalled, “I figured I’d be able to work until I was 75.”
The layoffs at New Flyer are a vivid illustration of the way that some of the economic impact of the $787 billion federal stimulus law is being diluted by the actions state and local governments are taking to weather the recession.
While the stimulus law cut federal taxes to inject money into the economy quickly, at least 30 states have raised taxes since January, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal fiscal policy group. The stimulus will spend $27.5 billion in federal money on highway projects, but at least 19 states are planning to cut their highway spending this year, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, a trade group. And as the stimulus devotes $8.4 billion to mass transit, transit systems across the nation have been forced to cut service, raise fares and delay capital spending.
Dean Baker, an economist who was an author of a paper called “The State and Local Drag on the Stimulus,” said that while the stimulus had undoubtedly helped states, the cutbacks and tax increases at the state and local level threaten to offset much of its economic impact.
“The economy doesn’t care whether the dollars are coming from the federal or the state and local level,” said Mr. Baker, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Mr. Biden did not respond directly to news of the layoffs at New Flyer, but another administration official said the stimulus money was expected to help transit agencies buy almost 8,000 new buses, which would help New Flyer and its competitors. Sasha Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said stimulus dollars had helped bus companies survive the economic downtown, and would have an increasing effect through the year.
“Without the boost provided by Recovery Act orders, bus companies like New Flyer would be even harder hit than they have been,” Ms. Johnson said.
Obama and Biden toured the country giving false hope to factory workers that the stimulus was the magic bullet that would solve all their economic woes. But as they have learned it was nothing more than a short term fix that only masked larger economic issues. Now the White House is left to spin their way out of trying to justify exactly what did the taxpayers received for their money and at what long term cost to them and future generations.