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Good luck figuring out stimulus impact

Good luck to Alabama and Mississippi taxpayers who want to track federal economic stimulus money and try to figure out whether all those billions are in fact stimulating the economy. In the estimation of a Washington-based group called Good Jobs First, Alabama and Mississippi both rank low in how well they report stimulus spending to the public. Alabama came in 39th on the group’s list; Mississippi was down near the basement, in 45th place. According to the group, neither state is making the most “effective use of online technology to educate taxpayers” about the impact of the stimulus.

It seems to us that no Web site — state or federal — can give the public a clear sense of the impact of the enormous $787 billion stimulus package.

President Obama promised public transparency and accountability for the stimulus spending. That’s all well and good, but a great deal depends on how the federal government defines “transparency” and “accountability.”

In December, the Obama administration decreed that recipients of stimulus money count all jobs funded with those dollars as created or retained, regardless of whether the jobs were in jeopardy in the first place. Previously, the administration said recipients should only count new jobs or jobs slated for elimination. So if Alabamians and Mississippians do manage to find information on the impact of the stimulus in their states, that information likely will give them a distorted view of the basic concept of an economic “stimulus.” Still, it’s possible to find some interesting tidbits on the two states’ sites.

Alabama offers some specific information from news stories about projects funded with stimulus money. These projects are worthy, but we wonder whether they represent appropriate spending priorities for a national government with a debt of more than $12 trillion.

Taxpayers will make up their own minds about

that. —The Press-Register