I also chatted up a couple economists, and the dismal science practitioners wondered some of the same things you did. Marney Cox, economist for San Diego Association of Governments, didn’t pull any punches in his assessment.
“The feds sold the country a bill of goods,” Cox said. “They initially sold [the stimulus] as an infrastructure investment strategy, but in the end less than 30 percent is for infrastructure. And given the lack of infrastructure investment we’ve made in the last 30 years, this was a real opportunity. But politics being what it is, really turned things upside down.”
Cox also points out that San Diego, on a per-capita basis, got the short end of the stick. Consider, he said, that San Diego has 3 million people, which is about 1 percent of the country’s population. “So if we would have gotten our proportional share, we would have received about $7 billion,” he said. “We didn’t get near that, and only ended up with about $300 million for transportation.”
Cox’s assertion is borne out by ProPublica’s number crunching. Its analysis shows that San Diego has received $104 dollars per capita in stimulus money, while the per-capita rate for counties nationwide is $181.
I also spoke with the University of San Diego’s Alan Gin, who was not as blunt as Cox, but shared his concerns. Gin agrees with a couple e-mailers that a disproportionate share of stimulus money flowing to San Diego came in the form of Pell Grants, which are federal grants for post-secondary students. He questions how “stimulative” such grants are in the short term.
Gin is also dubious of the relatively high number of “finance” items on the list, such as Small Business Administration loans, that were counted as stimulus money. In a fashion that Dennis Green would appreciate, Gin had this final analysis: “I don’t think it is what we thought it would be.”