The Slow Motion Stimulus

You can think of the $860 billion Recovery Act as divided into three roughly equal parts: tax cuts, state relief and investments and contracts. The tax cuts are nearly 80 percent spent. The state relief bucket is about two-thirds empty, and it's getting refills to help states keep up with health care and education bills. But the investments and contracts coffer is still half full.

What's taking so long? The Washington Post's Alec MacGillis says some of the green energy initiatives are facing regulatory hurdles, while some cities and counties are simply sitting on money they received to put toward energy efficiency projects:

The $5 billion program for weatherizing low-income homes is recovering from a slow start ... Only 3,000 homes were weatherized last summer, a sliver of the program's goal of 600,000 by March 2012...

Of [two other energy-efficiency initiatives'] combined $6.3 billion, $556 million had been spent by the end of July. Officials note that some of the remaining money is already at work but that states and cities will not pay out until projects are done.

The 2009 stimulus was called the "Recovery and Reinvestment" Act, Joseph Szabo from the Federal Railroad Administation once told me, because the money was supposed to go to both shovel-ready projects for a quick recovery and to more long term investments. From the perspective of stimulus, the R&R approach means that billions of dollars that could help local economies in the short-term will be put on ice. From the perspective of high speed rail, the R&R approach means the best long-term investments won't necessarily receive the most money because they're not shovel-ready. It's a distinction I understand, but also find frustrating.