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Globe Editorial

Stimulus helps economy, but exaggerations don’t

November 12, 2009

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LOCAL RECIPIENTS of federal stimulus money need a basic economics lesson: You can’t lie your way out of a recession.

Sad to say, fibbing on the number of jobs that were saved or created by the stimulus bill won’t actually put people back to work. It certainly won’t help secure more federal money, since the exaggerations, once revealed, only serve to fuel skepticism about whether federal spending can indeed stimulate the economy.

Somehow, Bridgewater State College managed to tally 160 full-time student jobs out of $77,181 in federal funding. The college acknowledged the mistake, and said no new jobs were created. One rental-housing agency reported 26 jobs were saved or created because of rent subsidies that it receives every year. The agency blamed the error on confusing paperwork. Other recipients contacted by the Globe counted small cost-of-living raises as jobs being saved, or reported new jobs for work that hasn’t actually begun yet.

It’s hard to say that all these people were flat-out lying, but the blatant errors, exaggerations, and distortions suggest a collective belief that jacking up the number of jobs saved would lead to more federal largesse. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true.

There are good reasons to support the federal stimulus bill. It should provide a significant boost to the job market, and many of the infrastructure improvements now scheduled have been long deferred and are desperately needed. Still, a growing number of projects are leaving people scratching their heads. Nine million dollars for a pedestrian bridge that benefits a project funded by the filthy-rich New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft? Why that when the money could immediately save hundreds of jobs in the state’s floundering arts organizations?

Congress and the Obama administration have a lot to answer for in the stimulus bill, and their efforts to make a strict accounting of its benefits are admirable in theory. But the reports provided by Massachusetts recipients did nothing to advance the cause of federal stimulus legislation. Instead, they raised fresh doubts.

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