Paulsen’s stimulus claims show political prevaricating didn’t stay in Vegas

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False political smears involving Las Vegas? You’d think U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen wouldn’t want to go there after being on the receiving end of a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad last year that took a tortured, six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon route to link him to a Vegas strip club.

Yet in a new report titled “GOP Stimulus Myths,“ FactCheck.org singles out Paulsen for false claims made Friday in a constituent form letter in which the freshman congressman lists seven projects as examples of federal stimulus “spending on many things that are unrelated to saving or creating jobs.” The projects range from golf course amenities to “butterfly gardens” and, yes, “$2 million for neon signs in Las Vegas” — none of which are actually in the stimulus package.

Read an excerpt from the FactCheck.org report and Paulsen’s letter after the jump.

Rather, they represent selections drawn from a laundry list of potential projects that mayors across the country compiled (pdf) — selections that also appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s the full Paulsen portion of the report from FactCheck.org:

In a form letter to constituents (e-mailed to one of our readers on Feb. 20), Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota claimed that the bill (now law) “contains a huge amount of spending on many things that are unrelated to saving or creating jobs.” He said that it “will fund requests such as $2 million for neon signs in Las Vegas, $4.5 million for an eco park featuring butterfly gardens and gopher tortoises, $500,000 for a dog park, $3 million for a municipal golf course clubhouse, $886,000 for a 36-hole disc golf course, $1.8 million for replacement tennis courts, $6 million for three aquatic centers with water slides … the list goes on and on.”

None of these projects are specified in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In fact, golf courses, and many other recreational projects, simply can’t get funding under the law, which stipulates:

ARRA: Sec. 1604: None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used by any State or local government, or any private entity, for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool.

The items Paulsen cites instead are taken from a lengthy wish list of infrastructure projects that the U.S. Conference of Mayors says are “ready to go” and could be funded quickly with federal dollars. The mayors’ report, dated Jan. 17, was compiled to demonstrate to Congress that localities should get a good amount of whatever stimulus money was approved, according to the city of Austin, Texas. In other words, the mayors were lobbying for federal money to come to them. The seven projects Paulsen singles out for ridicule are among 18,750 that the Conference of Mayors compiled through four surveys of U.S. cities conducted over three months. In an e-mail, the Conference of Mayors tells us that “we didn’t make any editing to the information [cities] provided us,” adding that these were just examples and that “the Government will decide what to fund, not us.”

All of Paulsen’s picks are also in a Wall Street Journal article highlighting these seemingly less-than-necessary requests. The Journal said “the bulk of proposals are roads, sewers and similar projects.” But “some localities,” it noted, “are using a kitchen-sink strategy.”

As Paulsen himself said of President Obama’s speech to Congress: “The devil is in the details.”

Here is the text of the email from Paulsen on which FactCheck.org based its report:

From: “Congressman Erik Paulsen”
Date: February 20, 2009
To: (Name deleted)
Subject: Responding to your message

Dear (Name deleted):

Thank you for letting me know of your support for the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the “stimulus bill.”

I strongly believe we need a swift stimulus package to stimulate our struggling economy and create jobs. I had serious concerns, however, about the makeup of this plan. An extremely low percentage of the plan is geared toward job creation, which is where we should be focusing our efforts. In addition, less than half of the stimulus plan will be spent in the next two years and some of the money will not even be spent during the new President’s first term.

In addition, it is unfortunate that the percentage of the bill dedicated to infrastructure spending, another key to stimulating jobs, shrunk to just 6% of the bill.

The $787 billion stimulus bill essentially turned into a supplemental spending bill and contains a huge amount of spending on many things that are unrelated to saving or creating jobs. The bill will fund requests such as $2 million for neon signs in Las Vegas, $4.5 million for an eco park featuring butterfly gardens and gopher tortoises, $500,000 for a dog park, $3 million for a municipal golf course clubhouse, $886,000 for a 36-hole disc golf course, $1.8 million for replacement tennis courts, $6 million for three aquatic centers with water slides .. the list goes on and on. Clearly, we should not be spending more on these programs than on helping small businesses create jobs.

One of my top priorities in Congress is to be responsible with the taxpayers’ money. The federal budget deficit is already projected to reach more than $1.2 trillion this year. Congress has more than doubled the national debt over the past few years, and after this bill, the annual deficit will reach more than $2 trillion.

I supported an alternative stimulus plan that would provide relief for Minnesota families and create jobs. The proposal contained a variety of incentives for small businesses to create jobs, including a 20% tax deduction for small businesses; a health insurance premium deduction for those who do not get health insurance from their employers; an improved homebuyer tax credit; an exemption to make unemployment benefits tax-free; and a variety of other initiatives that would help jumpstart our economy. In fact, analysis showed it would create twice the jobs at half the cost.

You can be sure of my continued effort to find bipartisan solutions to grow the economy and put people back to work.

Thanks again for sharing your concerns, as I appreciate hearing from you. Please let me know whenever I can be of assistance.

Sincerely,

Erik Paulsen
Member of Congress

Here’s a final (?) irony from Paulsen’s list, for close watchers of the Third District race to replace the retiring Rep. Jim Ramstad. During the campaign, State Sen. Geoff Michel told about the day that news of Ramstad’s retirement broke. Michel said he was with three other potential Republican contenders for the suddenly open seat — at, of all places, a golf course. All action stopped, Michel said, while each member of the foursome madly mashed his personal digital assistant, consulting contacts on the political calculus.

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