MInnesota ranks high in federal stimulus cash

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE AND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2009 - 10:49 PM

Weather and transportation projects have boosted Minnesota from 11th place to third in the ranking for federal stimulus money.

For once, Minnesota's long, cold winters may be paying off.

The weather helps explain why the state is faring better than most when it comes to federal stimulus program spending.

It ranks 11th in the nation so far in total stimulus spending per person, according to a new analysis of the program. When considering only stimulus money earmarked for weatherization projects, Minnesota shoots up to third place. Only North Dakota and Alaska will get more.

"If you want to call it poetic justice, that's just fine," said Mike Hanson, the board chairman of Koochiching County. "Winter this year and last year was exceedingly long, we had over 10 feet of snow."

In the Lower 48, the top 10 states in weatherization money are in the Upper Midwest and New England, according to the analysis by the ProPublica nonprofit news organization.

But climate isn't the only factor deciding which states score big in the stimulus bonanza. A chunk of the money is targeted for transportation projects, and states such as Minnesota with lots of delayed projects on the drawing board are best positioned to take advantage of that stimulus money.

Total stimulus spending on transportation, health, agriculture and other projects by Minnesota and its counties has reached $2.68 billion, or $515 per person. The $121 billion distributed nationwide so far amounts to $398 per American, according to ProPublica. Its analysis reflects only a small portion of the total $787 billion stimulus package.

Alaska, the perennial champion in securing all sorts of federal money, ranks first as well in tapping stimulus programs. The District of Columbia is second and Wyoming third.

The rankings are determined by spending per person, and most of the high ranking states have relatively low population. Such rural-urban disparities have been criticized as failing to target areas where unemployment is highest.

The analysis by ProPublica shows that stimulus spending nationwide is out of sync with unemployment and poverty patterns. While some states and counties that are struggling economically have gotten windfalls, others in similar straits have not. Minnesota's median household income is higher than the national average, while its unemployment rate is lower.

In Minnesota, many small, rural counties haul in the biggest per-person sums. The list is led by Big Stone County, along the South Dakota border, at $1,005 per resident.

By contrast, Hennepin County got $232 per resident, Ramsey got $149 and Anoka got $22.

But Anoka County Board chairman Dennis Berg isn't complaining.

"It's not really an indication of where the benefit is," Berg said, because Anoka residents could get jobs created in adjoining counties.

As for major road construction in rural areas, he said, "A lot of people in Anoka County are driving on roads up north on the weekend."

A major highway construction project alone can propel a sparsely populated county to the top of the rankings.

"What brought all that money to Big Stone County was the resurfacing of Hwy. 75," said County Commissioner Brent Olson. "It's been a Department of Transportation priority for maybe more than a decade. It kept getting bumped ... down the list each year and this was their opportunity."

"We certainly don't have any particular clout," he said. "Or if we do, it's something they're keeping from me."

Olson has mixed feelings about the distribution. While repairing the 20-mile stretch of Hwy. 75 was sorely needed, just how much it stimulates the economy is less clear.

"The most needed projects are projects that add value to the country but don't add many short term jobs," he said.

The full report is available at projects.propublica.org/recovery

Pat Doyle • pdoyle@startribune.com • 651-222-1210 Bob von Sternberg • vonste@startribune.com • 612-673-7184

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