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Last week, we posted some thoughts from Dempsey Benton, the former head of North Carolina’s Office of Economic Recovery and Investment. First we shared his thoughts on what worked, then on what didn’t work. Today, we wrap up this little series with Benton’s take on the future of the stimulus, beginning with his thoughts for incoming governors and their new ARRA management teams.
Benton believes that those folks confront a passel of challenging tasks. New administrations in some states, he believes, will be startled if they enter office with the misapprehension that the stimulus is pretty much a done deal these days.
He explains that, in fact, the bulk of the remaining stimulus work will be a transition from spending money to managing it and measuring its impact. “In terms of getting the funds allocated and under contract,” he points out, “most of that work is done. In terms of disbursements and expenditures into the economy, there is a still a significant amount of work to be done.” And even having said that, Benton notes that a good chunk of the money has yet to be disbursed—as much as 30%, he says, in North Carolina. The economic ripple effect will go on for 8-10 months.
Before too long, he adds, states will also need to turn their attention to measuring the impact of the stimulus. “Frankly, we looked at that in our role at the state but in the period from February 2009 until recently there was so much attention to the delivery and the business of getting projects underway that we could not get the operating agencies attention enough to really do that performance appraisal. I think that effort should be done, but we just couldn’t.”
Not that it will be easier in the coming months. “A lot of this work is being done by agencies that have had their workforce cut by 5-10%,” he explains. “There is a resource challenge.”
But it has to be done soon, he warns, or it will be too late. “I don’t think it’s a lost situation. It is an opportunity to be undertaken. . . It probably needs to be done in 2011 as folks start winding down and getting out from under the intense work of getting projects underway.”