Salazar blasts Tipton for slamming stimulus while his family benefits

Republican 3rd Congressional District challenger Scott Tipton has been consistent throughout his campaign, hammering the point that the stimulus has been bad for the country, bad for the district and a big waste of taxpayer money.

Scott Tipton
Democrat incumbent John Salazar is just a little tired of hearing it.

“How can Scott continue to say that this funding didn’t create jobs when it created jobs for his family’s business…?” asks Salazar campaign spokeswoman Tara Trujillo.

Indeed, Triad Western, a business founded by Tipton’s father and uncle — and of which he was once a part owner — has received $12 million in stimulus funding. Tipton says he has had nothing to do with the business since selling his interest in it, but he has accepted $3,700 in campaign contributions from the business this campaign cycle and more than $13,000 since first unsuccessfully running for the CD3 seat in 2006.

The Colorado Independent left two messages with Triad Western President Terry Gorsuch and with Tipton, but they were not returned.

“I think it is one of the ironies of this campaign season that President Obama and Democrats are getting it from both sides on the stimulus,” said Colorado College political science professor Bob Loevy.

He said the liberals are saying the stimulus didn’t go far enough and Republicans say it went too far.

According to a poll released Wednesday (pdf) by The Hill, a newspaper covering Congress, the race is too tight to call, with Tipton clinging to a small lead, 47-43. Fifteen percent said they were still undecided.

The 2010 Midterm Election Poll was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, with 400 phone calls between Oct. 19-21.

“The only poll we care about is the one on election day,” said Trujillo.

(Photo/U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa)
The poll shows Salazar with a 46-45 edge in numbers of people with a favorable view of him, but also shows 48 percent with an unfavorable view of Salazar and only 34 percent with an unfavorable view of Tipton.

“To get credit politically, the stimulus would have to have been an obvious success, which it wasn’t. It might be true that unemployment would be much worse today without it but that doesn’t matter politically,” Loevy said.

As to whether it is fair for Tipton to benefit from the stimulus while also calling it a failure, and whether it is fair for Salazar to call him a hypocrite, Loevy said fairness has nothing to do with it.

“Politicians all follow the polls and they do what is wise politically,” he said. “Challengers all speak disparagingly of the government but as soon as they get elected they do everything they can to bring government money home.”

As for Tipton having it both ways, he said, “The test in politics is what works, not what is true.”

It isn’t just the family business that has benefited from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, though.

Colleges in the district have received tens of millions of dollars and, they say, the money has helped immensely.

At Adams State College, as at other colleges, the money was used largely to provide a cushion as the state was cutting funding. “We used the money to replace funds cut by the state,” said Julie Waechter, assistant to the president for communications.

She said, for now, the funds have helped the college avoid layoffs. “Stimulus funds have kept people in their jobs. It has not been a failure. It would have been disastrous not to have those funds,” she said.

In Montezuma County, where Tipton lives, the stimulus has pumped well over $10 million into the economy.

Among funds dispersed in his home county:

o Nearly $400,000 to the county sheriff for drug crime enforcement.

o Over $11 million for highway improvements.

o More than $3.75 million for extensions to unemployment benefits.

o $1.4 million for energy efficiency updates to public buildings and for the homes of low income families.

o More than $1.5 million for public water projects.

o Nearly $1.5 million to county schools.

o Nearly $450,000 in SBA loans to local businesses.

Other counties in CD3 have also fared pretty well in terms of stimulus money flowing in.

Gunnison County got:

o $425,000 for a bike/pedestrian path.

o Nearly $1.6 million in extra unemployment benefits.

o Almost $300,000 to Western State College for upgrades to its heating system.

o $475,000 in loan forgiveness to Gunnison County.

o $150,000 contract to private company for maintenance services in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

o Nearly $10 million to Western State College to maintain programs.

“Over the last two fiscal years, Western has received approximately $10 million in federal stabilization,” confirmed Brad Baca, vice president for finance and administration at Western State College of Colorado. “These dollars have been used to offset massive reductions in state support. Without them, the viability of the college would have been seriously threatened.”

La Plata County received:

o Nearly $10 million for transportation projects.

o More than $6 million in extra unemployment benefits.

o More than $14.7 million for Fort Lewis College.

o More than $2 million to county schools.

o More than $2 million in loans to business.

“Stimulus funding has been extremely important to Fort Lewis College during these very difficult economic times,” said public affairs officer Mitch Davis. He said the money has been used to pay staff and faculty salaries.

“The most valuable thing we got from the stimulus funding was time,” he said. “We knew cuts were coming but because we had this money we were able to take the time to plan for the cuts and make them in a thoughtful way rather than a reactionary way,” he said.

Elsewhere in the district:

o More than $11 million to Adams State College.

o $2 million to build a medical facility in Rifle.

o Nearly $3 million to Colorado Mountain College.

Tipton didn’t return our calls, but here is what he told the Durango Herald in a July interview:

DH: You’ve been very critical of the stimulus bill. Some of that went to private companies here. There’s the big paving project out at Mesa Verde, there are projects at McPhee Reservoir for redoing roads. Is that all bad?

Tipton: Let’s re-frame that. Are there different alternatives? There were. $787 billion. That is an enormous amount of money that is out there. … We hit a crushing development — we had 9/11, the stock market bubble burst. You had Congress with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Community Reinvestment Act. They were saying everybody needs a home. But before that, shouldn’t you have a job?

So we had an over-extension in credit markets. There was a convergence of a lot of different issues, and government is not exempt from having played a role in some of this through their mandates and some of what they wanted to do that didn’t make any fiscal sense in the marketplace. When we did see the economy starting to retract, the idea was we’re going to take this big block of money. Washington is going to decide who the winners and losers are. We’re going to go with shovel-ready projects. A lot of these projects that were shovel ready, were they going to be built? They were. Yeah, did it create a job for that short time of the construction? It did. But all of a sudden, we had these sectors that were benefiting in the short term, but not the long term.

What was an alternative we might have looked at? One thing I could see as a small-businessperson was our employees were being stressed. Their heating bills were going up. The cost of gasoline at that time was higher. What if we were to say we would suspend the payroll tax for a period of time – six months, eight months — and put money back in the pockets of the taxpayers. It’s money they earned.

The counter-argument to that is that you’re going to be driving the deficit. But you’re telling me that just printing $787 billion isn’t driving the deficit as well? At least we would be putting money back in the pockets of people who were having an awful tough time. Maybe that would have been enough of a bridge … for those people maybe to be able to make that mortgage payment, to make the car payment, to maybe be able to take the family out to dinner and help keep the local restaurant afloat that is now shut, to maybe be able to go down to the local hardware store that has now shut its doors.

The government is slow to respond and when it did respond, everything it came out with had to have dollars attached to it. … (In Fruita’s water plant upgrade) they had the project virtually ready to go, and lo and behold, the discovered that since there was some American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars in there, all of a sudden Davis-Bacon wages applied, meaning union wages had to be paid on that job. It increased the costs on that another $1.3 million. Guess who has to pick up the tab? The people of Fruita. Where are they supposed to get the money? … Maybe that’s part of the problem in Washington — we keep sending so many lawyers back. We need to have some people who maybe actually built a business, had to be able to meet a payroll, know what it takes to be able to create a job, know the foresight you have to have whenever you take a job and commit to something.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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