Stimulus Waste? The $3.4 Million Turtle Crossing

GAO reports some stimulus money being used for short-term projects rather than long-term job creation

As the Obama administration tests the waters for a second massive government stimulus, critics are questioning the effectiveness of the first $787 billion program, which they say is moving at a turtle's pace and includes some absurd and wasteful pork projects.

The president's economic advisors said that the administration did not anticipate the severity of the recession and that it might now be necessary for the government to pump more money into the economy to prevent further job losses.

VIDEO: Controversy surrounds signs touting taxpayer money hard at work.
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But critics say that the $787 billion stimulus isn't being spent fast enough and some of the projects approved are frivolous and do nothing to stimulate the economy. Before we dig the country further into debt, they argue, we should wait and see how the first stimulus plan works.

"I don't think we need to have another stimulus bill. I think we need to change this one so that we spend the money right now," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has been critical of the plan.

Then there are the questionable projects.

For instance, the Florida Department of Transportation wants to spend $3.4 million in stimulus money for a turtle tunnel. That's right, $3.4 million to help turtles cross under a highway. Each year, 1,035 turtles are killed on a half-mile stretch of highway north of Tallahassee, according to The Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance, a group advocating for the tunnel. They are hoping to use the stimulus dough to save the turtles.

Across the country in Montana, a border crossing that averages fewer than two passenger cars a day and two to three trucks a month is slated to get $15 million in stimulus funds for upgrades.

One Utah sheriff's office wants to spend $25,000 in stimulus money for a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

To keep track of all the spending, the government has created a Web site. But nothing in life is free.

The independent General Services Administration quietly put out a release Wednesday night saying the site would be redesigned -- for $9.5 million and, perhaps, as much as $18 million in the next five years.

Most of the projects paid for by the stimulus will also get signs announcing: "Project Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act." Those signs do not come cheap, of course. Small signs can start at $400 in Michigan all the way up to more than $8,000 for a large highway sign in New York.

"We need to be spending money now on things that have true value," Coburn said.

His dream spending list would include money for highways, roads and bridges, dam-repairs and a larger new homeowner tax credit. Coburn also suggested spending $100 billion to restock the military with supplies. That, he said, would immediately get idled factory lines running again.

"Those are jobs that would click in within 30 days," he said.

The other week Coburn released "100 Stimulus Projects: A Second Opinion," a report examining projects Coburn claimed to be wasteful and paid for by stimulus money.

Ed DeSeve, senior advisor to the president for Recovery Act implementation, called the report "filled with inaccuracies" and included "projects that have already been stopped, projects that never were approved, and some projects that are working quite well."

Of the $787 billion approved by Congress, only $174.9 billion has been allocated for projects so far, with just $60.4 billion of that actually paid out, according to Recovery.gov.

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