Barbour Breaks With AASHTO Chief on Stimulus’ Transportation Benefits

Viewers of yesterday's Fox News Sunday were treated to an interesting sight: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), whose name is increasingly in the mix for his party's 2012 presidential nomination, distancing himself from the president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Washington's voice for state DOTs.

340x.jpgButch Brown, Mississippi's DOT director and AASHTO's president, "stopped just short of" endorsing higher fuel taxes during last year's stimulus debate, according to the AP. (Photo: AP)
Barbour, who initially threatened to reject some of his state's share of the Obama administration's stimulus law, was asked by Fox News host Chris Wallace whether he had "changed [his] mind" about the economic recovery legislation given that "stimulus road project signs are up around the state with your name on them."

The chairman of the Republican Governors Association told Wallace:

No. In fact, we did not take $56 million that was offered to us because it would have forced to us raise taxes later. ...

And you mention the Department of Transportation and the highway projects. The Department of Transportation's independent of me. They have a independently elected board who announced last week that the stimulus package created 500 jobs for a cost of $350 million -- $700,000 a job. I was flabbergasted.

The estimate of 500 jobs created from Mississippi's transportation stimulus money came from AASHTO chief Butch Brown, who cited the number during a week of positive press appearances intended to boost the stimulus law's standing with voters. As Brown said in his official statement on the law's one-year anniversary:

The impact and importance of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act has been invaluable — both for Mississippi and for all the states across the country. One year ago, the enactment provided the stepping stone we needed to move forward and build good transportation projects while creating jobs that may have gone by the way-side had it not been for the ARRA funding.

According to data provided by state officials to the House transportation committee on Capitol Hill, Mississippi's $355 million in highway stimulus money has created 4,756 direct, project-related jobs -- a projection consistent with AASHTO's claim that transportation stimulus money has generated 280,000 jobs nationwide.

A call to Brown's office asking for clarification on the source of his conflicting 500-jobs estimate was not immediately returned, but this post will be updated as any new information becomes available.

For a bit more context on Mississippi transportation politics, check out this post from a local political blog in Natchez, where Brown -- supported by the two Democratic members of the state's three-man transport commission -- formerly served as mayor.