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Stimulus Magic: How the States Met Their Spending Deadline

 Just how fast stimulus money is getting out the door to states has been a running partisan squabble of late. Democrats see a raging river. Republicans see a pool of molasses.

But the Obama administration seemed to get one up last week with the announcement that it had reached a closely watched milestone: All states and territories had obligated at least half the highway money they got in the stimulus bill -- and they did it before the deadline.

The announcement could have used an asterisk.

Although states technically met the June 29 deadline laid out in the law, 13 still hadn't obligated 50 percent of their total highway funds at the time of the announcement, according to our analysis of Department of Transportation data. Nevada, for one, had committed only 35 percent.

Why the discrepancy? As it turns out, there's more than one way to count.

To give the economy a quick shot in the arm, Congress wrote a "use or lose it" provision into the stimulus bill, which passed in February. States got 120 days to choose projects and report how they'd spend half their money. Missing the deadline meant forfeiting unobligated money to other states.

But the law was precise in defining what counted toward half: only money controlled by state governments. Stimulus funding that the states pass on to big cities and urban areas wasn't counted.

That formula leaves out a large share of the total $27 billion in highway funding flowing through states -- 30 percent of it, to be exact. The money is primarily for repairing roads and bridges.

When all the money is considered -- including dollars aimed at cities and urban areas -- only 37 states had obligated 50 percent or more of their stimulus transportation funds, based on the Transportation Department's most recent project list, dated June 26.

Of the $16 billion obligated so far, the bulk of the money -- 71 percent -- has gone for paving projects, followed by 11 percent for bridge construction and improvement.

We’ve put together our own chart based on the June 26 project list, and we'll keep updating it as the stimulus progresses. For comparison, here's the DOT's tally of June 29 that served as the basis for the administration's count.

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