Resources for Covering Municipal Spending in the Post-Stimulus Era


It's been two years since Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, making $275 billion in stimulus funds available. It's time to see if those stimulus dollars were put to good use. This resource page will help you find the information you need to report the stories affecting your community. This list is provided by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting as part of a Specialized Reporting Institute, held in Boston May 9-10, 2011, and funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

What Others are Doing

STORIES BASED ON WORKSHOP TRAINING
Death certificates tell story of complex South Shore overdose epidemic The Patriot Ledger (Massachusetts), June 27, 2011

Inside Senate Bill 5: How Stark's public workers would be affected
The Repository (Canton, Ohio), June 27, 2011
Includes Google spreadsheets on the impact to local governments and public libraries and school districts and an article on Life before and after Senate Bill 5

Town coffers bleed from corporal punishment; Overtime means three police officers in Southbury will get bigger pension than current pay,
Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American, June 12, 2011

State: OTA exaggerated rider numbers;
Former union official says drivers complained about timesheet changes,

The Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier, May 25, 2011

Two sides to local stimulus money; Majority of Wapello County’s receipts came with Job Corps,
The Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier, May 19, 2011

The Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier set up a "document viewer" section on its website to post documents on which stories are based. It allows readers to go directly to the source.

A final salute: Ottumwans remember fallen airman; Community displays overwhelming support,
The Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier, June 6, 2011

Mass. food stamp use doubles, but pace of growth is slowing,
GateHouse Media News Service, June 15, 2011

IRS releases revocation list, McAlester affected,
McAlester (Okla.) News-Capital, June 14, 2011

Guess who is tax-exempt?
McAlester (Okla.) News-Capital, June 15, 2011

Somerville officials make mistake on bond statement to investors,
Somerville (Mass.) Journal, June 16, 2011

Attorney General fines Assembly Square developer Avalon Bay,
Somerville (Mass.) Journal, May 19, 2011

Somerville owed millions from property tax scofflaws,
Somerville (Mass.) Journal, June 3, 2011

Lobbyists flocked to insurance overhaul bill,
(Lewiston, Maine) Sun Journal, May 19, 2011

Political Pulse: Losers and winners lobbying the Legislature,
(Lewiston, Maine) Sun Journal, May 23, 2011

TRACKING STIMULUS DOLLARS

“Stimulus dollars going to accused contractors,”
Washington Post, Oct. 29, 2009

“Tracking stimulus funds presents daunting task,”
National Public Radio, Feb. 4, 2009

“Federal stimulus dollars continued to flow to Cape Cod at the end of 2010,”
Cape Cod Today, March 7, 2011

“Stimulus dollars help give new life to foreclosed homes in Idaho,”
Idaho Statesman, March 5, 2011

“Federal stimulus dollars jump-start stalled infrastructure projects,”
Capital Times, Madison, Wis., Oct. 15, 2010

“Tracking stimulus dollars,”
Wall Street Journal, Aug. 14, 2010

“Did the White House meet its stimulus goal?"
ProPublica, Oct. 1, 2010

“Millions in grants went to wind farms built before stimulus passed,”
Investigative Reporting Workshop, co-published with msn.com, Oct. 21, 2010

“Renewable energy money still going abroad, despite criticism from Congress,”
Investigative Reporting Workshop, in coordination with ABC's World News Tonight and the Watchdog Institute, Feb. 8, 2010

“Powerful Democrats help Chinese energy firm chase stimulus money,”
Investigative Reporting Workshop, Dec. 9, 2010

“Stimulus bill helped some far more than others,”
McClatchy Newspapers, Aug. 8, 2010

ON THE BUDGET CRISIS

“Bing threatens to request emergency manager if he doesn’t get state aid, union cuts,”
Detroit Free Press, April 29, 2011

"State’s health plan huge cost-cutter for cities, towns,"
Boston Globe, March 3, 2010

“Runaway health costs are rocking municipal budgets,”
Boston Globe, Feb. 28, 2010

“Hard pressed, cities take ax to once-sacrosanct firehouses,”
New York Times, Aug. 26, 2010

“NH towns brace for state budget cuts,”
New Hampshire Eagle-Tribune, March 18, 2011

“Towns press to change binding arbitration, prevailing wage laws,”
Hartford Courant, Feb. 8, 2011

“State budget crisis: Alabama town’s failed pension is a warning,”
New York Times, Dec. 23, 2010

“Experts: Decline in public sector jobs not helping state economy,”
New Hampshire Gazette (registration required)

“Town in Trouble: Bridgewater looks to reform costs, revenue and structure to escape fiscal problems,”
The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass., March 22, 2010

“Full coverage: California state budget crisis,”
Los Angeles Times, 2009

“Cities: Gov’s plan to hold up tax money would hurt,”
Belleview, Ill., News-Democrat, April 29, 2011

Key Resources

Sites That Will Help You Track Stimulus Dollars

Recovery.gov: Track the Money

The official U.S. government website for stimulus funds.
http://www.recovery.gov/Pages/default.aspx

CNNMoney.com

An interactive graphic of CNN's "Stimulus Project."
http://money.cnn.com/news/specials/storysupplement/stimulus-tracker/index.html

National Conference of State Legislatures

This "State Oversight of Federal Stimulus Funds" chart provides a brief summary of actions that states are proposing or taking to provide oversight and transparency of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Also included are state websites that will provide information on implementation and spending of funds from ARRA.
http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=12577

Grants.gov

In response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), grant-making agencies are posting Recovery Act specific grant opportunities on this site.
http://www.grants.gov/

ProPublic's Recovery Tracker

ProPublica has taken the data used on the government’s stimulus Web site, Recovery.gov, added other recovery spending records to provide this analysis of stimulus spending.
http://projects.propublica.org/recovery

U.S. Government Accountability Office

GAO's oversight of the Recovery Act.
http://www.gao.gov/recovery/

USA Spending

How the federal government is spending your money. It includes information on grants, loans and subcontractor information.
http://usaspending.gov/

Federal Procurements

The central repository for federal contract information.
https://www.fpds.gov/fpdsng_cms/

OSHA Inspections

Search workplace safety violations by the name of a company. Be sure to have your local OSHA press person walk you through the data to be sure you understand the codes and fine information.
http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/establishment.html
There also may be state workplace safety organizations with information; in Massachusetts it is the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.

U.S. EPA ECHO database

Fiind federal environmental violation and penalty information by company or entity.
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/data/systems/multimedia/echo.html
Or, you can do the same at your state’s environmental site enforcement web page. In Massachusetts, it is the Department of Environmental Protection.

##Federal Litigation and Prosecutions##
Where you can look up civil or criminal prosecutions, lawsuits and bankruptcy filings.
http://www.pacer.gov/
State sites may or may not have actual documents to view; our site in Massachusetts is www.ma-trialcourts.org.

National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting

This site has data you can buy from IRE, including election information, contracts, small business administration loans and more.
http://data.nicar.org/node/6

Government Financial Officers Association

This is the membership organization for government CFOs.
http://www.gfoa.org/

Sites That Will Help You Write Local Budget Crisis Stories

State Budget Solutions

The State Budget Solutions Project, a non-partisan organization, features studies, data sets, anecdotes, and compelling narrative about what is happening in state and local budgets.
http://www.statebudgetsolutions.org/publications/in_the_news.asp

ePodunk

ePodunk provides in-depth information about more than 46,000 communities around the country, and includes geocoded information about thousands of parks, museums, historic sites, colleges, schools and other places across America.
http://www.epodunk.com/

National League of Cities

Designed to connect city leaders with the information and programs needed to address their cities’ challenges.
http://www.nlc.org/

U.S. Conference of Mayors

The official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more.
http://www.usmayors.org/

AFSCME

The official site of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
http://www.afscme.org/issues/state-local-budgets

A Journalist's Guide to Covering Municipal and School Budgets in New Jersey (PDF)

This PDF is specific to New Jersey but the analysis can be applied to other communities.

Document Cloud

Key documents collected and shared by news organizations around the country.
http://www.documentcloud.org/home

Pew Center on the States

Data tracking and reports on issues in all 50 states.
http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/

Stateline.org

News and information on policy issues from the state government perspective.
http://www.stateline.org/live/issues/Taxes+%26+Budget

Training

Covering the Budget Crisis in Your City or State

Governments big and small are trying to cut spending but still provide basic services. To cover that story, you need to know how to read and analyze a budget, how to dissect a union contract and how to generate stories that will stand out.
http://www.newsu.org/covering-budget-crisis

The Journalist’s Toolbox

Great set of resources by the Society of Professional Journalists updated daily with new reporting tools.
http://www.journaliststoolbox.org/

IRE's EXTRA! EXTRA! Page

A guide to new investigative stories done by reporters around the country including (if you are a member) tip sheets and guides on how they got the story.
http://www.ire.org/extraextra/

A Guide to Computer-Assisted Reporting

A great introductory read for the new computer assisted reporter.
http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/69334/a-guide-to-computer-assisted-reporting/

Introduction to Excel

There are numerous free basic Excel tutorials on the Web, including one from Microsoft Office and this one.

Many Eyes from IBM

This is a simple data visualization tool.
http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/

Step-by-Step Guide to Mapping the U.S. Recovery

Thousands of interactive points load as fast as you can drag your mouse enabling you to scour the map, performing a virtual survey of all of the work being funded by the government in the last quarter to reinvest in the American economy.
http://developmentseed.org/blog/2011/may/17/mapping-us-recovery-step-step-guide-making-interactive-map

Four Digital Tools to Improve Your Government Coverage

An archived live blog from August 2010, featuring free digital services to cover government more effectively.
http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/e-media-tidbits/104708/4-digital-tools-to-improve-your-government-coverage/