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Signs of waste? $1 million used to tout stimulus funds at work in Ohio

By Randi Kaye
CNN'S AC360°
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A sign of waste?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ohio senator's complaint: Stimulus money used to advertise what money went toward
  • Sen. Tim Grendell says the signs -- some costing $3000 each -- are a waste of taxpayer dollars
  • One mayor argues $1 million could have gone toward fixing roads and creating jobs
  • More on surprising ways your tax-money is being spent on tonight's AC360, 10 p.m. ET
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See more surprising ways your tax-dollars are being spent on the week-long series "The Stimulus Project" on AC360, 10 p.m. ET

Cleveland, Ohio (CNN) -- A state senator from Ohio says his state is spending $1 million on road signs to advertise the use of stimulus money for road projects. In other words, the state is using your money to tell you it's spending your money.

State Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Ohio, calls it a waste of taxpayer dollars. The road signs he's concerned about display words such as "Project Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" Some road projects have two signs, and some don't have any at all, but the signs aren't cheap.

The bigger signs can cost as much as $3,000 each, according to Grendell, who says this is just a big "thank you" to the Obama Administration.

He told CNN, "Send a fruit basket if you want to say 'thank you.' Don't waste a million dollars saying 'thank' you to Washington for giving us back our tax money."

Grendell says the message here is that stimulus dollars are "being spent stupidly."

Ohio's Department of Transportation says that criticism misses the point -- that this is all about transparency.

Scott Varner, a spokesperson for the department said, "the president made a commitment to have these symbols of stimulus projects; we think it's important. What better way to let the taxpayer know where stimulus money is being spent?"

While Varner says the $1 million price tag on signs is "on the high side," he was unable to provide the department's own tally for money spent on the signs.

He said, "it is not typical for any state DOT to have the exact cost on every single construction sign. It is a challenge to have that exact figure."

Ohio was given nearly $1 billion of stimulus money for roadwork. The money used for the signs is only about one-tenth of 1 percent of that money.

But critics argue that stimulus money -- all of it -- was designed to finance projects, not advertise them.

Although the Obama administration promised the stimulus package would create jobs, there is no evidence that putting up these road signs created any jobs.

Ted Andrzejewski, the mayor of Eastlake, Ohio, and a Democrat, is also angry about the signs.

He says for a bit more than what the road signs cost, he could've fixed a road in his community and created more than two dozen jobs. The mayor says all of his stimulus requests were turned down.

"The problem is sometimes our politicians don't understand what a million dollars is," Andrzejewski said.

Grendell first noticed the signs last fall. He had to pass one every day on the way to get his morning coffee.

It made him so angry he'd return home mumbling under his breath. He says even after the road project was finished, the sign remained up for some time. He's so furious about this he introduced a bill to stop the signs and wrote a letter to Ohio's Democratic governor, Ted Strickland. He never heard back.

The governor's spokesman told CNN, "It's common practice on public works projects to demonstrate how tax dollars are spent."

And Ohio isn't the only state turning taxpayer dollars into road signs.

CNN found most states are spending stimulus money on signs and that could cost taxpayers nationwide about $3.8 million. At least 16 states, however, are skipping the signs and putting the money toward road projects instead.

Vermont is letting residents track where the stimulus money is spent on a Web site created by the state, for a lot less money than the signs being used in Ohio. Grendell thinks that's a great idea.

"At the end of the day as a public official, we're accountable for 100 cents on the dollar. We shouldn't waste one penny, not five pennies. We should use it where it will best benefit the taxpayers," he says.

 
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