Monday, February 9, 2009

Here I go again

As a democrat, I feel upset by my lack of enthusiasm for the current stimulus package. Sure, where roads are bad, fix them, but we shouldn't build a bunch of new roads and bridges we don't actually need just for the sake of employing people. All those new roads will increase our future financial obligations because we will have even more roads to maintain.

I just saw Senator Frank explaining how important it is for the federal government to send money to the states to help maintain the employment levels of policemen and the like. Usually I agree with the senator, but having lived in Massachusetts for a year recently, I was struck by the pervasive presence of police in his state. It seemed like every time anyone backed up a big truck, they had to contact the authorities in advance and have a squad of police supervise the procedure. Sooooo wasteful of tax dollars! Bloated state and local government should be cut back where possible. With the national debt the size that it is, we need to be careful what kinds of stimulus and investments we make. We need to choose projects that we will be glad we spent money on down the road.

We should invest even more in alternative energy sources. ( They tout that this plan doubles our current capacity for alternative energy, but doubling almost nothing is still almost nothing!) Scientific research-----originally included in the package, but now removed-----is a good idea for a nation facing energy problems, global warming, sick bees and an epidemic of diabetes. We could employ more people in the cleanups after natural disasters to restore economic activity promptly. And surely we could stand to improve educational programs and fund services that focus on keeping people out of the prison system. (Incarceration, even in a low-end state like Florida, costs about $20,000 per inmate per year. In Nevada it's more like thirty grand!)

I am all for a lot of construction projects, but I suspect the only thing really alluring about road construction is how much faster that is to get started than, say, nuclear power plants. I sure hope the final package strikes a good balance between the conveniently prompt projects, and the smart choices that take more planning.


derekstaff said...

I agree. I'm rather skeptical of the stimulus package; I fear it is likely to end up as a lot of pork and corporate welfare. I hope not. I hope they wisely choose valuable projects (reinforcing aging infrastructure so that we don't get more collapsing bridges and failing levees). But I'm somewhat pessimistic.

djinn said...

Oh yeah, police and more jails, that's what we need. Roads anyone? Bridges? Basic ifrastruture? Sigh.

kerfuffler said...

The collapsing bridge in Minneapolis was found to have been caused by faulty design rather than poor maintenance, but I think it is problematic that municipalities get federal dollars for building things, but not for maintaining them. Although that makes a certain sense, it also incentivizes letting things crumble and waiting for federal dollars to build the next new thing.
And I was barely exaggerating the omnipresence of the police in Boston. Seriously, they have such political sway there that they have been able to get a ton of ordinances passed that require police presence for all sorts of mundane things. That means they need more police which means that police are an even bigger voting block which means more ordinances....
Btw, The Alaskan (nameless by my choice and insistence) governor is interested in building a road to Nome. Nome!!!! Check it out on a map, and then try to imagine how much it would cost for snow removal every year-----forget about the construction costs.

derekstaff said...

I believe that I recall a report being issued shortly after the Minn bridge collapse which indicated a large number of the nations bridges were becoming structurally unsound. Whether you call that a maintenance issue or not, surely that would be a good use of government stimulus.

I'm not terribly shocked that this Alaskan governor wants a road to Nome. I wonder if she'll say "Thanks, but no thanks" when that tidbit becomes more widely published.

kerfuffler said...

I'm sure there are plenty of bridges that need maintenance or replacement, and I agree there is no time like the present given the unemployment woes. But I also hope that municipalities become more vigilant about maintaining expensive bridges. They are cheaper to maintain than to build. But when federal dollars are used for new construction, and local monies are used for maintenance, local politicians preferences become skewed towards new construction.