Ready To Go
16 December 2008 |
According to Paul Nussbaum at the Inquirer, “Texas Gov. Rick Perry is one of the critics of massive federal spending on public works. He said yesterday: ‘Every dollar the government taxes and spends is a dollar a family could invest in their children’s education or an employer could have used to create more jobs’.”
Texas wants to spend $6 billion in federal funds for 853 immediate infrastructure projects, ranking Perry’s state 3rd in dollar amount of requests, behind Utah and Florida, and first in total number of projects. Politics doesn’t attract people who feel shame, I suppose.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the group that PennDOT chief Allen Biehler chairs, says that Pennsylvania has assembled 319 projects worth a little over a billion dollars. That’s the 16th largest amount. It’s clearly too early to worry or wonder why Pennsylvania is requesting this relatively small amount. (New Jersey’s list includes 153 projects worth $1.64 billion.) We don’t know what these lists include or how they were formulated. We do, however, know that Governor Rendell is ready to fast track projects; he’s also an enormously persuasive and influential spokesman for energy and public works projects. Much remains to be seen.
No one is really sure if this kind of quick-fire deficit spending makes good investment. The projects, such as painting the Girard Point Bridge and renovating the Spring Garden and Girard Broad Street Subway stations, are necessary and will put people to work in the near term. That may be fine, but this much spending really should be strategic, and though meant to address immediate problems, it really ought to follow from some kind of vision. Inquirer readers seem to get this. In a clear contrast to the usual tone of readers’ comments, responders to Nussbaum’s recent article — “Region ready for a quick economic fix” — hold out thoughtful ideas for this kind of spending. Almost all the ideas — a grand central regional station, the cross-county metro, extending the El into the northeast, extending the Sub to the Navy Yard, building a high speed train to Pittsburgh — are for visionary, long-term transit projects meant to strategically enhance, and sometimes reshape, the way we live. Few of them could be implemented immediately.
The rush to consider infrastructure exposes the gap between this kind of strategic thinking and the provincial reality of politics. Says Biehler of how he would like to spend the money, “in my perfect world, the projects would have good geographic distribution, with lots of emphasis on bridge repairs, pavement replacements, bottleneck improvements, safety improvements, and a few good capacity-improvement projects.” You notice he doesn’t mention transit. Nor, indeed, does he appear to be thinking about how this kind of capital spending might advance a more urban, and greener, civilization. It’s no doubt challenging to uphold strategic vision in front of a disparate and needy public. Everyone deserves a piece of the action. But it would be useful to start even this shotgun spending spree with a central idea.
“Geographic distribution” sounds to me like just another bridge to nowhere.