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Infrastructure, Baby, Infrastructure!
A Defense of Stimulus Investments

[1]Joe Conason [2], a stalwart defender of infrastructure, has written a strong column [3] defending the stimulus money dedicated to repairing America’s aging roads, levees, bridges, transit systems, schools, and other essential components of our nation’s physical framework. (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is working [4] and America needs more of it.) Conservatives, says Conason, habitually decry federal stimulus spending as “pork barrel waste” and claim the stimulus failed and created no jobs; they insist Washington should cut taxes and not spend at all. (“Starve the beast.”) They say it’s wrong to burden the next generation with debt (an argument we never hear from the GOP concerning war spending). Well, friends, think of infrastructure spending as an investment, akin to paying college tuition. Here are some portions from Conason’s “Rebuilding an American Legacy [3]”:

What would be left to future generations if the public functions symbolized by stimulus spending simply disappeared? What will the future be if government doesn’t repair and transform the roads, bridges, sewers, power grids, reservoirs, levees, airports, railways, subways, schools, parks, colleges and hospitals that we are leaving to our children in much worse shape than they were left to us? How will those facilities serve the future if they are disintegrating today? . . .

President Barack Obama’s stimulus legislation appropriated nearly $100 billion for highways, transit, schools, parks, water and other public facilities, but its real purpose was to stoke immediate economic activity rather than long-term infrastructure improvements. The aim was to create and save jobs right away and to provide relief to state and local governments and working families. Its provisions for infrastructure hardly began to address actual needs—as the president would certainly acknowledge.

. . . To keep roads and bridges in decent repair . . . we would have to spend $166 billion a year for the next five years. . . . To improve transit sufficiently to meet increasing demand in a carbon-choked world, we should spend an additional $25 billion every year.

[5]. . . the politicians and television personalities who rant constantly against government insist that tax cuts are the only priority and oppose every attempt to restore the very things that laid the foundation of our prosperity are worse than irresponsible. They are like termites, gnawing away at the remarkable legacy left to our generation, one which we must pass on. They are willing, even eager, to squander trillions of dollars on wars abroad, no matter how dubious, and then waste trillions more on “defense” pork that benefits only their donors.

(Speaking of the Republican gluttony for tax cuts, their cure for every ill, read this column by the New York Times’s Bob Herbert, “The Same Old Song [6],” about congressional Republicans’ demands for further tax cuts in early 2009 when Obama was prescribing a healthy dose of stimulus spending to revive the traumatized economy—and was offering one-third of the stimulus bill in the form of tax cuts in the vain hope of attracting some GOP support.)

As we noted in our April 3 post on employment gains [7], “the American Society of Civil Engineers [8] gives the U.S.A. a D grade and estimates a five-year investment of $.2.2 trillion is needed to get the nation back in shape.” For names and contact info of congressional friends of infrastructure, see “Get Congress on Track to Stimulate Mass Transit [9].”

What’s in It for Levees and Flood Protection?

ProPublica.org, which has been keeping an Eye on the Stimulus [10], reported last year that the allocations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction ($2 billion), Mississippi River and tributaries ($375 million), and operations and maintenance (nearly $2.1 billion) add up to nearly $4.5 billion. Another $25 million was allocated for Corps investigations, $25 million for the Corps regulatory program, and $100 million to the Corps for “formerly utilized sites remedial action program.” By our count this is $4.6 billion for the Corps of Engineers. Not bad. For comparison, bear in mind that until November 2007, when the newly Democratic-controlled Congress overrode George W. Bush’s veto and at long last passed the Water Resources Development Act [11] (WRDA), there had not been a water projects bill in seven years, when in normal conditions water projects bills are passed every two years. (Read our post “Good News for Water Works! [12]” for more about the 900 projects WRDA funded after a long, war-weary drought.)

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Trestle photo courtesy of POA (Pissed Off American), a reader of Steve Clemons’s fine Washington Note [13] blog.

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