October 13, 2010
Stimulate ThisBy Judith Acosta
After more than a year of pontificating, back-patting, and pointing, a steady stream of federal money was released into the American economy as if loosed into irrigation ditches.
According to the earlier reports, more than $787 billion in cash was supposed to flow out of Washington, D.C. and trickle its way toward communities and individuals hardest hit by the recession. They stated that out of that enormous sum, close to a third would be processed through state governments.
Has it happened? Has anyone been bailed out besides unionized government employees? And if so, what have they proposed doing with the money?
When this first started in 2009, I took a languid walk through some of the stimulus watchdogs on the internet. There were a lot of open hands. California was the leader, with a package totaling $63.8 billion according to americanprogress.org's calculations. New York came in second at $41.29 billion, Texas third with $38.39 billion, and Florida fourth with approximately $30 billion.
I was curious about my own state -- New Mexico. What did our leaders consider a priority? What did we need to consider for out future as well as for the immediate goal of putting people to work?
New Mexico, as an example, put its legislative hand out for $2,937,146,132.00. Like a little note to Santa, it attached a little tag detailing everything it wanted to do with the money.
In a state comprising mainly desert, where water is already the source of heated debate, crisscrossed claims, and very subtle politics among Texas, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada, you might imagine that a water conservation program might be listed in the number-one spot. Or an energy plan that involved trapping the vast amount of wind power or solar power available in a place where winds and sunlight are nearly constant.
Here's what we got instead:
There was only one water conservation project, and all the water projects (mostly storm drain improvements for all those other neighborhoods deliberately developed in those same sandy, shifting plains) combined will cost $71 million.
Not one school project in a state with a 50% dropout rate before 12th grade, an impoverished reading ability, and a ranking of...49 out of 50.
What's happened since then? It's now 2010. The money's been gifted.
The newest projections in New Mexico are that massive teacher layoffs are around the corner because there's a $52-million shortfall. The roadways they started that were unnecessary to begin with are still being "built." In a quaint little town nearby, the main drag has been repaved and the curbs built and torn down five times. Each time, the main drag has failed inspection. Where the money is coming from is beyond me. Where it is actually going is beyond imagination.
The interstate project, which was the end result of federal stimulation, reminds me of what happens to so many lottery winners. With lots of money and unrestrained impulses, they self-destruct. The road-widening we didn't really need is still a confusing maze of diversions and bumps. When I drive through it to get home, I notice there are a lot of trucks moving dirt from one side to the other, but very few laborers and very little progress. The proudly displayed anticipated completion date was spring 2010. I wave at the sign daily. It is now fall 2010.
To explore this on another level, I made an informal inquiry of people at different stores, acquaintances, neighbors. I asked them, "Without giving me any personal information, if the government gave you $2,000 right now, what would you do with it?"
Eighty-five percent said they would go on a little shopping spree and buy something extravagant (a lot of HDTVs and iPods). One woman said she'd go to the casino and see if she could triple it. Another person said he'd do some repairs to his house. Another one said he'd hire an attorney to get his kid back. Only one person said he'd pay down his debts.
My conclusion: As above, so below. And...perhaps more importantly, as below, so above.
What is occurring with our governing class -- the self-indulgence, the entitlement, and the magical thinking (which in their cases has paid off handsomely) -- is also occurring at every level of society: in the federal system, in bloated state governments, in the incestuous and impoverished municipalities, and finally, in our citizenry.
No one seems to be thinking about where he's going to get his next clean glass of water. No one seems to be looking at the mud where the Rio Grande used to flow large and unencumbered. No one has the foresight or self-discipline -- not our bureaucrats and not ourselves -- to be the little pig who builds the brick house.
With the possible exception of Governor Mark Sanford from South Carolina, who once last year requested that his state allocate a percentage of federal stimulus funds to pay off their $700-million state debt instead of spending it on state services, no one has thought about the future.
The federal government rejected his proposal, and a vocal group from the DNC called his offer grandstanding and political posturing. But the question persists: Is there anyone left who truly believes that carrying around a debt is unhealthy fiscally or socially? What happened to the true Hamiltonian Conservative?
The voting (as it appeared on StimulusWatch.org) substantiates the view that America still has no fear about debt despite the massive wave of foreclosures and portfolio losses over the last four years.
When New Mexicans voted in an online poll on the stimulus projects last year, over 166 people voted "aye" on the events arena, but only 22 voted "aye" on the water projects. On one plan for a historical community center that serves the least vocal or successful of our population, a measly $350,000 was requested for necessary renovations. Over 34 "nay" votes were cast.
How much of this stimulus money was distributed to good end? I have not seen the statistics for it, and I imagine the tallies are not yet in. But if what I've seen is any indication, this was a purely fear-generated, greed-induced power play.
My interest in this grew out of watching the road leading to my home repaved for absolutely no reason. The road they paved over was perfectly good. I do not exaggerate. I am from New York, where we know potholes and we loathe them. This was a good road.
Now, after all the work they did on repaving the two-lane local road in our area, what do you think they're going to spend money on next?
Did I hear someone say "tearing it up on another construction project"?
There are many people who are still curiously delighted about the stimulus money. Maybe it's those five guys working on the highway out here. Maybe it's their families. I don't know. But I'm about as stimulated by this cash flow as I was about the corporate bailout. And I don't think they're that different, after all.