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Despite dismal results, Dems continue push for transportation spending in Stimulus II
01.13.10

By Penny Wise

 
Amidst news of continuing job loss and double-digit unemployment, a recent Associated Press analysis reveals an open secret: stimulus spending on transportation infrastructure has failed to bring down local unemployment rates.
 
Here in New Hampshire, that’s not exactly surprising. Data released by the state’s Office of Economic Stimulus last fall showed that the Recovery Act created or retained 116 highway infrastructure jobs in the state. Representing 3% of total jobs attributed to the stimulus package, transportation spending clearly was not leading New Hampshire’s economic recovery.
 
But that hasn’t stopped Democrats – both in-state and nationally – from making the case that more spending on infrastructure is warranted. In fact, a Second Stimulus package that passed in the House last month, with Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter’s (D-NH) support, included $27.5 billion for highway projects.
 
Back in October, Shea-Porter admitted that the Recovery Act had fallen short on job creation. But she ascribed that failure to a lack of public works spending. In an interview with WMUR-TV, the Congresswoman said, “I know that [the stimulus] has created some jobs, but clearly not what we were anticipating. And again I think that we should have put more money into the infrastructure so that there’d be more projects that people could work on.”
 
Upon House passage of Stimulus II – the so-called “Jobs for Main Street Act” – President Obama issued a short statement praising the bill. He pointed first to “repairing our roads and bridges” as he extolled the package’s job-creation potential. The President concluded by saying, “Some may think standing by and taking no action is the right approach, but for the millions of Americans still out of work, inaction is unacceptable.”
 
Taking action may help President Obama and his political advisers feel better, but the Associated Press analysis indicates that’s an exercise in futility. According to the AP, “Spend a lot or spend nothing at all, it didn't matter… Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless of how much stimulus money Washington poured out for transportation…”
 
That reality is far from the high heady days of last spring, when Congresswoman Shea-Porter rhapsodized about the stimulus’ massive potential for job creation. While at a groundbreaking ceremony for a stimulus-funded Route 101 project, Shea-Porter said, “I picture the people who will be working here and receiving paychecks every week and I know we’re accomplishing what we need to.”
 
Now more than ever, that sentiment resembles little more than wishful thinking.
 
A report on the Associated Press analysis indicates that, “Even within the construction industry, which stood to benefit most from transportation money...there was nearly no connection between stimulus money and the number of construction workers hired or fired since Congress passed the recovery program. The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it.”
 
His vigorous endorsement notwithstanding, even President Obama has questioned the value of using government infrastructure programs to grow jobs.
Curiously, at a December jobs summit held just before announcing major infrastructure investments, Obama, “…strolled into a break out session on infrastructure spending -- and spoke about why he was skeptical that infrastructure spending was a good tool for a short-term jobs boost. Big infrastructure projects take too long to get going, he said, while less ambitious, faster-acting projects, like road repavings, offered little in the way of long-term payoff or transformation of the country's transportation system.”
A mere five days later, the President was singing a different tune when he called for a “fresh round of infrastructure spending.”
Given the political dynamics surrounding this issue, Obama’s about-face isn’t shocking. For example, the AFL-CIO – one of several labor unions that poured massive resources into the President’s campaign – lists transportation construction near the top of its five-point plan to create jobs. In terms of money and manpower, the AFL-CIO is one of President Obama’s most powerful political allies – a group he’s unlikely to cross.
 
In any event, the “change” that Democrats promised looks like more of the same. And when it comes to creating jobs through federal spending on infrastructure, it’s important to remember that the definition of insanity is repeatedly taking the same action while expecting different results.

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