Stimulus projects of “dubious merit”

posted at 4:15 pm on June 15, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Now that Barack Obama has promised to start really spending the Porkulus money in an effort to dent the upward trajectory of unemployment before it hits double digits, people have begun to wonder whether the projects have any value — except as window dressing.  The Los Angeles Times reports that many of these projects are of “dubious merit,” and that some of them almost literally amount to putting window dressing on abandoned houses.  Senator Tom Coburn will release a report this week detailing the questionable projects Obama has included on his massive spending spree:

As Obama moves to accelerate the flow of federal stimulus funds, public officials are voicing concerns that some of the projects being devised are of dubious merit.

Obama spoke of the stimulus as a mechanism to create jobs, drop money into a struggling economy and reposition the U.S. as a more energy-efficient nation. So far, those goals are proving difficult to meet.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is putting out a report early this week that will raise questions about the validity of certain projects.

By some measures, the stimulus program is working. Aging bridges and roads are being repaired, providing needed jobs for construction workers. Money is going back to working-class Americans in the form of a tax cut.

What “measures” does Peter Nicholas mean?  The only “measures” show unemployment skyrocketing.  Just in the last month alone, the economy lost 59,000 construction jobs — in a month when construction should get a big boost from good weather.  Over 100,000 construction jobs were lost in April.  While some roadwork projects have employed hundreds of workers, the same capital in the private sector could have boosted construction jobs as well, as businesses expanded and created even more jobs.

In contrast, these construction jobs will be temporary and non-sustaining.  Take for example the Oklahoma project that will refurbish guard rails around a dry lake bed in Oklahoma no one uses.  That will take over a million dollars to repair, according to Porkulus, for a piece of infrastructure that clearly could wait for attention.

Obama says he wants to use Porkulus to create a high-tech infrastructure in energy and transportation, but that’s not where the money will go.  Here in Minneapolis, the local government has taken $2 million to refurbish an old theater, while only spending less than $300,000 on a solar-panel manufacturing plant that would have created 360 jobs within two years.  The subsidy for the latter wasn’t enough to open the plant, which makes it a waste.  As Nicholas points out, that decision flies in the face of Porkulus requirements that the money not go to recreational endeavors, especially those “that serve a predominantly higher-income clientele.”

Earlier this year, I noted the inclusion of a snow-making machine … in Duluth.  I’ll look forward to Coburn’s report to see if that made the final cut.


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