11 February 2009

The Fine art of Knowing the Whole Story

I was going to link to Jeff, but decided instead to copy/paste. He says it better than I could...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Skate Plaza Stimulation

Some of you may have seen that my son's skate plaza project has been in the news recently. Only this time, for a different reason.

The Setup

Last fall, mayors nationwide were asked by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to submit a list of, what was termed "shovel-ready" projects, along with the cost of each project. "Shovel-ready" refers to projects where, if funding was available, would be ready to start within 90 days or less.

Upon completion of the lists that were gathered, the conference published a report that showed all the requests from the cities that participated. Here is a summary from the report:

Today The U.S. Conference of Mayors releases the fourth in its series of reports on
infrastructure projects that are “ready to go” in cities across the nation – projects that meet local infrastructure needs and contribute to local economic development goals, that can be funded quickly through existing federal channels and start quickly when funding is received, and that can generate the significant numbers of jobs that are needed to counter the severe economic problems we face today in our metro areas and our nation as a whole.

Today we are reporting that, in 779 cities of all sizes in all regions of the country, a total of 18,750 local infrastructure projects are “ready to go.” These projects represent an infrastructure investment of $149,758,339,126 that would be capable of producing an estimated 1,604,371 jobs in 2009 and 2010. These are the cumulative totals of projects, required funding, and jobs to be created that have been reported in the four surveys of cities conducted by the Conference of Mayors over the past three months. The populations of the 779 cities submitting projects total 77,946,664.

As asked, our mayor supplied this list. In all 32 items were submitted for St. Cloud:

click to enlarge
source: http://www.usmayors.org/mser/documents/mser-report-200901.pdf

As you can see, the skate plaza was listed as one of seven Community Development Block Grant improvement items as defined by the Conference of Mayors

Community Development Block Grants – CDBG would be used to create jobs through: the construction of public facilities and improvements, water and sewer facilities, streets, and neighborhood centers; the conversion of school buildings for eligible purposes; activities relating to energy conservation and renewable energy resources; and assistance to profit-motivated businesses to carry out economic development and job creation/retention activities.

The "List"

On January 28, Tom Steward, from the Freedom Foundation of MN, created this list which he calls "10 Worst Economic Stimulus Requests Made By Minnesota Cities." And topping his list as the #1 worst request was... you guessed it - the St. Cloud skate plaza project.

Steward's entire "10 worst" list was nothing more than what he thought were bad ideas for ways to use stimulus money. The items on his list were cherry-picked out of hundreds of MN submissions and were presented completely out of context. Unfortunately, it was an easy target for the media.

The Backlash

Immediately upon release of Steward's list, our local media decided to give it credibility and run with it. In no time at all, the idea that the federal government would be spending all of the stimulus money on skate parks and tennis courts hit a national nerve and got legs.

Suddenly St. Cloud became the poster child for irresponsible funding requests. In only a matter of days Minnesota's Governor Pawlenty, MPR and Fox News were ranting about this issue and adding fuel to the fire - prompting Sean Hannity himself to write an article called Skateboard Parks Will Revitalize the Economy? in which he stated, "Perhaps Speaker Pelosi can explain how skateboard parks will revitalize the economy."

The Reality

The reality is that all of this has nothing to do with irresponsible spending. Our Mayor was only doing as he was asked and had no allusions that the skate plaza was going to receive stimulus package money. Here's how he states it:

“We were asked to submit a list of every possible project we have that could be ready to go in 90 days or less,” [St. Cloud Mayor Dave] Kleis said. “We didn’t prioritize the list. If we had, those items would have been on the bottom.”

In fact if you look, you'll notice that he simply listed the projects alphabetically by Program type.

The good news for Austin and his project is that this media hype does not affect the skate plaza in any way. It is still being funded through private donations and will still use a portion of the 1/2 cent sales tax that St. Cloud voters approved 3 years ago for park improvements, regardless of whether or not it receives federal funding.

But really, if the federal government decides that city improvement projects that would employ local construction workers and buys tons of area concrete and steel are good for the economy, should St. Cloud turn the money down?

I can't imagine why.

Originally posted by Jeff Lee at viewfromthecloud.com


Jeff said...

Thanks Gette! I'll take all the support we can get on this. :-)

Cliff said...

I just got back from a conference one and one half hour of which a state official covered what might happen in the state of Nebraska. His main message was, after careful attention to the figures and common sense, rural communities should forget it. None will make it past a couple of the big cities of our state. Again it will come down to the population centers one or two roads projects by the state will rule.
Also, if it is 'shovel ready' it was already funded at least here in our state. It takes a full 7 years for us to get a bridge partially funded even though the money from the feds is in 'our' money that's supposed to be sent to us as our share of gas tax money.

Jamie Dawn said...

Interesting. I'd not heard anything in the news about this. Oh well, there's so much out there that I can't keep up with it all.
"Shovel Ready" is a term I've heard a lot lately. I would think that many projects funded by huge spending bill will take years to actually come to fruition. I'm not sure how many jobs will be created in the short term, and of those how many will be long term employment.
I wish the government would get out of the way and let bad businesses fail and good ones prosper.
I was against this spending/stimulus bill, but if the government starts handing out loads of cash, I'll stand in line and stick my hand out too.