Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Stimulus Stampede

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

-- H. L. Mencken

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

-- Also Mencken

Are you getting an uneasy feeling about this whole stimulus thing? I am.

It really feels like we're being stampeded. The rhetoric has been apocalyptic. Consider this reasoned, measured statement that President Obama made during yesterday's presser:

My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing a little or nothing at all will result in even greater deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence. Those are deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

This is a long way from FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The only thing that's truly on offer is fear itself. This is stupid. The sky will not fall if this stimulus package does not pass. But we won't find out, because it's going to pass in some form or another.

So what are we likely to get from the stimulus package? And are we going to get it good and hard? Who knows? It's so huge, so full of stuff that it's impossible to wrap your mind around it. One site that is helpful is Stimulus Watch, a site that provides, among other things, a look at some of the "shovel ready" projects that are bidding fair to get some of the gigantic honey pot that's coming down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Minnesota has some projects in mind. For those of us in northern Ramsey County, this is exciting news. Let's consider a couple of worthy endeavors that are out there.

The first is from Roseville, which asks for $1.5 million to replace the clubhouse and maintenance shop at a golf course, which I presume would be Cedarholm. Cedarholm is a cute little executive course that sits near Highway 36 and Hamline Avenue, about a quarter-mile east of Rosedale Mall. It has lost money for years. I don't doubt for a moment that a new clubhouse would help make it a more pleasant amenity, but there's no way that the money will change the underlying economics of the site: it is a pitch and putt course and simply selling the land would yield far more money and economic development for Roseville and Ramsey County. But there's a chance that the folks in Elkhart, Indiana will be helping us to pay for this.

Meanwhile, in lovely Arden Hills, there's an idea to plunk down $40 million to get the long-moribund TCAAP site up and running. TCAAP is the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, which is about as Superfund a Superfund site as you can imagine. There are unbelievable amounts of toxins buried out there and it's highly unlikely that $40 million would even begin to handle all the potential cost of abatement, especially since the new administration will be a lot less likely to be benevolent with developers. Arden Hills is a very nice, generally upscale suburb with an excellent location close to both Minneapolis and St. Paul, and while one could imagine a potential market for varying development in the area, the experience of New Brighton's disastrous Northwest Quadrant project makes me question where the interest would be in such a project. The Northwest Quadrant area had less environmental problems than TCAAP and is even closer to Minneapolis than the TCAAP parcel, but it has failed to come anywhere close to the rosy projections that the local goverment worthies came up with. Our friend Right Hook wrote an excellent synopsis of what happened with the Northwest Quadrant. It's a pathetic tale of local politicians pretending to be developers without understanding the fundamentals of what makes a project work. Perhaps it's possible that the majordomos in Arden Hills might do a better job of shepherding a successful project that sits less than a mile east of the Northwest Quadrant, but that's not the way to bet. And in any event, it's not clear why federal money would be warranted for a project that's been out there for over a decade and hasn't moved off the dime.

There are literally thousands of other projects out there. Some might be more worthy than these ones. But I'd be willing to wager that most of them aren't. And riddle me this: do you think that the laid off IT guys and Circuit City sales people have the skill set to be "shovel ready" and work on public works projects of this sort? It's a question that hardly anyone seems to be asking while we are stampeded into this brave new world that President Obama demands.
Cross-posted at Ramsey County Exposed


Gino said...

there will be a price paid by counter-revolutionaries.
change your ways, wayward soul, or you may next in the gulag.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

This is all decidedly unwise.
Kind of like rubbing poison ivy all over your body. You might not notice the effect immediately, but there ain't no way that the action isn't going to cause needless pain.