Monday, December 29, 2008

A regional approach to economic stimulus

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an OpEd by Clifford Winston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, about the potential for pork in Mr. Obama’s proposed federal stimulus package coming down the pike.

Winston argues the wisdom of large expenditures of federal capital without a requisite return on the social side—basically, not wasting this opportunity by funneling funds to projects like polar bear exhibits and water-park rides.

[Will the Obama economic stimulus target the right infrastructure projects, or will it be stuffed with political pork?]

As public officials, like governors, line up for the new administration’s largesse, the list of infrastructure projects continues to grow—the number now rests at 11,391. These projects are what are being referred to as “shovel-ready” by governors like New York’s David Patterson.

Bill Dodge, over at the blog, Regional Communities-“Think Globally, Act Regionally”©, shares some similar ideas about stimulus packages and infrastructure development.

Like Winston, Dodge sees the proper response from the new administration to be one rooted in a cultural understanding of the issues and needs, and to resist the cynical response of resorting to “business as usual” when it comes to federal spending.

Dodge proposes a two-phase approach to economic stimulus. “Target labor-intensive public works efforts, such as “(weatherizing) public buildings and (assisting) homeowners to do the same. Recycle natural resources, such as converting pine trees destroyed by bark beetles into fuel for pellet stoves.”

Then, Dodge advises revisiting the “shovel-ready” projects and determining feasibility based upon whether they pass a “renewability” test.

Dodge, who the former Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils, and author of the book, Regional Excellence: Governing Together to Compete Globally and Flourish Locally, sees the wisdom of rolling this infrastructure package out, regionally. This would seem to make sense, given that the U.S. is made up of contiguous regions. Dodge contends that there are approximately 600 regions nationwide.

I’d recommend reading both Winston and Dodge on this subject, particularly because I think it's an approach that could benefit Maine.

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