Yesterday, David Brooks bemoaned the lack of artistry and “vision” in the upcoming multi-billion-dollar Obama administration infrastructure program. Brooks noted that it’s not likely to be art or to bring “communities together.” But today we hear a little about what it will be. According to Robert Poole, who waded through the U.S. mayors’ wish list of over 11,000 projects, we’re getting $73B worth of tennis courts, dog parks and skating rinks. He explains:
The country does indeed need to invest in critical infrastructure. We have a backlog of deferred maintenance on both highways and bridges. According to Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report, 24% of U.S. bridges were reported structurally deficient or functionally obsolete in 2006. At the current rate of repair it will take 62 years for those bridges to be brought up to date. But it won’t take six decades to fix them because the government doesn’t have the money; it will take that long because our political leaders don’t prioritize. Too often they choose ribbon-cutting ceremonies at sports complexes over repairing bridges.
He suggests many of the important things — road repair, for example — can be done privately and paid for by tolls. But in the end you have to make choices. He suggests:
It was very nice of the country’s mayors to hand taxpayers a wish list worth $73 billion. But before taxpayers give them a dime, let’s see the mayors rank those 11,391 goodies — I mean “infrastructure” projects — based on effectiveness and potential return on investment for taxpayers.
That’s a lovely thought, but unlikely to occur for two reasons. First, we’re told this stimulus plan has to be done fast, fast, fast — no time to wait. And like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, Congress will go scampering off with little idea of what’s to be done or how to do it. We have to spend fast, remember, to “create” all those jobs. Second, what’s the point of building things if politicians don’t get credit? Seriously, that’s the motive for politicians –to do things that voters remember so they’ll be returned to office. It’s hard to remember the extra lane in the highway, but very easy to remember who brought the tennis courts to town (because the mayor’s name is on a sign out front).
“Infrastructure” sounds great in theory, but the chances we’ll get the things we really need are slim. Welcome to the New Politics. Sort of like the old politics, but more expensive.