Thursday, January 15, 2009

Infratructure and You: City v. State

Following up from earlier...

Bobby Jindal was early proponent of a possible infrastructure stimulus package. Here's what he had in mind in December:

At a news conference before leaving for the Philadelphia meeting, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would like to see more federal investment in coastal restoration projects, barrier island recovery efforts and the project to close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet. He also listed hurricane protection and levee projects in Jean Lafitte and the restoration of a Charity Hospital medical complex in New Orleans as priorities.

"There are literally billions of dollars that can be pushed through the pipeline that have already been allocated by Congress that have yet to come to our communities, that have yet to come to our state, " Jindal said, before leaving for the summit with Obama.

"I think it's unprecedented for a newly elected president to sit down with Democratic and Republican governors, " Jindal said. "We're going to have the opportunity to share with him what's going on in our states and make some recommendations to his administration so they can hit the ground running."

The Times-Picayune made it seem as if Jindal would be making hurricane protection and coastal restoration the centerpiece of Louisiana's ask. We also know that the funding shortfall for the LSU/VA hospital development is a big priority.

Jindal has remained in control of the state's stimulus strategy. He held a press conference announcing the state's priorities last weekend. The article only briefly summarizes what might be in Louisiana's request but there are some interesting things to infer. For one, many of the things that Jindal has put on the table are not actual infrastructure projects. In no order, some examples of that from the article include:

- aid to farmers who experiences losses from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike

- "removal of red tape for local governments negotiating with [FEMA]"

- "changes to the Medicaid financing formula for states affected by disasters"

For flood protection, the article alludes to the Governor's desire to address the issue but the only concrete measure that gets fleshed out is the long-requested rule change that would mandate the Army Corps to use materials collected from dredging for existing coastal restoration projects.


So what is actually concrete?

Highways. We can build highways.

"I'll make the case that projects like I-49 north should be a priority for his administration.

I will personally be advocating to President-elect Obama that this project be included in the stimulus package that the federal government is hoping to get done by Jan. 20 at the latest next year."

In fact, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has been hard at work in anticipation of a federal infrastructure bill since summer.

DOTD started compiling a list in August - three months before the presidential election - because "I assumed that whoever was elected president was going to have to do something like this," Ankner said. "But I didn't think it was going to be this big."

Because of DOTD's planning, it was one of the first states to submit a proposal and one of only three states that included a separate plan for improving ports and airports, too.

The list of projects comes out to a price tag of $1.314 billion. But Secretary Ankner is setting lower expectations:

“I think $400 million is a good number for us to think about,” Ankner said.

We know that finishing the I-49 project around Shreveport and renovating I-12 and I-10 around Baton Rouge are major state priorities. In the metro area, we know that there are projects already underway on I-10 in Jefferson Parish that have made it on the list. What's going to be left over for New Orleans?

If you browse the actual DODT list, next to nothing. Though measures improving highways in Jefferson Parish will have a direct impact on Orleans Parish, the absence of money for New Orleans is striking. There's $7 million proposed for improving an access road at Louis Armstrong International and $10 million proposed for improving the Crescent City Connection ferry terminals. The DOTD also proposes spending $30 million to help the RTA do "preventative maintenance."

Part of the issue, I suppose, is that only a small percentage of the projects in the city are "shovel-ready." The Obama administration apparently favors projects where construction can begin immediately and be completed within the next 2-3 years. This, they say, will maximize the extent to which federal spending stimulates economic growth over the short term.

I've argued that those strings shouldn't be attached when it comes to allocating resources to New Orleans because of the last administration's broken promises and our city's sobering list of imminent needs. Given the political opportunity, it makes sense to approach the infrastructure stimulus as an opportunity to secure money that might not be available at any other time. Whatever limits the Congress or the President want to attach to how that money is allocated by local officials are more than fine with me. The important thing is getting the money through Congress, especially since it isn't at all clear when or if New Orleans might get its own turn at the top of the docket or if there will be any political will to allocate resources when or if that time comes.

In fact, I have recently learned that New Orleans, the Regional Planning Commission, and the RTA are indeed drafting their own list of smart-growth transportation infrastructure projects totalling a very large number. It will be very interesting to see how the Louisiana Congressional delegation reconciles competing lists.

Other state agencies will be submitting their own recommendations for stimulus dollars. We should be careful to monitor those also.

I don't like this process at all. There is very little information in the public domain and it doesn't seem like the local professional media is particularly curious.

Am I overstating the local implications of the stimulus? Why isn't all of this a much bigger deal in the papers?


jeffrey said...

No you are not overstating the importance of this at all. The person in the Louisiana delegation to push this should be Mary Landrieu. I don't know why she hasn't been more effective at getting New Orleans and flood protection to the top of the state's request list.

Vitter seems on board with Jindal's limited priorities plus whatever he can do to help the hospital plan benefit Oschner. Other than that he's seeking to obstruct any "stimulus" spending that doesn't involve tax cuts.

alli said...

Every municipal building project should be on the list. The entire SFMP should be on the list. Every single public works project should be on the list.

I don't see why it's so goddamn difficult. We've spent 3.5 years planning, so we've got the plans.

My guess is that Mary can't get this stuff in because Obama wants it to be a "pork-free" bill, and the spending will be determined on a top-down basis. It's not as if he's creating a WPA or CCC to do all these jobs. He'll just be supplementing other budgets and hoping that jobs magically appear in the private sector. Color me skeptical.

Jeffrey said...

I completely agree--for a city (and really a state)--that is on the frontline of climate change and which has really poor public transportation, it is amazing that rail of all sorts (high speed for interstate travel, light rail in New Orleans) is nowhere to be found in the initial proposal. How can there be an $825B stimulus, and we ask for $1.4B? I recently got my hands on the City's infrastructure request that is supposedly getting reconciled with the state, and the number is much better: $6B for light rail and transit, bicycles, pedestrian improvements, and roads (and very little for highways).

Just shows that the state really does hate New Orleans. Let's hope Mary can take NO's request and impose her will.