Thursday, January 15, 2009

Infratructure and You: Stimulating Strategies

I've been interested in the Louisiana implications of the mega economic stimulus package currently being negotiated in Congress. I think it's a very very big deal and believe it's something to which we need to be paying better attention.

When was the last time the federal government sunk so much money into infrastructure projects?

Louisiana and especially New Orleans have incredible infrastructure needs that directly impact the basic premise of 'recovery.' If this state doesn't quickly reimagine it's transportation and hurricane protection blueprint, arguments for rebuilding hinging on long and medium term economic viability go completely out the window. SE Louisiana simply will not remain a sustainable place in which to invest (whether we're talking about starting a business or purchasing a home) unless some of our major infrastructure flaws are fixed. The case for levees is indisputable. To a certain extent, even our social needs (housing, literacy, health care, education, criminal justice reform) are more easily understood. Less often articulated are our needs related to sewerage, the power grid, regional rail, and municipal transit - other areas in which SE Louisiana remains far behind other metropolitan competitors.

It has been many years since these types of projects have been on the table in Washington. This is a rare opportunity. It is not obvious to me that Louisiana will have many other chances to come away with globs of money as sizable as what might be possible right now. Barack Obama made some campaign promises on Gulf Coast Recovery but I'm not sensing much Congressional urgency in terms of allocating additional resources this way. The President has said that there will be no pork projects in this stimulus bill. But if there's a little extra money sprinkled into Louisiana for projects critical to issues of hurricane recovery and basic regional sustainability (and therefore, national security), well I don't see why we have to call that pork. It's not as if Congressman Cao and Senator Vitter are negotiating an extra $2 million allocation for the New Orleans Madam Museum. We're the poorest city in the poorest state in the poorest region and then we got hit with a bunch hurricanes and a federal flood. We need and deserve a little extra attention. That's how progressive values work.

So what is Louisiana's strategy for shaking loose that extra coin?

More later.

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