Hitting the Gas & Laying Off It
June 21, 2010 12:06 PM
If we're going to improve and transform our economy, then it seems to me that this is a time for stepping on the metaphorical gas pedal while we ease off of the literal one.
To take up the symbolic pedal first, what I mean is that now is the time to make capital investments in our city, state and country. The controversial economic stimulus program passed by Congress last year was the right thing to do, and another one would be a good idea. In Madison the stimulus has injected about $36 million into our local economy, keeping lots of people employed and creating a ripple effect as they can afford food, clothing and housing. In addition, we're getting projects done faster and with less reliance on local property taxes.
A good case in point is the work getting done this summer on University Avenue. Without the stimulus, this badly needed rebuilding of one of our most heavily used regional arterials would have had to wait a few more years, and it would have cost us more. By doing it now we improve a vital arterial when it needs it and at a time when construction bids are low, put people to work when jobs are in short supply and ease the burden on local property taxpayers. The federal stimulus bill provided $3.6 million or about 55% of the cost of this project while Madison kicked in $2.6 million, the Village of Shorewood Hills contributed $260,000, and Dane County provided $54,000.
That same philosophy applies to investments we're making in other local projects like the Public Market Square (the redevelopment district surrounding the high speed rail station), the Villager Mall and Allied Drive neighborhood revitalization projects, the new Central Library, the Edgewater hotel and a lot more. While it's appropriate to trim our sails on the annual operating budget because that is more dependent on the next twelve months, the capital budget is a completely different story. Now is the time to build because we're at several historic points: joblessness is historically high, the tax base is shrinking at historical rates, interest rates and construction bids are historically cheap and our infrastructure needs are historically high. Does anyone doubt that University Avenue needed fixing? If we had waited, it would have cost us a lot more.
Our economy is just starting to shake off the Great Recession thanks in good part to the federal stimulus bill and locally to our ambitious building budgets. Let's not repeat 1937 when a similar slow recovery from the Depression was set back by a too sudden return to fiscal austerity.
But while it's a good idea to hit the metaphorical capital improvement gas pedal right now, it's an equally good idea to lay off our literal gas pedal. More on that tomorrow.