Sunday, June 7, 2009

Previously on the Streetcar

Below is an editorial published in the ID Statesman on June 7, 2009:
Now's the time for pragmatism to transcend politics

our view - spending the stimulus

The mayor is working with Sen. Mike Crapo on securing stimulus dollars for the streetcar - in hopes that the feds could pick up half of the costs of a $40 million to $65 million project. In the state's senior senator, Bieter has an important convert.
"That is the kind of thing the stimulus package was intended to be used for, " Crapo said recently.
In February, Crapo voted against the stimulus package. Working now for streetcar dollars does not make Crapo a hypocrite. It makes him a pragmatist.
The fight over the stimulus proposal - as fiscal policy and as a prescription for an ailing economy - ended when the bill was signed into law. The deal is done. This overwhelming sum of money, to be paid by our children and grandchildren, has been committed. The job now is to identify projects that create jobs and maximize the long-range return.
The streetcar project fits the profile, in several ways. It would help boost the construction sector. It also would help boost property values along the 2.6-mile line, encouraging development on Downtown blocks that haven't been a part of the city center's rebound.
Bieter will still have to sell his plan - and the creation of a streetcar taxing district - to Downtown property owners who will want to see ridership and return on investment, if property taxes increase up to 30 cents a square foot. But federal spending has long subsidized modes of transportation from interstates to bus lines; an infusion of stimulus money into a transportation/economic development vehicle such as the streetcar is appropriate.
So, too, is the use of stimulus dollars to bring Boise a share of an Obama administration initiative: green energy. Local companies Inovus and Alloway Electric will share in a stimulus-funded project to replace 725 Downtown streetlights with energy-efficient LED bulbs; Bieter announced the project during his State of the City address Wednesday. "This will cut electricity costs to taxpayers, decrease our community's carbon footprint and help local companies and local jobs." The City Council will vote Tuesday on the $446,000 project, expected to protect 15 current jobs and create 10 to 12 new jobs.
It should come as no surprise that Bieter is moving to find potential uses for stimulus dollars. Nor is it surprising that, at the state level, Gov. Butch Otter has set aside his skepticism over the stimulus, and has the Idaho Transportation Department and other agencies working to roll out stimulus projects.
There is, to go back to the outset, a time for governing. From Boise City Hall to the state Capitol, this is a challenging time to govern, a time of dropping tax revenues and staff cuts.
The Monday-morning quarterbacking over the stimulus is still covered. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele used Friday's news of a 9.4 percent unemployment rate as occasion to declare the stimulus plan "reckless and ineffective." A week earlier, an Idaho GOP fund-raising e-mail bearing a less-than-subtle subject line: "100-plus days of stimulus and other lies."
One stimulus truth, omitted in the e-mail, is that Idaho stands to receive more than $1 billion in stimulus dollars. At least some elected officials are trying to put the money to good use.
"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.


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