Wednesday, January 28, 2009

City Governments Want to Cut Out the Middleman for Stimulus Cash

BOULDER, Colorado -- With billions of dollars for infrastructure, medical care and education about to be disbursed to the states as part of the federal stimulus bill, many cities are trying to bypass their respective state houses and receive the federal dollars directly for their favored projects.

Recently officials from three of Connecticut's largest cities - New Haven, Stamford, and Bridgeport - gathered to discuss how to approach the Washington beancounters without having to go begging to Hartford and Gov. Jodi Rell, the New Haven Independent reported.

The cities, along with Hartford and Waterbury, are part of a group known as Connecticut Elected Local Leaders Organized, or CELLO. Connecticut lacks any sort of regional planning or administration for its cities, meaning there is little coordination with suburban communities when it comes to things like infrastructure planning. Instead, plans are imposed on the state level, and impoverished cities are usually given less attention than more affluent suburbs.

The Connecticut cities are not alone in these sentiments. Chicago has already made an appeal to receive stimulus money directly, and many others will likely follow suit. Certainly New York City has an interest in bypassing Albany, since the state government has stymied a number of major projects in recent years, such as the West Side Rail Yards development and the city's congestion pricing scheme. As Itchy mentioned to me earlier today, the city also has a host of so-called "shovel-ready" projects that would benefit from federal dollars (some of them had their ground breaking in the 1970's and are still unfinished):
LIRR extension to Grand Central (tunnels currently being drilled under East River)
New Amtrak/NJ Transit tunnel under Hudson (under construction)
2nd Ave Subway (under construction)
No. 7 Subway Train extension (under construction)
Fulton St. Downtown Transit Hub (foundation built; out of money)
WTC Transit Hub (under construction, financing a mess)
Platforms over Midtown and Brooklyn Railyards (under construction, private financing coming undone)
Major new parks: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Governor's Island Park, Hudson Parks, East River Park (all under construction and stalled)

Ferry service (getting cut)
Subway service (getting cut)
Dedicated bus lanes (pilot programs already exist; money for new buses and lanes falling apart)
But of course, the federal government would rather spend their money on clean coal technology (currently $9 billion of stimulus money is budgeted for just that) than give any money for mass transit projects in a Northeastern liberal city.

This initiative is not without precedent in Connecticut. New Haven's most famous mayor, Richard C. Lee, was a master at directing federal funds to his city. During his 16 years in office from 1954 to 1970, Lee brought in millions of federal dollars for his urban renewal projects. His city planning offices, which were then known as "the Kremlin" due to secretive cabal of bureaucrats who ran them, had a direct pipeline of money from Washington. New Haven was dubbed "the Model City" during these years for its vast urban renewal and slum clearing projects, and it was the pilot site for a number of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs. Today, the city is still trying to undue much of the damage done by Lee's slash-and-burn projects which razed historic neighborhoods and replaced them with now-crumbling brutalist edifices (for more on these urban renewal projects, check out the New Haven Oral History Project and listen to interviews with city residents at the time).

The stimulus money would likely be better spent by struggling cities, but it can be squandered just as easily in city hall as in the state house. Having a president who actually understands city politics and the plight of the country's impoverished urban centers will hopefully put these important issues back on the national political agenda.

No comments:

Post a Comment