I wanted to share with you a story that I think will be of interest to you. With the stimulus debate approaching high noon, Chicago’s Mayor, Richard Daley, just stated that he will not reveal his stimulus wish list with the public because as this post from the Chicago Tribune quotes him, “once you start putting it out publicly, you know, the newspapers, the media is going to be ripping it apart.”
One of the projects that Mayor Daley is likely pushing is the $20 billion O’Hare Modernization Plan, a project to expand O’Hare International Airport. Mayor Daley still pushes it (through neighborhoods and even a graveyard) even though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has concluded that it will do little, if anything to relieve delays and problems at the airport. The Citizens Against Government Waste just called it, “a terminal to nowhere” that would be a “hastily-concocted spending package” that “will be a repository for boondoggles large and small, saddling taxpayers with tens of billions in “toxic assets” ...for decades to come.”
I’ve provided the Chicago Tribune post with Mayor Daley’s recent comments at the bottom of this message as well as the post from Citizens Against Government Waste and another from Caleb Howe’s AOL News’ Political Machine Blog for more information.
I’ve been working with a coalition of municipal and local business groups in the area that are trying to highlight the severe community consequences, the ineffectiveness of the proposed project, and the spending problems related to this plan. Any attention that you’d be willing to give this subject on your blog would be greatly appreciated. If you’d like any additional information on the project, please contact me directly and I’d be happy to provide it to you.
- Ethan Kendrick, Hynes Communications
Daley refuses to release stimulus project list
Chicago Tribune – Clout Street
By: Dan Mihalopoulos
February 4, 2009
Mayor Richard Daley said today Chicago has compiled a wish list of "shovel-ready projects" to spend federal economic stimulus funds on should Congress approve a plan.
Unlike hundreds of other cities, however, Daley said Chicago won't make its list public.
"Yes, we do, we have our list, we've been talking to people. We did not put that out publicly because once you start putting it out publicly, you know, the newspapers, the media is going to be ripping it apart," Daley said.
"It's very controversial. Yes, we have ready projects from the Board of Education to the City Colleges to the Park District to the CTA and the city of Chicago. Oh yes. Us and New York decided not to do that. We thought we could go directly into the federal bureaucracies and the different departments," the mayor added.
Later, Daley was asked why he wasn't being more transparent.
"Read some of your newspapers. Heh heh," he replied.
How to Build a Bigger Boondoggle
Citizens Against Government Waste
The media has settled on a politically palatable historical metaphor for the new Obama administration and it is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Time made it official when it put a photo of Barack Obama as FDR on its cover for its November 24, 2008 issue. And FDR’s storied New Deal policies of the late 1930’s have also become a convenient, albeit simplistic archetype for the so-called stimulus package racing through Congress.
In a January 20, 2009 article in Newsweek, reporter Kurt Soller revisited one of FDR’s most prominent New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). That program employed 8 million men and women between 1935 and 1943. Soller describes it in somewhat sentimental tones, claiming that the true aim of the WPA was not to create lasting monuments, though it did do that when it financed the Triborough Bridge in New York City, but that “local priorities” also were funded. In Washington, D.C., for example, “more than 100 men were paid to scare off pigeons. In Brooklyn, men and women worked as fire hydrant decorators. And in Boston, the government sponsored a project to make fish chowder....In fact, the term ‘boondoggle,’ meaning any job or activity that is wasteful or trivial, was inspired by just these sorts of WPA projects. The best example from the FDR years? Government-funded research on the production and efficiency of safety pins.”
Fire hydrant decoration? Child’s play. Wait until taxpayers see what is coming this time around. While specific projects related to the stimulus package’s $600 billion in new spending have yet to be divulged, the media will predictably focus on some of the absurd smaller-ticket shenanigans, such as the $246 million tax credit for investors in big-budget Hollywood movies. Golf courses, casinos, aquariums, zoos, and swimming pools are theoretically prohibited, but tennis courts, skateboard parks, bike paths, museums, and theatres are still eligible. And there will plenty of those. But make sure not to miss the more dangerous, big-ticket projects that are also going to end up getting some of the loot.
For example, the city of Chicago has wanted to move forward with the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP), which would expand one of the nation’s busiest airports. O’Hare had 1 million annual take-offs and landings in the 1990s. But as a result of September 11, higher fuel costs, severe contraction in the airline industry and the current economic downturn, annual take-offs and landings there have slid every year since 2004, to 881,566 arrivals and departures in 2008, its lowest level in 15 years, according to Federal Aviation Administration. In addition, the City of Chicago is $450 million in the red and considering tax hikes on everything that moves. Yet, in characteristic fashion, Mayor Richard Daley isn’t going to let those realities deter him from pushing a big public works program guaranteed to allow him to allocate juicy construction contracts.
The OMP calls for new runways, a new western terminal, and off-airport infrastructure projects including an expressway extension and a bypass road, all by 2014. The estimated price tag for the plan starts at $20 billion. It has been plagued by controversy and mired in legal challenges. Even the large airlines that fly through O’Hare are balking at coughing up their portion of the funding for the project. However, with quite a few Illinois transplants occupying powerful positions in both the White House and the Transportation Department and the stimulus bill on the fastest track possible, this monstrous boondoggle could easily get pushed to the front of the line of projects eligible for funding through the Airport Improvement Program.
For far too long, federal funds have been diverted from rationally and competitively- funded critical national needs and, predominantly through congressional earmarking, used instead for ridiculous projects that would not have passed the smell test had they been put before state and local taxpayers. While the Bridge to Nowhere was bad enough, this reckless, hastily-concocted spending package will be a repository for boondoggles large and small, saddling taxpayers with tens of billions in “toxic assets,” like the OMP, for decades to come.