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The Highways We Don’t Need

By Matthew Yglesias on January 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm

"The Highways We Don’t Need"

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The CBO’s analysis of the House stimulus plan resulted in a Lori Montgomery Washington Post article that was, I think, written in a manner that’s likely to cause confusion as to what the report said:

Less than half the money dedicated to highways, school construction and other infrastructure projects in a massive economic stimulus package unveiled by House Democrats is likely to be spent within the next two years, according to congressional budget analysts, meaning most of the spending would come too late to lift the nation out of recession.

A report by the Congressional Budget Office found that only about $136 billion of the $355 billion that House leaders want to allocate to infrastructure and other so-called discretionary programs would be spent by Oct. 1, 2010. The rest would come in future years, long after the CBO and other economists predict the recession will have ended.

Over at The Weekly Standard, Mary Katharine Ham wastes no time in confusing the meaning of this, writing that it proves that “Obama’s proposed, gianormous stimulus plan is really just a proposed, gianormous spending plan.” In fact, the report didn’t analyze large portions of the stimulus plan at all—including those portions that were designed to be fastest acting. Among other things, the “gianormous” stimulus plan includes a hefty dose of tax cuts which can hardly be characterized spending.

But there is a real problem here.

For example, when I was busy being disappointed that the highway-transit funding ratio in the fill was 3-1—not very different from the 4-1 ratio entrenched in our current crappy SAFETEA-LU law—my understanding was that part of the rationale here was the general paucity of genuinely “shovel ready” infrastructure projects. But insofar as some of the highway projects envisioned in the bill can’t fit within the two-year stimulus window, we ought to drop the projects. And insofar as lawmakers are interested in sneaking some 2011 and 2012 transportation infrastructure spending into this bill they may as well forget about shovel readiness and identify useful transit and intercity rail projects.

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