Here’s Hoping for a New Deal from a New President

I’ve always been fascinated by buildings, shelters and other structures built by the Works Progress Administration – the WPA – back during the Great Depression.

Jan 1st, 2009
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I’ve always been fascinated by buildings, shelters and other structures built by the Works Progress Administration – the WPA – back during the Great Depression. They all have a distinctive style of construction that is very recognizable. And every time I see one, I’m reminded of that unique program of the 1930s that put people to work at a time when work was hard to find.

Between 1935 and 1943 the WPA provided almost 8 million jobs. Almost every community in America has a park, bridge or school constructed by the agency.

I like the concept of putting people to work instead of providing a Federal handout in the form of welfare. In the process you give them a sense of purpose and pride, and at the same time complete needed projects that otherwise wouldn’t get done.

Of course the days of the New Deal are long gone. We’re into a new century and far more advanced than we were back in those days. At least, I hope we are.

While we’re not faced with the same desperation of the Great Depression, the New Deal for the water industry just might come in the form of an economic stimulus package proposed by President-elect Obama that could contain several billion dollars for water infrastructure.

However, despite the industry’s importance, I expect water to be far down in the pecking order at a crowded trough. Besides spending for bricks-and-mortar infrastructure projects, the stimulus package is also expected to provide funds for a host of other projects and programs, including energy conservation and development of renewable resources.

As Obama and congressional leaders work to develop what could become the mother of all economic stimulus packages, a parade of interest groups are seeking shares of the portion that will go to infrastructure construction projects. The “ready-to-go” project lists are growing rapidly.

The US Conference of Mayors and other groups have compiled lists of water projects suited for stimulus funding, but our industry has a small voice compared to many others in this chorus of need.

I would certainly like to see an increase in funding for the water industry, and I’m hopeful a stimulus package will be approved. Still, as a taxpayer I’m worried about how the stimulus money will be spent – and concerned that we’re throwing money at a problem without thinking it through.

While I like the concept of an economic stimulus aimed at infrastructure, several articles I’ve read warn that infrastructure spending does not generally result in an improvement in the economic health of a country.

And while it may be simple for Congress to approve a $500 billion stimulus package – on top of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout -- that money isn’t coming from a limitless stockpile of cash. It’s coming out of our future, out of the paychecks of our children.

History has shown that a government can’t print its way out of an economic downturn by simply churning out more money. Flooding the country with money to pay for infrastructure improvements and other worthwhile programs is a good thing – only if it actually jumpstarts an ailing economy and helps us avoid another Great Depression.

Because while I love the WPA concept, I prefer it remain a part of history and not become part of this country’s future.

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James Laughlin, Editor

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