One Person’s Boondoggle, Another’s Necessity

Some criticized stimulus projects are popular locally and underscore that boondoggle is in the eye of the beholder.

Comments: 80

  1. Investments in infrastructure, research and development and education can have synergistic effects that could never be predicted.

    Those are the types of investments that made the internet possible. They lower barriers to entry into markets and open opportunities in untold ways.

    The most expensive thing to do, of course, is nothing.

  2. A tremendous article. Well researched, quirky, and relevant.

  3. Anything that has longterm value, puts people to work, and does something to improve life for a maximum number of people would be good. Swimming pools would be great. They keep people off he streets, give summer jobs to young people and construction workers, unify communities, give exercise to an obese population, and cool things down when temperatures and attitudes are boiling. And it's a safety issue too. Too many people don't know how to swim. It's much better than building football stadiums that are used about 10 days a year.

    We're still resting on our laurels from parks, highways, bridges, dams, schools, state colleges, airports, and libraries that were built during the New Deal and which greatly improved our quality of life. What have we built since Reaganomics that's memorable? Lots of suburban sprawl, strip malls, and casinos.

  4. "...were all criticized by cable news commentators, Republican officials and... the inspector general of the Transportation Department"

    But not any Democrats?

  5. Well, it's good to hear that we're not spending money on things that are unpopular locally... but the real question is whether we should be spending (deficit) dollars on these projects. If the local communities want the spending, they should tax their own residents and spend the money in their own municipalities. One of the biggest structural problems with government in the US is that taxing and spending are often not at the same level of government. Inter-governmental transfers skew the tax/spend equation.

    Also, the difference between turtle crossings and roads/swimming pools are that the turtles don't ever contribute to the economy unless they're some sort of tourist attraction. A new road will at least help someone commute to their job.

  6. I want $50,000,000 to teach the homeless how to use blankets. You might think that is a boondoggle, but it does benefit the homeless in keeping warm. And, in my eyes, the money will be well deserved.

    PS: no money will be used to purchase any blankets so as to avoid "waste"

  7. The world is tired of carrying the USA's water.

    Soon the US dollar will lose world reserve currency status, claims to the contrary ignore the history of fiat money. When the world stops sending us stuff for our fake dollars the average person will stop driving cars. 10 to 15 million barrels of oil a day will be part of the stuff not sent anymore. This is certain nothing we do short of sending our children (the US military) out into the world to outright steal can change it. Lets hope we recognize from our latest military miss-adventures that that is really not an option either.

    Building roads with this money is the biggest waste of all. The turtle crossing and airport are probably not needed long term either. The skatebord park is by far the best investment of all. We have left very little for the young people and they deserve all the stimulus resources in my opinion.

    I don't have a skateboard either.

  8. There is a vast difference in local pork barrel projects and a stimulus package that should benefit the entire US.

    The improvements to the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody Wyoming are important to the museum's visitors too, but to say that they should be part of a package that was supposed to stimulate the economy and national employment is shear nonsense.

  9. The Stimulus Package is purely political payoff. It was not intended as anything but that. For example, there is over $40B appropriated for "energy" projects, for example, but none of it to really solve any tough problems facing America, just for pet, fun, boondoggle projects, state by state, blue states first.

    Here is one example of a wasted opportunity, the stimulus plan will squander billions, yet not spend one penny on developing new batteries. Batteries to store electricy generated by wind turbines, solar panels or for storing the charge for running hybrid or EVs. Batteris are the key to it all.

    I work next door to an R and D company that is working on next generation of batteries so they are very knowledgeable and credible. They explained the deficiencies of state of the art Lithium ion batteries used for next generation cars this way: these batteries can be deep discharged and recharged no more than 1200 times. With a 40 mile range per charge, the spec for the new GM Volt, that adds up to a total range of 48,000 miles on the battery pack.

    A new battery pack costs approximately $15,000, so after driving 48,000 miles, owners of the GM Volt of other vehicles dependent on Lithium Ion batteries have to spend an additional $15,000, over the list price of $40,000, to replace the worn out batteries. Maybe they’ll have to do this a second or third time if the GM Volt is a reliable car and the owners want to get 150,000 miles out of it. I would if I paid $40,000 for a car.

    Doing the simple math, this adds up to approximately 31 cents per mile and add then about 4 cents per mile for the energy. Hence, owners of the GM Volt, for example, will end up paying about 35 cents per driven mile, compared to about the 12 cents cost per mile of normal gasoline engine cars.

    New batteries, not currently available, are needed with a deep discharge capacity of over 2500 cycles for make these type of vehicles economically sensible for the owners. It is easy to see that electric and plug in hybrid vehicles, based on Lithium Ion batteries like the Volt, will be huge market failures. It's battery is a nightmare, the Volt is a dog, the sticker price of $40K is an insult. And The stimulus package is a national embarassment.

  10. “Why did the turtle cross the road?” the report asked. “To get to the other side of a stimulus project.”

    Riiiight. And when was Sarah Palin *for* the Bridge to Nowhere? Before she was *against* it.

    Def.: Republican - See "Hypocrite"

  11. What kind of country are we that lets ignorance, greed and gullibility dominate the way we live our lives. The national media stood by for weeks instead of calling a lie a lie. The result? Seniors on Medicare will not be reimbursed for costs of end of life counselling. It's hard to understand how one can't be outraged that a benefit has been sacrificed because of blatant lies. Now with the stimulus, an idiotic poll asked the same group of people (ie clueless Americans) if it's working or not, how in the world is some random person supposed to answer that question when the money is distributed at ground level? Of course they'll say their projects are working and the rest are not.

  12. The people who get the money always think that the money is well-spent, but the rest of us should avoid imagining that the "stimulus" money will provide a long-term benefit to the economy as a whole.

  13. Darned right we're proud of our turtle crossing! Development may have destroyed a lot of Florida's wildlife, but we'll try to protect what is willing to live near us. Tom Coburn -- animal hater!

  14. different people have different viewpoints with one thing. but when you are going to make any dicision, you should firstly to know it, fully understand it. as government, balance the intrests of different classes is significantly important and that is the only way to invole the boondoggle happend.

  15. Gee, 6 months into the stimulus plan, 7 months into the Obama administration and the economy is not recovered?
    It must be the boondoggle of the century.
    Of course, with nearly every red state congressman and senator sniping at every idea, it could cause a bit of a delay. After all, it took the Bush administration 7 years to spend $900 billion on its stimulus plan; also called the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
    There is also all that government stimulus money that went to arms, ammunition and equipment for the defense department and Homeland Security.
    The economy roared right up until early 2008, when the markers came due and the till was empty.
    Was that considered a boondoggle?
    Nary a word was said about deficit spending for the past 8 years, but now the right wing is running around with its hair on fire while pointing the hose at President Obama.
    In business, spending is planned, (hopefully), and implemented carefully. Taxpayer money is supposed to handled with even more care.
    The boondoggles are not in the swimming pools, playgrounds or air strips. Jobs are not created out of thin air or results tallied before the stimulus checks are issued.
    The Works Progress Administration was considered to be the biggest waste of money in US history, yet fruits of it are still being harvested.
    Some of the greatest art of the 20th Century, the best literature and possibly the grandest building efforts ever undertaken still feed the minds of children, inspire artists and serve the public good.
    A house of cards can be built rapidly, but will collapse in a light breeze. A courthouse built of concrete, steel and asphalt doesn't rise within a 24-hour news cycle.
    Partisan winds of idiocy seek houses of straw.
    An edifice of lasting beauty; a cathedral, coliseum or interstate highway, are not built in the blink of an eye.
    The real boondoggle is the constant bickering and obstruction by politicians playing gotcha.
    The economy is like a ditch-digger stuck at the bottom of a well. Lifting the bucket from the abyss will take a long rope and a lot of pull and it will only work if we make the effort.
    Doesn't sound like a boondoggle to me.

  16. Terrible Article. It's all about opportunity cost. That money could have been much better spent on education, medical research, DOE research into green energy. Those are real investments. These projects are pork.

  17. A project may be popular locally, but it doesn't mean stimulus money, meant to stimulate the economy, should be spent on it. Stimulus money should be spent to get the economy rolling. Anything less is a violation of the public trust. This bill was advertised as a stimulus bill, not a local pork bill. Encourage new job formation that will outlast the stimulus money.

  18. I'd much rather help turtles than spend a trillion dollars on an unnecessary war.

  19. This illustrates what is called the Fundamental Error of Attribution--

    When we see someone else doing something we generally disapprove of (whether building a street crossing for turtles or eating fatty foods) we feel certain that the fault lies within them--they like to trick taxpayers into providing boondoggles, or they're weak and lazy gluttons.

    But when we ourselves are doing the same behavior, we are convinced that entirely understandable situational factors are at work--our county needs that turtle crossing to prevent car accidents, provide some construction jobs, help the local environment; we're eating that bag of chips or bowl of ice cream because we're stressed.

  20. Eventually we might learn how to tax and spend to sustain full employment by exploiting multiplier effect and then live more happily thereafter in a mixed economy.

  21. Let's not forget that going from town to town looking for the most wasteful public pool project was one of would-be President John McCain's greatest contributions to fiscal rectitude. This article only begins to scratch the surface of the strange pseudo-populism of the 'boondoggle'/anti-pork crowd. It reached its most frighteningly anti-intellectual pinnacle during the debates last year, when both McCain and Palin cowed Obama and Biden into admitting that spending federal money on a planetarium projector was somehow wasted. Surely, our next generation of youth should be honing their burger-flipping arm rather than wasting time studying the heavens.

    As ever, this is a colorful distraction from a hard, studied look at where major federal subsidies go; how significant portions of the US budget go to prop up terrible, cancerous industries like those in the military-industrial complex and the corn syrup-big agriculture complex. Its too bad these so-called crusaders against waste cant train their spectacles on these offenders. But then, that would mean targeting some of their largest donors.

  22. I give my kids something that they don't need that distracts from school studies, of course they like it. It is up to our leadership to keep the stimulus oriented towards something that provides long term productivity for us as a society.
    Turtles don't cut it, underutilized assets don't cut it. In fact political leadership isn't the relm where these decisions should be made, which is why the stimulus will end up being a huge waste of money.

  23. I hope this article was researched well, in terms of just how much and how many people wanted these intiatives. In my small town, stimulus money is being used to finance projects rejected by the voters.

    In short, we are financing infrastructure that a handful of special interests wanted, but most did not. Worse of all, we are now all saddled with the upkeep of those unwanted project.

    I guess it creates or maintains a few jobs, but really, we have wasted a lot of money.

  24. The quote from 1936 applies still today. We all like our own boobdoggles, including our bridges to nowhere, but question everyone elses.

  25. It is that mindset that voters want money spent in their own area, multiplied by 535 Senate or House districts, that is the root cause of the earmarks abuses. People don't realize that they may be getting spending nearby, but overlook that they are paying for spending in 534 other areas!!

  26. Many, many, many are just an incredible waste of money. Brought to you by the community-organizer-in-chief.

  27. Is there any reason for people to be living in Ouzinkie, Alaska? For the nearly $100,000 per person for an new airport, they could be moved to free housing nearly anywhere in the country.

  28. I can understand the attitude of "If we don't take the $$ for our stupid special interest, someone else will get it." However, if it wasn't necessary before (if the state wasn't working day and night to see how to fund it) and/or if it isn't projected to directly benefit more than at least 5,000 people for at least 10 years , it should not be funded by national taxpayers. The country can't afford to throw $$ at any special interest groups.

  29. The unanswered question is WHAT IS THE LEAST AMOUNT OF MONEY that could be used for these projects.. Contruction projects are constantly overpaid-- for several reasons mostly related to greed....

    Roads per se are not a good use of a stimulus project... Why should a two strip airport in Alaska cost 14 million? Who's skimming??? two long stretches of dirt or asphalt??? give me a break...

    Hey when are we raising the taxes on the group that created the mess -- the over paid and the super rich??? 95% would do a world of good.

  30. CCC and WPA projects did a lot of good, no doubt about it. However, they were to a great extent what I think of as "pick and shovel jobs" that put a lot of people to work as laborers. These days instead of a dozen men shoveling gravel, or what ever, it's one man and a machine so less people are employed and the dollars do not get spread around as much. But then who wants to swing a pick these days? A worker may just get a callus or a blister or two. These days it's all about expediency.

  31. Not all the project projects in NY State are proposed by popular demand...a controversial project with potentially devastating impacts on the NYC watershed was included in the list of projects for NY stimulus money, obvioiusly inserted by way of political clout - the Crossroads Venture project for a resort on Belleayre Mountain in the Catskill-Delaware Watershed that has been granted a filtration avoidance determination by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

    This project would set a precedent by creating luxury condominimums, hotels, spas, restaurants and shops from the base of Bellearye Mountain up to the top of the peak (around the 3,000' elevation mark at the top of the present chairlift) that could seriously impair the ability of NYC to meet the U.S. EPA mandate to protect Catskill-Delaware drinking water for the city.

    Current estimates of filtering the Catskill-Delaware water are around $12 billion, not counting hundreds of millions of dollars per year to maintain a filtration plant covering many acres of open space. This is half the NYC budget.

    The Catskills are protected by a clause in the NY State Constitution Article XIV Section 1 that preserves them as forever wild...tourism is the largest employer in the Catskills, but this ill-conceived project from a deep pockets developer would economically strangle the present Catskill hamlets, result in trailer park living for out of town transient employees of this proposed resort, create an unsightly condo development at taxpayer expense (they propose a sweetheart deal to have the state pay for ski-in ski-out access for resort and luxury condos in addition to the stimulus funds) and could potentially damage the currently unfiltered source of 90% of NYC's drinking water.

    The resort is by no means a popular project and hearings on the application for development were fraught with controversy and questions about the sustainability of the project. Sierra Club and Save the Mountain ( have come out publicly against this project, while other environmental groups have championed it as a better alternative to building on the other side of the mountain.

    Should we be spending stimulus money on a project that could boomerang to put NYC into bankruptcy and damage its drinking water supply? These projects need more careful scrutiny in terms of their environmental impacts.

  32. Wrong headline. Not in the eye but in the back pocket, that's where the definition of a boondoggle begins and ends.

  33. I thought we were all suppose to get free gas?

  34. The presence of these "boondoggle" projects represent a proverbial finger in the eye to taxpayers for a couple of reasons. One, because they don't provide the stimulus the bill was allegedly designed and heavily touted to achieve. Two, becuase of the government's failure to deploy the funds quickly.

    I am a huge proponent of pedestrian safety for turtles, and I think the skateboard may one day replace the automobile as a preferred mode of transportation. That said, it is simply not stimulus. It doesn't create J-O-B-S (you remember, the 3 letter word VP Joe Biden described in one of his more poignant speeches].

    GDP continues to nose dive, unemployment is still climbing, the national debt has reached galactic proportions, two wars are sucking us dry (yet Osama is still alive and kicking), and while the stock market seems to have improved, the increases in corporate earnings per share are arguably the result of cutbacks and bailouts. Bank lending is starting to loosen up, but largely in the form of interbank and commercial paper transactions; homebuyers are still finding it difficult to get mortgages. Foreclosures are still climbing, and consumer confidence is nowhere to be found.

    Americans are among the world's most trusting and idealistic people. In our hearts, we truly want to believe in our leaders. We vote for campaign slogans of hope and change, and we root for the underdog. We have full faith in the dynamic nature of our democracy and that we can bounce back from just about anything.

    However, when the perception is that our leaders don't deliver on their promises, or when the medicine they prescribe turns out not to make us better, we tend to get our feelings hurt. I understand the President has only been in office for eight months, but for those without a job and a family to support, it has already been an eternity.

    The performance of President Obama's "Recipe for Recovery" so far has started to create some skepticism in the hearts and minds of many Americans. I understand and concede that he was handed a can of worms back in January. I also believe anti-Obama media has played a role, although there are plenty of lemming-like disciples polluting the airwaves as well. At the same time, I believe the loudest noise is being made by the hollow echoing sounds of people's empty wallets. The bottom line is that a jobless recovery is no recovery at all.

    I trust the folks in Washington will opt out of partisan politics and simply allow pragmatism to be the determinant of their actions. If something isn't working, try something else. If they don't, voters certainly will.

    Also, President Obama's repeated references to the failures of the Bush administration is now officially played out. We are all fully aware of his failures, and the Republicans have paid their debt to society by being tossed out of Washington. By continuing to blame Bush, Obama simply creates a perception of weakness and ineptitude. Whether you like him or not, I don't think anyone can call him weak. Still, pointing the finger at your predecessor, while perhaps perfectly justified in many ways, is lame and undignified for the leader of the free world.

    If the stimulus isn't stimulating job creation, it's not stimulus. Whether it's a marginally useful airport in Alaska, a bridge to nowhere, a skateboard park, or crosswalks for turtles, it doesn't create jobs. Unless the federal government can solve the unemployment problem, give the money back to the tax payers who most assuredly need it, and try something else.

  35. Either way, it's money the Chinese lent to us that we're spending, and which will have to be paid back by our children and grandchildren. That is, unless President Barry monetizes our debt and sends inflation sky high, which is probably what will happen.
    Change you can believe in.

  36. One man's boondoggle is another man's land gain.

    Every good infrastructure project creates more in land value than it costs to build it. (Otherwise, it probably doesn't make sense to do it.) The question, of course, is, who ought to benefit from that increase in land value. Is it the community which financed the project, or the individual or corporate or other entity who owns the land.

    As we do things now, the individual landholder gets nearly 100% of that gain, and the community gets virtually nothing, particularly if it fails to reassess its land rather frequently. The community pays for it via taxes on wages and sales, which throw a wet blanket on the local and national economy.

    The better way to finance such projects, if they make economic sense, is to rely largely on taxes on land value. Those who benefit the most from an infrastructure project, via increases in land value, are the ones who end up paying for it.

    If they mean to put their land to good work, this is a win-win situation. If they mean to sit and speculate, and collect a windfall gain, they won't like this much; they'd much rather that others' purchases and wages be taxed, and are willing for their own to be taxed, too, since they will come out far ahead individually.

    Which sort of society do we want? Windfalls for the well-situated, or an economy which works for the good of all.

    This matters, and we ought to be studying it closely.

    Stimulus dollars can benefit whole communities with wide ripple effects, or they can be left to languish in the pockets of our landed gentry.

  37. if you do not like the plan send ALL of the money back then and then shut up about it

  38. Many of these initiatives may indeed be worthwhile, but if a community has such needs, that community should pay for them. If the community can not afford them, then they simply will not, and should not, get done. A local community can raise taxes or fees, do fundraisers and save money for projects like turtle crossings or skate parks.

    That is the simple, basic budgeting that every American family must (or at least should) do every day. We have consumer desires, but we must prioritize and stay within our budgets or pay the price through interest fees on our burgeoning credit cards.

    If that community in Rhode Island sensed a profound and undeniable need for a skate park, they should have raised local funds to pay for it. If those funds could not be raised, then frankly, the local community really didn't want or need it so badly. Always looking to the federal government to fund unsupportable local projects is one reason that our nation is drowning in annual deficits. Unfortunately, unlike with personal credit cards it is easy for Americans to disassociate themselves from our astronomical national debt... but one day the bill will come due for all of us, and we'll wonder how "critical" all of these projects really were...

    Let's tell communities across America who want new skate parks, turtle crossings and more - GO FOR IT - just be sure to pay for it yourselves...

  39. I don't have any problem with any of these as long as they create high-paying UNION jobs. They can dig holes and fill them in again. Just make sure the workers get a paycheck so they can feed their families, buy cars, paint their homes, pay tuition, etc.

  40. There are quite a few people who would have us believe that the real solution is to just stand around, talk and do nothing. After all, if this mess was good enough for my grandfather, it should be good enough for us! That is what I am hearing. Heavens! Don't spend any money for anything except, perhaps, for repaving my street! The 'do nothings' think they have the solution to everything. However, a do nothing position does not solve a problem but, allows it to continue.

  41. Yeh we needed that street repaved even though it had just been repaved two years ago. Too bad the city did not get its environmental impact report done in time to get the stimulus money for some streets that actually needed repaving.

  42. The money belonged to someone before the government took it. Arguing turtle crossings versus skate-board parks verus unneeded airports is sophistry. The person who had the money in the first place should be allowed to keep it before the gang in Washington gets to take it and spend it on a project that is not withing the enumerated powers in the Constitution. When did we add teaching the homeless to use blankets to those powers. I thought that was a mother's job.

  43. I'm sure it's true that local residents want these projects. I'm sure there are 10 million others that local residents want too. But why should other taxpayers pay for this stuff? Apparently the only standard for deciding which pork gets money is who has the pork pull in DC. A recipe for waste.

  44. "Investments in infrastructure, research and development and education can have synergistic effects that could never be predicted."

    This is a nice-sounding cliche, but it obviously cannot hold at all levels of spending. Not every new road, teacher salary increase, or research project ends up paying dividends that justify its cost. Moreover, every dollar spent on a new road is one dollar that's not spent somewhere else.

  45. Stimulus indeed. This is a 787 billion dollar slush fund and one which was purchased on borrowed money. What is going on in this country. We need to protect turtles from crossing the road? Apparently the fence works well but now they want a 15 million dollar culvert for them. Just amazing. Is there anybody out there who realizes they are spending my money on this nonsense?

    I hear some posters saying that the war in Iraq wasted a trillion dollars. So that means that we now get to waste another trillion and then another trillion beyond that. That is crazy. Pull the troops out of Iraq. Pull them out of Afghanistan and pull them out of Europe. End illegal immigration and lets get back to making America do what is best for Americans.

  46. While I'd defend most stimulus spending the problem I have is with propping up obviously uneconomic areas. Rather than spending 14.7 million on an airport, which will doubtlessly require more federal funding to keep operating, why not spend the $14.7 million moving these people somewhere that already has an airport?

  47. If you add up the decades of agricultural subsidies and exotic defense projects, you'll find at least 33% of the national debt. We just passed a 636 billion defense appropriations bill 400-33 in the House. Fiscal "conservatives", whether Republicans or Blue Dogs, always pretend like these huge, permanent drains on our fiscus don't exist. Instead, a one time stimulus is supposedly the root of all problems. 67% of the stimulus was tax cuts and aid to states. If you live in a state where stimulus has saved you from a punishing state tax increase, or extended your unemployment benefits or healthcare benefits, be grateful. If you're employed, there's no recession.

  48. Turtle Crossing?Is this crazy or is it me?Skateboard park? Have you people ever watched the show Scarred on MTV? Maybe the airport.But how large does it need to be? Seem like alot of money for one runway and a small control tower.

  49. While many "earmark" projects are ridiculed, its the process that needs changing. If these projects are truly worth doing, then they should be voted on, instead of being slipped into a bill in the dark of night. Yes, many local project would never see the light of day if the entire Congress had to vote on them. Maybe local projects should originate in their local areas as a request for funds, then be requested by the state as part of a state package of discretionary funds and so on. Its the process that stinks, and it can lead to political favors that keep a member of Congress in office and that leads to the biggest problem of all, our so-called political class who never seem to leave office or Washington.

  50. Peter - I've never owned an american car and am not a supporter of GM. GM reports however that they are designing the new battery for the Volt to have a 10 year and 150,000 mile battery life. You're analysis seems way off.

  51. Honestly, boondoggles are just about any project the other party approved.

    That said--I think how the GOP and conservatives have demonized the WPA is beyond belief--the wealth and richness of so many of those projects--all over the country is stunning.

    Almost as stunning as a current drive by Republicans to tear down those projects--not just verbally--but literally--in the hopes of wiping out the proof that governments can do lasting good.

  52. You have to be kidding, this whole stimulus package is the result of democratic lunacy! The whole concept is a boondoggle and this article is a really shallow attempt to legitimize the waste in dollars that the Dems have spawned on the U.S.for years to come! This country is going down the tubes because of what the left and particularly BO are trying to do. Hopefully some sansity will prevalil in time to save us! This will only happen once we get people like Pelosi and BO out of office. They are both nothing more than empty suits! I will give BO credit that he is articulate and well spoken, but Pelosi, the number three person in the heiarchy of this country is dumber than a rock! Go stimulus - some Dems even want more! Only God can help us!

  53. Boondoggles are always popular if the observer perceives they are being done with someone else's money

  54. People love "free" money. So why is this news?

  55. The government does not have the right to use public funds on anything other than protection of rights. The end of the current road is that we are all beggars, and those of us who are productive are also slaves.

  56. Needed or not has no relevance.
    This is borrowed money to get the economy going.
    If these things were not paid for previously, paying for them when you have no money makes little sense, with the ONLY exception being the theoretical Keynesian multiplier effect. Any project without this calculation has no place, regardless of other quantifications of merit/need.

  57. I am a freely admitted and devoted Fox News Channel junkie, but must concur that “cable news” has been all over this – perhaps too much. Glen Beck and Sean Hannity are among the most vocal, with O’Reilly a little more level-headed in his coverage. I love listening to their commentary most of the time, and in this case, much or most of the American People agree with them. The stimulus packages were full of pork spending on pet projects. As much as I share America’s outrage at the record spending that has gone on in the past eight to ten months on various bailouts, my feelings are tempered by the knowledge that many of the recipients of earmark or stimulus package money are worthy causes that deserve more funding than they receive.

    As a nonprofit professional, I can tell you that several projects that are part of what is defined as the “public trust” also typically fall into the category of “unfunded mandates.” That is, the community expects and demands that certain services such as environmental protection or cultural stewardship must be provided. Many or most are private sector businesses that are covered by U.S. Internal Revenue Code 501-c-3, and are defined as private, non-profit, charitable organizations. Any “profits” earned through hard work and fiscal conservatism must be spent doing the charitable work of the institution. There are no stock holder dividends, profit sharing plans, or employee bonuses.

    In my experience, people on both sides of the aisle are vocal advocates, depending on the program, project, or the charitable institution. Interestingly enough, it is usually my friends on the far right who expect or even demand free access or massive discounts as they come through my door to enjoy the better way of life I provide. Much as I hate to embarrass one of my aforementioned favorites, Glen Beck didn’t pay much (if anything at all) to my site a few months back while he enjoyed red carpet treatment from my colleagues. We received “thanks” but not much in the way of monetary support.

    So, the naysayers are off base, here. I’ll let others decide to what degree they are wrong-headed. Many of them don’t give much money, personally, to causes they principally support, and they demonstrate public outrage at the prospect of taxpayers’ money being spent to help fund these institutions or initiatives. An yet, they insist that entities like mine exist, are very quick to enjoy the services we provide, and later get outraged when one or more of their favorites goes out of business.

    I am forced to ask my friends, “Exactly who do you think is living in La-la Land?” We cannot function on moral support and public demand, alone. Our work costs money – typically more than moderate development efforts can raise. A one-time earmark may be the difference between meeting the public trust demand and losing a piece of our natural or cultural heritage.

  58. We're a nation that lacks a direction and common cause. We're only in this for ourselves.

  59. It's only a waste when it doesn't benefit YOU. It's never "pork" when it's YOUR Congressional member who provides it. The job of our "leadership" is to make sure the stimulus provides long term productivity in THEIR districts. Who is someone in Oklahoma to say what provides long-term sustainability in upstate New York?
    Just because turtles don't cut it for you, doesn't they don't cut it for another state. And unless you have intimate knowledge of what is and is not a "underutilized asset" in another state, you should refrain from making judgments.

  60. I wonder how the millions of unemployed Americans who are searching for a job feel about these wasted funds?
    The stimulus bill was supposed to create 4 million new jobs to help them. It has not nor will it. It is very sad that Pelosi and Congress chose wasteful earmarks over these suffering Americans. Shame on these politicians. They deserve to be thrown out of their elected office.

  61. I suppose that merit can be found in even the most outrageous boondoggle, and I don't fault such projects, providing they originate locally and are funded either locally or at the state level. Why funds should be taken from local and state levels, sent to Washington, and then parceled out by lobby-driven members of Congress to locales and states for various projects is beyond anyone's understanding. Moreover, such activities create an unhealthy uniformity of results, crushes the concept of federalism, and makes cynics of citizens concerning their own government.

    Only in unusual circumstances should funds go to the federal level for boondoggle projects. Keep them as local as possible.

  62. I don't see much problem with the "earmarks" that were in the stimulus bill, or earmarks in general. They're a way of injecting our tax money back into communities in a way that supports mostly worthwhile projects and studies and keeps people working, enriching the community in more ways than one.

    Everybody always says, "Let me keep my money. I know how to spend my money better than the government!" But if it weren't for this redistribution of our tax dollars to these various public "boondoggles" our lives would not be as rich. We might personally be able to buy more geegaws, whatnots and McMansions, but isn't it our parks and wildlife and airports and roads and universities, etc., that really add to our quality of life?

  63. Who cares what obstructive and Obama haters on cable TV or in the Republican party think about the stimulus? The likes of them are never going to be satisfied with any public measure. They lost. Ignore them. What are they going to do: threaten the rise of a new Bush or more of Palin's ravings?

  64. If you've ever lived in a community that mourned the death of kids who drowned in a pond or river because there was no other places to swim, you might have an inkling of why recreation sites can be considered a necessity.

    Wildlife are not necessarily trainable, so providing a way for turtles or other wildlife to traverse their age-old paths are also not necessarily wastes of money. It can be the difference between the loss of a species and saving the money for something someone else thinks is important.

    It would be nice to have schools and health care fully funded, but I suspect that money not spent on local projects won't necessarily go for those purposes anyway. At some point we have to accept that paying taxes is how we fund our communities and taking money from one community may not be the way to fund another.

    Regardless of the project, I'd place a high priority on job creation so people can get back to work and pay their share of taxes again.

  65. Dave KlimanGlen said:

    "The most expensive thing to do, of course, is nothing."

    You mean the most IN-expensive thing is to do, of course, is nothing, right?

  66. I thought the article was funny, and then I read the comments. It is so easy to slip something over on a person who feels strongly about an issue. That is depressing.
    I learned to fly at College Park airport in the 1970's. The airport is very near the campus of The Univeraity of Maryland College Park campus. Home of the Terapins. Fear the Turtle! So I understand both small planes and small reptiles.
    First analyze the turtle. That must be some really huge species of turtle or the man standing in the tunnel must be some really small man. From the photo it looks as if they used the endangered species act to build a storm drain. If there is more than one seven foot culvet, somthing else is being protected.
    For your additional entertainment, I present the airport serving 170 people and costing $13,000,000.00. Forty two flights a month is an awful lot of travel for this small number of people even if you count the weekly mail run. Small airports are uncontrolled. They have no radar, etc. In fact a ten acre clearing surronded by tall trees to block the wind for landings is ideal. Ask any developer or farmer what it costs to clear ten acres. This has the appearance of the military. I would guess the Air Force. Let's face it the residents of this island are not fishermen.
    If somthing does not make sense, it is either a lie or you don't have the full story.

  67. At the very heart of this issue is this question:
    "What, exactly, is a wasted dollar?"
    Money that is spent on projects such as these: does it fail to stay in the system and circulate in the economy? If the people employed to build or maintain a project are paid a living wage, then it doesn't really make sense to criticise the actual project as a waste. One could criticise the existence of a mall (and many of the stores in them) as something the landscape doesn't need another one of, but if it produces jobs, then we recognize its value to the economy.
    In other words, ALL jobs help the economy, IF the money paid to those working the jobs stays in circulation.
    EVEN when the government gets caught paying $300 for a hammer - an obvious blunder - chances are the company that sold it to the US has a whole bunch of employees, who buy groceries, cars, clothes for their kids, etc.
    So we should redefine what it means to "waste" money.
    I propose that the only wasted money is that which fails to stay in circulation: in other words, money that goes into a swiss bank account, money that makes the wealthy wealthier without recirculating in the economy.
    The truth is, there is no trickle "down" from rich to poor. All money is always trickling, or flowing, EXCEPT that which gets stuck in large stagnant pools: under the mattress at the smallest scale, swiss savings accounts at the largest.

  68. My father was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps in South Dakota. In addition to the infrastructure work the CCC did, many young men and women saw doctors and dentists for the first time in their lives. The way healthcare reform is going, we definitely need a new CCC!

  69. The hoot and hollering about "pork barrel spending" is just a political act or sheer stupidity. As some articles in the NY Times pointed out then, projects that are being laughed at due to names that sound ridiculous, are sometimes in fact important to a states biggest resource.

    Food stamps are great stimulus, yet the opponents of the Stimulus Bill would gladly have sacrificed that to create tax cuts for the rich, which doesn't stimulate half as much as all those "pork-barrel projects" do.

  70. the news waves are filled with complaints from both politicians and citizens who don't bother to read past the headlines to really see what the "boondoggles" are about. It's laziness on the part of citizens and it's laziness on the part of the news media that's causing a lot of the misinformation and anger. And the politicians are taking advantage of it.

  71. The only bad pork is your pork. If it's my pork it is the real thing!!

    We will never eliminate waste from the public budget be it local, state or federal because as a famous NY Senator (a Republican no less, in the Reagan era) once said: we're gonna spend the money, it's just a matter of where and on whom!

  72. Or, as my friends in the mountains say, What's "pork barrel politics" inside the beltway is locally known as "bringing home the bacon". It's all in the eye of the beholder.

  73. The real problem we face is that it is hard to replace the artificial demand generated through Wall Street’s use of pools of mortgage capital to underwrite unfathomable “financial engineering” plays, at the root of last year’s meltdown. We became dependent on credit cards, adjustable mortgages, and overstated home equity, but really didn’t get the productive new investment promised by the Bush tax cuts.

    The stimulus bill is a bridge between the economic collapse of late '07 through '08 to a future, more sustainable economy. Most of it goes to individual and business tax cuts, and payments to individuals (such as extended unemployment benefits, nutrition assistance, and Medicaid/COBRA expansion).

    There are some WPA-like projects, like road reconstruction, bridge rehabilitation, renovating sewer and water systems, and weatherizing homes. And there will be some investments in new sources of energy, energy efficient technologies, and health care IT. (Look at under Investments for more detail.)

    How quickly we get the real investments, public and private, needed to create new technologies, new products and new factories will determine how quickly we achieve growth sufficient to create new jobs. But the behavior of bailed out banks in recent months tells us we shouldn’t expect such productive investment from the Wall Street “Masters of the Universe” any time soon.

  74. Politicians Monday Morning Quarterbacking a Business Plan

    Politicians and the public appear to have had no national sense of prospective explicit goals and no sense of prospective explicit priorities accompanying the money the government sent out to be spent. Or who exactly would make those decisions. They see the national government only in terms of what it can do for them locally.

    If the people and politicians gave out the money with no explicit goals and no explicit priorities, then the money has been spent for whatever the politicians voted for it to be spent.

    Making retrospective judgments relative to priorities and to goals the money should have been spent for appears to most favored political way we spend money and determine if the money was properly spent. It is a Monday morning quarterbacking a business plan where nationally everyone gets to call the plays.. But the game has all ready been played and the money has been spent by local parochial interests.

    I do not think this should surprise anyone. Politicians often appear to be spending more attention and effort retrospectively playing the game of Monday morning quarterbacking on how the money should have been spent. They often spend more time and effort retrospectively criticizing than they do in their prospectively making better calls for plays that will happen in the future.

  75. If it looks like a boondoggle to those whose money is being spent, believe me, it's a boondoggle. For example, take the case in this article of the new $14,700,000 airport in the Alaskan town of only 170 people. That's $86,470 per person. Had you offered each resident a shopping bag filled with $86,470 cash instead of this new airport, which do you think they would have chosen? They'd take the money and run, of course. That shows what a wasteful boondoggle it was...and demonstrates the trouble with all of our politicians wanting to spend so much "public" money (usually to get themselves reelected). Because it's public, few people care when it's wasted. If you want a sobering look at where all this waste is taking us, check out

  76. Reading through the comments, I notice that the "blame", if that's what one is to call it, for "senseless" local projects is most often placed on the locals; sometimes this is accompanied by "if they want it, let them build it themselves."

    I submit that both President Obama and the Congress are to "blame" for the so far ineffectiveness many see in the stimulus package. President Obama is well intentioned, but naive and inexperienced. Naive in the fact that he leaves far too much to the Congress to think through and then legislate. Inexperienced because he served in the senate too short a time to have built up the personal relationships, a knowledge of his colleagues' strengths and weaknesses, and a history of horse trading with his colleagues. He is in some ways pragmatic, a good quality, not an idealogue. Congress is, in the main, often irresponsible when spending money is concerned (witness the support for an airplane the defense department did not need or want) and concerned about raising enough money to assure re-election. Would that laws that apply to the judiciary and others in positions of power and influence: the requirement to recuse oneself when there is a hint of conflict of interest. (Yes, I realize that members of congress are supposed to represent the interest of their constituents. They are also supposed to rise above parochial interests and act for good of the nation.) Would we have so many members of congress who have taken substantial campaign contributions from big pharma, health insurance companies, etc., involved in the drafting of the relevant legislation and in voting on it?

    I further submit that who we need now is someone like Lyndon Johnson, who, all his faults notwithstanding, had had enough senate service and was such an astute reader of people that he was able to get legislation passed that some of us had been hoping for for years.

    I elaborate on care reform. Mr. Obama very much desires it and has spoken, at times eloquently, in support of it. However, he proposed no concrete plan that could be sent to Congress to tinker with, but left almost the entire project to the machinations of Congress. That lack of experience mentioned above means he has no chips to call in, no arms to twist, no tried and tested skills in sweetening the pot. We'll get a health care reform, but it will be far from what is needed, because some of the essentials will be compromised out.

    Finally, I submit that if Mr. Obama wants to win over many of those who are not so thoroughly persuaded by misinformation and propaganda that they are unwilling, if not unable, to listen to reason and who might exercise sensible influence on their representatives and senators, he might champion Congress putting its money where its mouth is: revise the current health care system that members of Congress and federal employees enjoy to put Congress and federal employees in the system that will emerge in the legislation that will be passed. At least he will have proposed ending the glaringly unfair and Orwellian situation in which "all Americans are equal, but some Americans are more equal than others." (In another circumstance, I remember the Supreme Court stating that "separate is inherently unequal.") If he plays his cards right on this point -- perhaps trading continuence of the separate, but certainly not equal, health care system for the government health insurance option -- he may even gain the respect of some members of Congress who treat him with feigned regard.

  77. Funny how polemical views tend to deconstruct themselves. Observe:

    Government money spent on infrastructure? Socialist!

    Government money spent on blowing people up? American!

    Government money spent on protecting our environment, enriching the lives of our children (yes, skate parks are great -- if you don't believe me, visit one and talk to the kids), and building a long-overdue culture in this God-forsaken land of strip malls and hyperconsumption? Worse than socialist! Better go back to building infrastructure and get those kids into factories...

  78. Turtle crossings and the like do some defined good and are relatively inexpensive. But what of spending $386 million of stimulus money to finance a convention center hotel to be owned by the city of Dallas in competition with privately owned hotels?
    Why is that sort of thing even eligible? It would be far better to finance transit and transportation construction projects and clean energy research.

  79. To those whom belittle the poor turtle, remember that we are all part of the great web of life, we are all hitched together, one to another, and what one of us does affects us the brilliant biologist and writer Rachel Carson once said:

    "I myself am convinced that there has never been a greater need than there is today for the reporter and interpreter of the natural world. Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, in his cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed. Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world. For this unhappy trend there is no single remedy - no panacea. But I believe that the more clearly we can focus on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for its destruction"

    I, for one, applaud the turle migration project...those anthropocentric commentors whom believe that only projects immediately benefitting the U.S. economy should be considered might do well to study a little ecology, the economy of life on earth.

  80. The stimulus package is a great example of how fiscally unsustainable and inequitable our federalist system can be. Cities, and now states, are constantly crippled by their position in the federalist hierarchy of governments. While providing dwindling services, they must also rely on unsteady state and federal funds to perform just about all of their duties. From education to highway construction, the role of the federal government has been increased in order to offset the fact that local tax dollars are just not enough to keep our cities socially, economically, and physically viable (think both Minneapolis and New Orleans). This is a critical issue for all political parties, and will continue to be until we have a better way to take care of our people, cities, and environment locally.