|Stimulating government in Anoka County
The Obama Administration recently kicked off “Recovery Summer” to highlight the surge in economic stimulus projects underway across the country. And while some may see the administration’s “Recovery Summer” as a cynical PR blitz aimed at convincing skeptical Americans that the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)wasn’t a complete waste, there’s no denying that “stimulus” projects are popping up everywhere. Unfortunately, the primary beneficiary of this government stimulus continues to be, well, government.
Anoka County, for example, was just awarded a $13.4 million ARRA grant for a broadband project that will provide ultra-high speed Internet service, primarily to public employees. The project, which carries the unwieldy moniker “Connect Anoka County Community Broadband Network”, involves laying miles of fiber optic cable to 145 public buildings, including city halls, school district buildings, and county offices.
While its scope is currently limited to government, the county does have bigger plans. Anoka County officials say there’s strong support for a county-wide taxpayer-funded broadband network, citing their own polling data, which found that 84% of residents would buy Internet services from the county, while only 3% would decline.
Of course, that may have something to do with the wording of the question: “Would you buy high-speed Internet if the County were to facilitate an alternative solution that offered faster speeds, lower prices or both?” Perhaps if the county’s pollster made the question even more leading, by promising gumdrops and sunshine and unicorns, they could convince those other 3% to come around.
But the fact is, there’s more opposition to this massive taxpayer-funded pet project than the county admits. The City of Blaine, for example, which straddles Anoka and Ramsey counties, opted out of the “Connect Anoka” project earlier this year. After hearing from many residents who adamantly opposed the expensive, unnecessary government intrusion into the private sector, the Blaine city council rejected the invitation to joinwith Anoka County. The vote was unanimous. As one councilmember observed, “I don’t see where this will stimulate the economy and create jobs. Somewhere, we have to stand up and say no.”
At least some policymakers realize that you can’t have a Recovery Summer without a true recovery. That requires broad-based growth in the private sector, not a handful of taxpayer-funded pet projects.
Minnesota Public Radio published an op-ed this week by FFM’s Tom Steward, who wrote about the proposed extension of the Northstar Commuter Rail line to St. Cloud, which could cost taxpayers upwards of $150 million despite limited local demand for the service. And in case you missed it, check out FFM’s videoon the project..
The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk had an excellent piece on public employee compensation in USA Today earlier this week. Sherk writes:“It’s virtually impossible to fire federal employees for bad performance once they’ve passed a one-year probationary period. Not surprisingly, federal employees rarely quit. In good economic times, they voluntarily leave at roughly a third the private-sector rate. And that disparity has only grown since the recession began. Why should taxpayers care? Because it’s costing them money. If Congress were to set up a payment system like the private sector’s, it would save about $47 billion a year. That’s serious money.”