Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stimulus Watch - Pittsburgh Style

When the stimulus money was released nation-wide, there were big promises that all the money spent would be publicized online in the intent to make us feel better about the billions that are being spent. Of course, you only actually feel better if someone actually looks up those websites.

So here we are: Stimulus money in Pittsburgh.

It's broken out into 6 categories, and I'll give an overview of each category.

1. Infrastructure & Economic Development
What's happening? This is by far the biggest piece of the pie. This breaks down into general infrastructure improvements, i.e. bridges and street-paving ($5 Million), Housing Authority money ($27 Million), demolishing vacant buildings ($4 Million), and money for sewer improvements ($17.8 Million).
Total: $53.8 Million
My Opinion: The general infrastructure improvements are clearly the bread and butter of the stimulus package. But general infrastructure improvements only make up 7% of the money here. I have to seriously question the huge allocation for the Housing Authority, especially given its recent pathetic audit performance.

2. Public Safety & Criminal Justice
What's happening? Technology, Equipment, Vehicles, Police Academy for the Pittsburgh Police
Total: $2.1 Million
My Opinion: Sounds to me like we're filling in normal budget shortfalls here, and the project notes are pretty minimal.

3. Energy Efficiency & Natural Resources
What's happening? Updating the City-County building for energy efficiency.
Total: $3.4 Million
My Opinion: I'm a little disappointed in this slice of the pie. This will affect one building in the city, but it will undoubtedly generate jobs and make that one building much better.

4. Workforce Development & Education
What's happening? Summer youth jobs, adult workforce development and adult training
Total: $3 Million
My Opinion: Creating jobs and helping put more people directly to work. I saw lots of signs around town recruiting for the summer youth jobs and they had a standard method for awarding those jobs fairly. This is a great example of stimulus spending.

5. Health & Social Services Safety Net
What's happening? Homelessness Prevention
Total: $6.8 Million
My Opinion: That's a lot of money for a broad description and no project notes. I think this one needs a closer watch. Seems like you could give an awful lot of people houses for $6.8 million. How many homeless people do we have in Pittsburgh?

6. Tax Credits & Fiscal Assistance
What's happening? NOTHING
Total: $0
My Opinion: Are we wasting potential money here?

What's happening? Clearly a lot.
Total: $69.1 Million
My Opinion: There definitely seems to be a combination of shooting low (tax credits, energy efficiency, general infrastructure), taking advantage of the system (housing authority) and band-aids for bad budgeting (police, sewers). A lot of good will come out of this for Pittsburgh. Plus, I give the city a bit of a break because there wasn't much time for planning on this. There's a clear lack of funding for public transportation options at this point, but I'm going to assume that falls at the county level. I also don't see anything to help out our ailing schools. Of course, not all of the stimulus money has been released yet. I'll keep watching.


n'at said...

the low funding allocations to infrastructure is directly attributed to the City's inability or unwillingness to seek federal funding for surface transportation through FHWA and SPC (locally), and federal funding for environmental and water resource issues through the EPA and state DEP, DCNR (Clean Streams, Growing Greener I and II).

If you weren't receiving or applying for funding through these existing outlets prior to the Stimulus, then you wouldn't receive the additional funding allocated by the Stimulus Bill to the pre-existing funding streams.

Elected officals aren't supposed to know this, I guess. What of qualified appointees?

Bram Reichbaum said...

With respect to #3, my view is there's symbolism and then there's important symbolism.

The Convention Center I think raised the bar all over for new construction. The City-County Building could do the same for retrofitting existent buildings, of which we have an awful lot. Plus I think pimping it out environmentally will have a good effect on the BRAINS of the lawmakers and regulators within it.