March 2009

It was like when we were kids on Christmas morning. All the excitement that had been building up for a month — heck, even a year — when finally, we could see all the wrapped gifts under the tree, hoping that everything we’d asked for would soon be ours. We could tell by the size and the shape of the present whether or not it was something we’d want. Big boxes meant joy and toys, while soft, thin rectangular boxes almost definitely contained clothes and a major disappointment.

It was the latter I felt when details emerged about the House’s stimulus bill, then the Senate’s version and finally the conference version, the $787 billion legislation ultimately signed by the President on Feb. 17. Like on Christmas mornings past, I was being selfish. I’d wanted everything, but particularly more infrastructure investment. We’d been hearing how this could be the second coming of the Eisenhower building program in the 1950s, that there could be hundreds of billions of dollars invested in roads, bridges, water and sewer infrastructure and so on. What we got was about $40 billion for such, a pittance, really.

New York State stands to get about $24.6 billion from the stimulus. Of that, only $1.25 billion is allocated to mass transit and $1.1 billion will go to roads and bridges. Sure, it’s a lot of money, but even if (and a big if at that) it’s spent wisely a little over a billion dollars is like using gum to stop a leak in a dam.

Now it’s not all bad. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, for every $1 billion invested in nonres construction in New York, $2 billion is added to the GDP, about $617 million is added to personal earnings and 15,000 jobs are created — all better than nothing, of course. But I still feel disappointed, like we’ve missed a major opportunity to finally seriously address our nation’s aging infrastructure. In other words, it was like getting socks on Christmas; we needed them, but getting the train set would have been better. P

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