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Christmas in February

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By John Barnhart

    State and local governments all over America are hoping that Obama Claus leaves them the economic stimulus presents, next month, that they’ve asked for.

    I’m rather cynical when it comes to the government and the TARP follies haven’t helped dispel that feeling. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson originally sold TARP as a program to unfreeze our financial system by buying up all that spooky paper that financial innovators have pedaled all over the world in recent years. Then, suddenly in November, he decided that what the government really needed to do is buy equity in banks. This leads me to believe that Paulson is either (a) a socialist or (b) clueless and flailing. Neither (a) nor (b) is good.

    Now comes President Barack Obama to save us all.

    It’s possible that his economic stimulus plan may help. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal didn’t end the Great Depression, although it did take the political wind out of the Socialist Party’s and Communist Party’s sails. World War II ended the Depression and it did so because it provided massive stimulus far beyond what Roosevelt’s alphabet soup of programs did. Millions of men were drafted and money was spent to build training camps for them and buy the supplies and equipment they would need. American industry built tens of thousands of aircraft. The aircraft industry needed so many workers that it produced “Rosie the Riveter.” It also had to swallow its racial prejudice and offer black  men jobs that were previously closed to them.

    As I mentioned, I don’t particularly trust the federal government and last week’s stories on Timothy Geithner, Obama’s pick for treasury secretary, didn’t do anything to raise my trust level out of the basement. It seems that Geithner, whose job will include oversight of the IRS, struggles to understand his taxes. At least he claims that his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes while employed by the International Monetary Fund was an honest mistake. And, the check is in the mail.

    Nevertheless, if it doesn’t get larded up with stupid stuff, Obama’s plan could help the economy with massive stimulus. Bedford County’s request for $7 million to extend a natural gas line to the New London Business and Technology Center is the sort of stimulus project that would be good.

    I don’t know that it’s “shovel ready,” but it certainly isn’t so complex that it would require months of design work before the county could actually contract for the work. Although I can’t say whether the material used would be made by Bubba in the U. S. or Wang Fang in China, I know that the project would be a job for an area contractor and work for his employees.

    The line would also be a gift that could potentially keep on giving for Bedford County. The option of natural gas service would be another selling point as the county’s economic development authority markets spaces in the New London business center. An additional selling point would be valuable as I’m sure the market business centers face, as they work to attract business. The Matrixx Corporation’s decision to build in Bedford shows that having a piece of infrastructure available, that is meaningful to the company, can be vital in closing the deal.

    Furthermore, this is a project that Bedford County may not be able to afford given the current state and local budgetary situation in America. Unlike the feds, state and local governments can’t simply make money appear as if by magic. They have to either raise taxes or cut spending. Neither are good in a recession.

    Of course the stimulus could end up flushing billions down the toilet by funding lots of boondoggles all over the country. The federal government’s track record on spending does not lead me to be optimistic.