Make Stimulus Pay
Florida and Tampa Bay got national coverage recently that was a classic case of "Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" Since there is so little good news right now, let's start with that: A recent survey listed Tampa in the top five cities where Americans would like to live. The bad news: Our state and region also make the top-five lists for unemployment and foreclosure rates. Sorry folks, you can move here, but you won't be able to find a job. See the New Yorker magazine and New York Times for the grim details. As state and local officials are creating our stimulus wish lists, let's learn from our mistakes and invest stimulus dollars in creating lasting economic development. That means jobs that do not depend on the build-it-and-they-will-come mentality. We are in real danger of promoting the sprawl and housing glut that have been largely responsible for our economic woes by making "shovel-readiness" the one criterion for infrastructure planning. We need to fund projects that create sustainable jobs and livable communities if we want to attract and retain economic investment. • Build more transit, not more lanes. The city of Tampa has a light-rail system in place - the streetcar - which has spurred development in the downtown area and begun to give commuters an affordable option to driving. But it doesn't "go anywhere" you say? Neither would our roads go anywhere if they didn't get the lion's share of transportation dollars. The fact that we have a streetcar line gives Tampa Bay a leg up on the 30-some metropolitan areas that are just starting to build streetcar and light-rail systems. Transportation planners should be highlighting this asset - not ignoring it. Kudos to HART for including the streetcar extension at the front of their stimulus wish list. • Help maintain and create small businesses. Real estate is location, location, location, but jobs are local, local, local. Instead of romancing big companies that outsource jobs and send profits to their hometown, let's remember that 90 percent of salaries are paid by small businesses. Remind Washington that bailout money should go to the local banks that didn't squander our money on "toxic assets" but kept it safe and lent it to Main Street businesses. Where they have the ability to get the job done, let's give the infrastructure projects to hometown talent. • Be conservative. Conservative by definition means not wasting resources. Local government can do this by reducing our energy consumption, water use and waste. As we all are living on less, government needs to lead by example. Retrofit city buildings, turn off lights and reduce our use of potable water. • Put green jobs at the top of the list. The future is sustainability, and we will only prosper if we focus our energies there. We need to rethink what "economic development" means. Valuing our local assets should be the starting point.
The taxpayers of Florida owe a debt of gratitude to the Tampa Tribune for your continuous opposition to the CSX boondoggle. At a time when state government can't pay the bills, the leadership in Tallahassee is willing to give millions to a special interest while ignoring the needs of our citizens. We face budget cuts from health to education, but CSX lives on. CSX is the gift that will keep on taking. The initial $641 million dollar cost is only the beginning. We are purchasing 20th-century technology. This train is so quaint that only one firm in Colorado is capable of meeting the specs for it. Unfortunately, Florida taxpayers will have to continue to fund this project with more tax money, as few serious business travelers will be willing to use a slow-moving train meandering through central Florida. Florida voters approved the building of a high-speed rail network by referendum. Sadly, our shortsighted leaders in Tallahassee killed it by branding it unaffordable; and then, opted to give our tax money to CSX. If there is enough money in the treasury to fund rail travel we should consider a system that works. An article in the Feb. 7 issue of The Economist touts the success of Spain's high-speed rail network: Travel time between Madrid and Barcelona is 90 minutes for the 310-mile trip, comparable to the 300 miles from Tampa to Miami or the 277 miles to Tallahassee.
YVONNE YOLIE CAPIN