Rail: Economic Stimulus We Need
Wednesday - October 15, 2008
During last week’s second presidential debate, Barack Obama linked his plan to spend $15 billion per year to develop alternative energy to the nation’s economic crisis. The investment in energy, he promised, would create “5 million new jobs.”
I always wonder during these debates how the candidates can speak so confidently of such large numbers. That said, two things are clear: 1) that our state and the nation must develop alternative energy in order, as both Obama and John McCain assert, “to end our dependency on Middle Eastern oil”; and 2) we in Hawaii and the nation face increased joblessness.
Those two things are either clear, or a lot of people - namely, Obama, McCain, majorities in both houses of Congress, President Bush, Secretary of the Treasury Paulson, Federal Reserve Chief Bernanke and many others - are lying to us. All have talked of the recent Wall Street investment house failures as precipitating “the greatest financial crisis the nation has faced since the Great Depression.”
Now there’s reason to be skeptical of such an assertion. Many of these same folk gave us a six-years-and-counting war because of nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction.” Still, falling markets worldwide seem to indicate the credibility of the “Great Depression” comparison.
So what do we do? Obama says invest in developing alternative energy sources and fix our roads and bridges - in short, he offers the 1930s New Deal solution of public works. Franklin Roosevelt built roads, bridges, post offices and other public buildings across the nation. Those projects put people to work, food on the tables of millions of American families and improved the infrastructure of the country. States built, too. In Louisiana, a scoundrel governor named Huey Long built roads, hospitals, schools and a university - all in the name of employing the jobless and improving the state for all.
Did those public works end the Great Depression? No, but they improved the nation in the long run and they provided folks with hope.
All of which should give Island folks pause. Hawaii’s home-building boom is over. Rising airfares are causing tourist numbers to fall. Another business seems to announce layoffs - or lock its doors - every week. We’ve at least entered a recession; and it may not be hyperbole that we’re on the verge of another great depression.
When private credit dries up, public dollars must fill the void - and not just in the name of vulgarly rich investment bankers. If they don’t, we stagnate at best; at worst many will suffer.
That brings me to the mayoral contest between Ann Kobayashi and Mufi Hannemann and the ballot proposal that would end the mayor’s railroad from Kapolei to town.
I’ve stated before that I respect anyone’s position on this issue. It’s complicated one that involves aesthetics, cost, route, technology and future development. But it also involves jobs - lots of them over a long period of time: five, 10, perhaps 15 or 20 years. They’re good jobs - union jobs that will put money in the pockets of local families, bread on their tables and hope in the hearts of working-class folks.
And it’s a matter of fairness. This is a country that will spend $720 billion to bail out bankers, $10 billion a month (and an estimated 2 trillion in toto) to wage an unnecessary war in Iraq - but here at home we hesitate to invest in transit for West Oahu, where two-thirds of the county’s population now resides. We hesitate to launch construction project that will bring almost a billion federal dollars to Oahu.
The unions who support the mayor’s rail system understand this. The construction of a rail transit system will do more than provide a long-term transportation alternative. It also will provide an economic stimulus that could help sustain us in these difficult times.
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