Vice President Biden visited the New Flyer bus company for a townhall meeting to explain the impact that the stimulus would soon have on St. Cloud. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for the Stimulus Czar to cut through the red tape. We’re still waiting for the money so we can start working on a few of those shovel-ready jobs the administration touted just months ago.
By now, this city an hour northwest of the Twin Cities was supposed to be a stimulus boomtown. Home to New Flyer, the largest manufacturer of hybrid buses, St. Cloud was poised to benefit from a big chunk of the $8.4 billion in public transit money tucked into the stimulus package.
In March, the city drew Vice President Joe Biden and four Cabinet secretaries for a town hall at the factory. They promised that the stimulus would invest in transportation, energy and education and create a new “green” middle class and good-paying jobs — not a year from now but this spring and summer.
So where do things stand?
Five months since the bill was signed, New Flyer has yet to report hiring anybody because of the stimulus. The city’s main stimulus road project hasn’t started. Nor has the upgrade of the veterans’ hospital heating and cooling system, the $1.6 million project to rehabilitate foreclosed homes, the weatherization job at City Hall or the new jet bridge at St. Cloud Regional Airport.
St. Cloud’s experience is like that of many American cities, still waiting for that promised influx of stimulus cash and wondering when it’s going to get here. “We were hopeful that from transportation to wastewater to cops, those things would be almost immediate,” Mayor Dave Kleis said, “and we haven’t seen that.”
Last Thursday, I spoke with Mayor Kleis about the inaction on the stimulus funds. He explained that he isn’t bitter about the money not getting here post haste. He’s simply reacting to the reporter’s question on why it hasn’t arrived yet.
Jack Kelly, one of my favorite columnsts, writes that Mayor Kleis isn’t the only person waiting:
Speaking in Cincinnati to a crowd of “about 200,” some of them protesters, Mr. Biden asked for patience. “Remember we’re only 140 days into this deal,” he said. “It’s supposed to take 18 months.”
This isn’t what Mr. Obama and his aides were saying in February. Back then we were told the $787 billion stimulus bill had to be rushed through Congress to keep unemployment from rising to 8 percent.
“No one in the House read that bill because the urgency was such that the president said we had to act now and if we acted now, we would stave off job loss and we’d get America back to work,” recalled Rep. Eric Cantor, R-VA, the GOP whip.
It’s insulting that President Obama and Vice President Biden are attempting to rewrite history. Here’s what President Obama said in February:
In February, Mr. Obama said this about the goals of his stimulus package: “I think my initial measure of success is creating or saving four million jobs.” He later explained the stimulus’s $787 billion would “go directly to…generating three to four million new jobs.” And his Council of Economic Advisors issued an official analysis showing that the unemployment rate would top out in the third quarter of this year at just over 8%.
Now he’s singing a different tune:
President Barack Obama said his $787 billion stimulus bill “has worked as intended” as he pushed back against Republican criticism that his recovery program has failed to rescue the economy.
“It has already extended unemployment insurance and health insurance to those who have lost their jobs in this recession,” Obama, who is traveling today in Ghana, said in his weekly Saturday radio and Web address. “It has delivered $43 billion in tax relief to American working families and business.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Kleis waits for Vice President Biden to stop thinking like a Washington, DC insider and start cutting through the red tape. Had Vice President Biden done that in, say, mid-February, St. Cloud’s shovel-ready construction projects would be underway, New Flyer would be building additional buses and unemployment might not’ve skyrocketed to 9.5 percent.
The bigger lesson in all this is that we shouldn’t have expected people without executive experience to think about cutting red tape. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when legislators become chief executives. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn that quickly enough.
Comments welcome at LFR.