Is there anything that Deval Patrick can’t mess up?
Massachusetts is almost dead last among states in spending federal economic stimulus money for transportation projects, prompting a powerful congressman to sharply rebuke Governor Deval Patrick for not quickly deploying nearly a half-billion dollars to create jobs for struggling families.
US Representative James L. Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, told Patrick that Massachusetts ranks 49th in the nation in putting highway stimulus money to work, committing only 23 percent of its funds so far.
“I strongly urge you to refocus your efforts . . . and use the available funds to create and sustain family-wage jobs,’’ Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, wrote in a letter he sent to the governor Thursday. “These jobs are critical to Massachusetts and the nation’s long-term economic growth.’’
Seven months after receiving $437 million in federal highway funds, Massachusetts had only about $99 million in construction work underway as of Aug. 31, according to the most recently available data. By contrast, New Hampshire had 78 percent and Maine 67 percent. The two states ranked third and fourth, respectively, in a congressional ranking of how quickly the 50 states and the District of Columbia have spent highway funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Naturally, Deval is indignant and defends his decision to use the money on long term projects that involve shopping centers (where nobody can afford to shop) and industrial parks ( where there are no new businesses to rent the space).
In a letter to Oberstar today, Patrick argued that the congressman’s rebuke was based on an “inappropriate one-size-fits-all analysis,” because it takes into account only the speed at which the funds are being spent and not the projects that are being undertaken or their ultimate economic benefit.
Rather than using highway stimulus money on mostly “simple maintenance and repaving projects,” Massachusetts is spending the money “to develop more ambitious projects,” Patrick wrote. He cited as an example $15 million of highway stimulus money that is being used to build a road for the redevelopment of Assembly Square in Somerville into a new shopping center with millions of square feet of mixed-used development.
“Because of its complexity, this investment will take time to deliver, but it is time that is clearly worth the effort,” Patrick wrote. “This investment, as well as other similar investments we plan to announce soon, will yield long-term economic growth and their job creation will greatly exceed that which could be accomplished by undertaking simple maintenance and repaving projects.”
Mmmkay. Forgive me if I don’t feel comforted by your complex plan.