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Gihan Perera

Gihan Perera

Posted: September 25, 2009 11:19 AM

Still Not Stimulated -- If You're Not First You're Last!

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It’s always great to be the best at something, isn’t it? Florida recently got spanked for coming last in spending federal stimulus dollars on transportation and infrastructure. In other words, we were number one in not spending federal ARRA dollars. 

There is slow spending at the state level despite the fact that Florida’s unemployment rate, foreclosure rate, and general economic disarray is higher than most other places in the country.  After all, we (including California and Texas) were the epicenter of the mortgage crisis.  Our state is the poster child for why the stimulus was necessary.  Even our moderate Republican governor got behind President Obama early in supporting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  We just can’t seem to spend it at this moment even though this is when we supposedly need it the most. The county and municipal budgets are in a total freefall.

Our state recovery leaders say that the delay is in order “to improve the state for the long term and create and protect jobs.” They argue that they are spending slowly now in order to make sure that they spend the money wisely and with the most impact. 

We're here at ground zero for the unmitigated development bubble and the inevitable housing crash, where ‘planning’ is a four letter word, where there is constant threat to build over the everglades and drill offshore, where gambling and out-of-control development is substituted for a state income tax, and where the Lotto pays for public education. I am not all together convinced by the sudden proclivity for thoughtful and prudent government planning.

BUT, Since I haven’t joined the ranks of the tea baggers yet (the right wing crazies have been outside stimulus meetings calling for the heads of these same officials, including our Republican governor), I hold a hope that the massive investment of stimulus dollars still has the potential to dramatically restructure the Florida economy, not just patch the holes in it.  So, with a deep breath, I offer to these officials and our great republic the following fundamentals: (By the way this argument is made more formally in a White Paper just released by the Miami Workers Center, click here).

  1. Transparency—The Obama administration has made the case that the ARRA will be the most transparent use of government funds ever, the key feature of which is the Recovery websites that exist by state and in local areas.  But those aren’t helpful if we can’t actually see where the money  gets to: what businesses and what communities are being invested in, and what people are actually getting the money and jobs.
  2. Accountability – Accountability is more than just good accounting of the money. Real accountability exists in who decides where the money goes. Currently, most of that decision making is by politicians and bureaucrats.  We need to put that power in the hands of the people in local communities to enforce a fundamentally democratic process to determine priorities and needs.  Without that, and this is what is happening in Florida, the money ends up filling in for the Republican legislature’s refusal to make profiteers pay their fair share; it funds politicians pet projects; and it goes into the pockets of ‘shovel ready’ big businesses and does not develop local community level infrastructure.
  3. Race matters – This is the final, and perhaps most important, point. For good and long term sustainability of Florida, we need to make the economies of the urban centers whole and sustainable. This is where the overall population, the concentration of people of color, poverty, unemployment, and structural inequity reside. It is where unscrupulous financial practices led to the housing bubble.  There will be no fundamental turnaround unless investment is targeted at those communities in a way that is scaled, appropriate, and specific.  This starts by tracking the stimulus and its impact by race, income, and gender, and then by designing programs and processes that meet the specific needs of those communities.

One of the best examples of where Federal recovery efforts are hit-and-miss is in the City of Miami Gardens. Miami Gardens is an independent black municipality in Miami-Dade County.  It has been featured recently in Time Magazine and TIME.com. The combination of foreclosures and unemployment has wrecked its already thin tax base. Although banks should be using the bailout money to restructure mortgages and provide loans to small businesses, shockingly, they are not. Andre Williams, a councilman of the city, has recently proposed a city ordinance to place sanctions on banks that are not using TARP money appropriately.

Moving forward, the Miami Workers Center will be releasing a report on how federal money is flowing in Florida.  We will see how structural economic inequity is impacted by federal and state intervention in this early stage. We will watch to see if it is stimulating a rebirth of our communities, or just stimulating the status quo. The numbers and maps will tell the story.

 

Stay tuned….

 

 

 

 
 

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