Kiddies, don't get too greedy with your wish lists to Santa
By Michael Lewis
And now, boys and girls, we go to Santa Obama's workshop, where he and Mrs. Santa are reading letters asking for gifts. As we listen, we hear him say...
"Boy, I had no idea so many people wanted so much from my plan to add jobs and beat the recession."
"Well, Barack, you're the one who wanted the job. So what kinds of letters are you getting?"
"Well, here's one from Georgie Bush asking for a "soft landing.' What do you suppose that is?"
"Dear, you know he has trouble expressing himself. I think he means something cushy after he leaves the White House. Why not give him a featherbed?"
"Great idea. Now, here's a big, fat package of 427 letters to Santa that one of my elves picked up at the US Conference of Mayors. They're asking to create more jobs. All they want from us is money.
"This one from Mayor R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis says if we drop $1.3 million in unmarked bills down the chimney he'll add 20 jobs by rehabilitating the 10th Avenue Southeast water tunnel system, which is more than 60 years old. How does that sound?"
"Pretty reasonable, Barack. Of course, the jobs will evaporate once construction is done, so we'll be paying $65,000 each for jobs that may only last a year. It would be as cheap just to give the money to 20 people. But they do need repairs, so..."
"Done. Minneapolis gets its tunnel fixed. Now, here's one from Hialeah. They want a whole lot more — $198 million — and they list 16 wishes. But they say they can create 7,635 jobs. Wow, they must be much bigger than Minneapolis."
"Santa, they're actually much smaller. But they're promising to add jobs for less than $26,000 each. Such a deal. Of course, the county's Beacon Council this year is helping create 1,235 jobs and is spending just $6.1 million — $4,939 per job. So maybe that's a good yardstick for value."
"OK, let's see. Mayor Julio Robaina wants $4.5 million to develop Hialeah charter schools and create 500 jobs. Boy, that's a lot of teachers and janitors.
"Then there's $15 million to improve roads and add 500 jobs around the Amtrak station. Then he wants $20 million for 300 jobs doing other road improvements. And he wants $15 million for street infrastructure and 500 jobs. It all sounds pretty high.
"And he wants $10 million to upgrade city vehicles to hybrids for propane and flexfuel to create 500 jobs. Are those repair jobs or new cars? Plus, he wants a reverse osmosis plant for $80 million to create 3,000 jobs. Could he mean 30, or 300?
"Okay, here's his request to build city housing for $25 million to create 500 jobs. Maybe we'll give Hialeah that one.
"Now, Michelle, look at this from Miami. Hialeah asked for 16 things, but Miami is twice the size, so what do you suppose they're asking for?
"They're asking Santa to pay for 457 projects! No, I am not drinking too much eggnog! They said 457, to create 55,355 jobs. And they want $3.4 billion to do it — yes, get back on your chair, I said billion. Do they think they're Chrysler or General Motors!
"I'll keep an open mind, but it seems pretty greedy to ask for 457 presents when Minneapolis only wants one. And they want almost 3,000 times as much money.
"Let's see, they want $94 million for a parking garage at a baseball stadium. And they want another $94 million for a parking garage at a baseball stadium. Either Mayor Manny Diaz is double-counting or they're doubling their estimated cost."
"Santa, didn't I read that they have the garage money already? So why do they want $188 million more?"
"I guess if we're giving gifts, they're happy to get 'em. Let's see: they've got those two garages down to generate 1,800 jobs. Maybe Mayor Manny has been into that eggnog. Anyhow, scratch them."
"What else does he want, Santa?
"Well, $100 million for the city's share of the Port of Miami tunnel, but the city's share was only $88 million and the tunnel is dead anyhow, so scratch that too. Three requests down and 454 to go. Whew!
"Now, Mayor Manny wants $280 million for a streetcar system. That would pay for the whole thing — in fact, everything on Miami's list seems to pay the city's entire cost. Don't those people do anything for themselves?
"And he wants $150 million to extend Metromover to the baseball stadium. He says that would add 3,000 jobs."
"Santa, that means there'll be more people building baseball garages and baseball transit than go to Miami baseball games. It doesn't add up."
"Right, Michelle. Now, he wants to move a sewer treatment plant in a downtown park where two museums are to go. That costs $100 million. He says that'll add 2,000 jobs, but I can't see how. Then he wants $70 million to fix up the park beside the museums, for 1,400 more jobs. I know, I know — more eggnog. This guy sure thinks big."
"He is big, Barack. He's head of that US Conference of Mayors. Maybe that's why his wish list is 3,000 times as big as some other cities'. And remember, people say you're considering him for your Washington elf corps. Did Mayor Manny's friends at Miami-Dade County have a big list?"
"Let's see, $1.5 billion for 410 projects to create 23,110 jobs. Yep, Miami and Miami-Dade are asking for billions when everyone else wants millions. And Miami-Dade's mayor isn't even in line for an assistant elf job."
"So, Santa, how does Miami-Dade's list stack up?"
"Well, Michelle — and I know you're not going to believe this — 116 of these job-creating projects are listed to create zero jobs each. Maybe someone doesn't understand."
"So what else do they want?"
"Well, create 10 jobs for $8 million — that's $800,000 per job! — to overhaul Metrorail air conditioning, add one job by spending $1 million-plus to overhaul doors on the Metromover, add 2 jobs by spending $8.7 million on engineered machine products for transit — wow, what a list of non-job spending!"
"Santa, they must have some big job projects on the list for a billion and a half dollars."
"Well, they're going to electrify the seaport's gantry cranes for $5.8 million and create 4,545 jobs."
"Doing what, Santa?"
"They don't say. Then later on they list 4,545 jobs for $5.8 million electrifying the port's gantry cranes."
"You just said that."
"Yes, but this is another listing for exactly the same thing. Sounds like double-counting."
"Well, what's an extra $5.8 million between friends?"
"And it sure adds to the jobs total. In fact, those two duplicates are the only mega-job creators on the county's list. I'll ask the county to look over its list more carefully, what with 116 listings that generate no jobs and the biggest job creator listed twice, for 39% of the total jobs."
"They must have been rushing to get in on your Christmas generosity, Santa. Miami and Miami-Dade make up 8% of the nation's total project requests and almost 7% of the national money request of $73 billion. Christmas goodies under a tree make any kid rush."
"But Michelle, I'm not delivering for Christmas. All goodies from Santa's municipal toy department get delivered after Jan. 20."
"Santa, exactly where did you get that envelope full of municipal requests? Some of those Florida ones sound foolish."
"I got 'em from Dopey, one of my elves."
"Barack, I know you're really new to this job — in fact, you're not even the nation's official Santa yet — but Dopey isn't one of your elves. He's one of Snow White's Seven Dwarfs."
"Honey, the cities nominated him for this elf job. They thought Dopey was just the right guy to handle their requests."