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Front Page » Opinion » Ask Obama For Perpetual Job Generators Not Just Handouts

Ask Obama For Perpetual Job Generators Not Just Handouts

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Written by on January 15, 2009

Dennis Moss gets it. Manny Diaz just wants to get it all.

The gulf between their strategies as they target hunks of a three-quarter-trillion-dollar federal stimulus couldn’t be wider.

It must be closed — fast.

Mr. Moss, Miami-Dade commission chairman, sees disaster in a county request to create 23,110 jobs that’s splintered into 420 projects costing $1.5 billion. He seeks instead a fistful of targets with long-term impact that have a real chance to win federal cash.

Mr. Diaz, mayor of Miami, sees a city request to create 52,000 jobs that’s split among 435 projects costing a mammoth $3.2 billion as the city’s route to riches.

You won’t find two more divergent weapons, the Moss rifle versus the Diaz shotgun.

Mr. Moss couldn’t be more correct in aiming at carefully chosen targets that could actually win federal OKs and have bulls-eye impact. Maybe heading the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which is forwarding local governments’ wish lists, has blurred Mayor Diaz’s focus.

Every local official has pet projects to soak up a share of the federal cornucopia geared to jumpstart the economy.

But those requests will far outstrip resources and be picked apart in Washington, where adding jobs fast and being shovel-ready are key criteria, as should be a long-term net rise in productivity. President-elect Obama made it clear Saturday that the money should create jobs that "position our economy to lead the world in the long run."

How will the Obama administration react to the City of Miami’s throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach? Just as national news media have: with disbelief and derision. These are serious economic times, and this Miami list just can’t be serious.

Examples: $225,770 to remodel restrooms in Lummus Park, $100,000 to put dirt bike trails in Virginia Key Park, $1.4 million for restrooms and bleachers in Robert King High park, $2.1 million for restrooms in Henderson Park, $3 million for fire alarm and sprinkler improvements in the Manuel Artime building, $174,000 for "miscellaneous street paving" on Northwest 58th Street, and a whopping $175 million to resurface every street in the city — thus covering Northwest 58th twice.

It reads like miscellany that lacked priority to get in this year’s city budget. You can hear the laughter now in Washington and across the nation, because Miami sent in by far the longest and most costly wish list in the US.

The county followed suit, though on a smaller scale. But now Mr. Moss suggests returning to the firing line and rifling in on the long-sought north line of Metrorail, affordable housing and water-and-sewer projects — strategic efforts with long-term impact.

You can argue with his choices, but his strategy is sound as a billion dollars or more that the county could actually take home with a handful of job-creating efforts that would also build more employment later without federal aid.

That’s the real goal: projects that generate more in future years while putting people to work now. Restrooms in parks, while doubtless necessary, aren’t in that category.

Neither the city nor the county eagle-eyed their lists. Both duplicated requests, and 116 county projects did not cite creation of a single job.

Some of the city’s projects never even had commission vetting — they’re just out of the mayor’s imagination.

Origin of the county’s list, meanwhile, puzzled information officers who for a week said the county never created it in the first place.

Then Mr. Moss, at our request, traced it to the county office that lobbies for state and federal funds. Again, the commission never got a say in what was sent to Washington.

Now Mr. Moss wants a do-over. County Mayor Carlos Alvarez is on board. And Miami-Dade seems headed for a strategic bid to bring home federal bacon that won’t be a pork barrel but will, cooked properly, create a feast of jobs for decades to come.

Mr. Moss thinks beyond just a county list. He wants to get the cities on board and send Washington a unified bid for key parts of the area’s economic engines.

Achieving that will be hard, because most elected officials focus on their neighborhoods, not the whole community. But it’s absolutely the best bet, even if it means that not everyone will carry home a sack of gold.

After all, if we rev up key job generators, we’ll all benefit for decades. If we just throw a bone to every city and commission district, we’ll all soon end up hungry again and the federal cupboard will be bare.

It’s the difference between merely giving everyone a fish and teaching our economy how to pull in fish forever.

One thing is certain: this county is not destined to get 7% of the entire nation’s bid for a municipal stimulus, which is what we’ve requested — and that’s before cities like Miami Beach got into action last week concocting their own wish lists.

On Friday, the Conference of Mayors is due to blitz congressional offices seeking backing for local projects. Unfortunately, Miami-Dade won’t yet be ready with a unified package of long-term job generators such as Mr. Moss envisions.

The worst thing we could do now is tout our present laughable packages that include new swimming pools when unemployment is soaring and heavy-hitting impact is called for.

Nor should the city push its request for $4.4 million to buy 200 hybrid cars and thus create two jobs — possibly parking attendants? Don’t keep the nation laughing at our expense.

Miami-Dade’s approach Friday should be to admit that we need to refine and target our requests, then return quickly with a short, meaningful list that at a minimum has the county commission’s blessing and, with skill, blessing of our cities as well.

Mr. Moss already gets this message, loud and clear. Others need to get on board or get their hodge-podge of miscellany out of the way of economic progress.