David Laska: Stimulus Winners Lose, Gas Market Wins

With his 2009 stimulus legislation focused on a "transformational" political agenda, President Obama fumbled the opportunity to repair America's crumbling infrastructure and revive a deeply depressed construction industry and its blue-collar jobs.  

With "green jobs" at the top of his transformational politics, some taxpayer dollars inevitably were outsourced to European countries with well developed but heavily government subsidized "green" industries.  

For example, despite Congressional criticism from both sides of the aisle, over $8.5 billion in grants for wind farms flowed to companies such as Siemens, a German multinational corporation operating in the heavily subsidized Danish wind farm industry. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. wind energy industry lost 10,000 jobs last year.

And even as Obama's stimulus legislation imitated Europe's lavish subsidies for non-carbon energy sources, extraordinary technological developments in an entrepreneurial gas drilling industry were producing a long term glut of an environmentally preferred fuel at cheap prices.

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And as with President Carter's failed $88 billion attempt to subsidize a "synthetic fuels" industry into existence in response to the late 1970's energy crisis, marketplace developments are overwhelming the government's chosen "green" winners.  

The "green jobs" are receding far into the future, the extravagant stimulus funds are being wasted and President Obama's transformational energy agenda lies in tatters. 

Just this month, Abound Solar followed the infamous Solyndra into bankruptcy.   In our own backyard, the Beacon Power Company has abandoned plans to build a power storage plant in New York.  Together, these three companies represent almost a billion dollars of stimulus money.

When the President spends almost a trillion dollars worth of taxpayer dollars to create jobs in America, that money should stay in America, and be used for core government functions, like building infrastructure.

Infrastructure work creates real American jobs in a worker intensive industry hard hit by the Great Recession.

Following a December 2008 meeting with governors, the President said, “they all have projects that are shovel ready, that are going to require us to get the money out the door.”

These were welcome words both here in New York, where 32% of our bridges have been deemed deficient, and nationwide, as the condition of our infrastructure had just earned a "D" grade from the nonpartisan InfrastructureReportCard.org.

Instead, just 6% of stimulus money went to infrastructure spending. 

Without legislation to the contrary, Federally funded infrastructure projects are subject to federal prevailing wage rules and needless and costly regulatory delays.  Projects become more costly, fewer projects get done and fewer workers are hired.   The fortunate do well; others don't get jobs.

And the President later joked, “shovel ready was not as shovel ready as we expected."

The 3,600 New Yorkers who lost their jobs in our construction industry last year aren’t laughing.

Neither are those who need to drive over the dangerously dilapidated Tappan Zee Bridge every day.

If the President had been serious about putting blue collar Americans back to work building infrastructure projects, he would have included in his stimulus package provisions removing needless environmental roadblocks; encouraging public-private partnerships and innovative contracting and construction methods, such as design/build agreements; and requiring competitive costs, including wages.

While Obama was throwing money away picking energy “winners”, natural gas usage, driven by private sector entrepreneurship, led to savings of almost $250 billion for customers over the past three years, as well as the creation of 334,000 jobs. That number could rise to a million by 2025.

Government works best when it sticks to its core functions, like building infrastructure. When the federal government tries to play the part of venture capitalist, winners and losers are chosen by a politically driven process.

In the case of the Obama stimulus, among the winners were overseas green technology companies.

America’s construction industry and those who depend on our nation’s infrastructure were losers, as were American taxpayers.

David Laska is Communications Director of the New York State Republican Party.

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