A trillion dollars over the next two years. That’s the figure being tossed around for the government’s economic stimulus package. The surprise is, many liberal and conservative economists agree on the high price tag.
In a recent radio address, Obama explained how he wants to spend the money: “We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.”
In the spirit of the holiday season, I’ve made a wish list of some ways I would like us to spend the stimulus dollars that make their way to Arizona. Here’s my list, in no particular order.
Create a Buffelgrass Brigade. Buffelgrass is a clear and present danger to our Sonoran Desert. We need to pull out the existing plants, then keep them from returning.
I put this at the top of the list, not because it’s the most important item, but to make sure we don’t forget about it. Completing this project would probably run in the low millions, little more than a rounding error in the multi-billion dollar total. (Are you listening, Reps. Giffords and Grijalva?)
Build a Passenger Rail System. Instead of spending a penny on new highways, let’s build a rail line connecting Tucson and Phoenix. Fewer cars on I-10 will cut down on energy consumption, pollution and traffic.
Once the line is up and running, we can extend it south to Nogales and north to Flagstaff, then send tendrils out to communities to the east and west.
Create an Outside-the-Box Mass Transit System for Tucson. I was in Portland, Ore., when the city began building its light rail system. Today, it’s an integral part of the culture and economy of the city.
Unfortunately, the Portland model won’t work in Tucson. Portland is an old-style city with a large urban core ringed with suburbs, while we’re a collection of neighborhoods and malls with no real center. A different urban geography requires different mass transit solutions. We’ll need to interweave a number of models into a system that fits our unique transportation needs.
Restore our Highways, Bridges and Roads. Our system of roads and bridges is in horrendous shape. Much of it makes for a bumpy, unpleasant ride. In some stretches, it’s downright dangerous.
Every teeth-rattling pothole should be fixed. If the surfaces are too badly damaged or poorly constructed to patch them up, we need to resurface them or tear them out and start over. And our bridges need to be inspected and shored up before they turn into death traps.
Turn Sunlight into Solar Power. Arizona’s most valuable raw material isn’t copper, it’s sunlight, and we don’t need to level mountains or pollute water to get at it. We just need to figure out the best ways to harness and harvest the golden warmth that pours down on our heads every day.
Solar panels should be placed on every government-owned building. Private businesses and residents should be encouraged to do the same with generous tax credits and rebates. Solar farms should spread across open land in environmentally friendly ways, preferably close enough to population centers that there is a ready labor force nearby.
Improve our Schools. Arizona’s most precious treasure is our youth. We need to fix their schools, build new ones, lower class size -- and increase teacher salaries so our best and brightest college grads make their way back to the classroom to teach our kids. Oh yes, and fund our universities adequately without massive tuition hikes.
While we’re putting people back to work in the short term with the stimulus package, let’s make sure we improve Arizona in the long term. When we come out of this economic tailspin, we should have something to show for the money we’ve spent.
David Safier is a regular contributer to Blog for Arizona.