What Fresh Hell Is This?

August 6, 2010

Filling In A Few Blanks

Every now and then the editorial pages at the Tribune-Review and the Post-Gazette cover the same issue and it's child's play to guess which side of which issue each will support.

Today is no exception.

The Trib say: North Shore connector - bad, Coburn-McCain report - good.

The P-G? As you might expect, sees things differently.

Since the overlap begins with the Coburn McCain report, we'll start there.

The Trib:
Laurel: To Tom Coburn and John McCain. The Republican U.S. senators, of Oklahoma and Arizona, respectively, list Pittsburgh's North Shore Connector as the nation's third-worst waste of federal "stimulus" money. And what a waste it is. Its benefits were oversold. It's dramatically over budget. And it's a monument to both the state in ineptness and the ineptness of the state. It is "waste" incarnate.
And the P-G:
Don't mistake the report this week by Republican Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn for an economic analysis of the federal stimulus. "Summertime Blues" is a political stunt, designed to make the stimulus sound foolhardy by belittling and mischaracterizing projects it has funded.
As usual in supporting it's position, the Trib relies on some Scaife-funded think tank without ever declaring his support for that think tank. In this case the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy is referenced twice. You get what you pay for, I guess.

In it's defense of the Stimulus bill, the P-G points out:
It begins with an oversimplification, long stated by opponents of the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that "Eighteen months since the law's passage, millions of jobs are still gone and the economy is as uncertain as ever."

That conclusion ignores countervailing findings, such as those issued last week -- by a former McCain adviser who is chief economist for Moody's investment service as well as Princeton economist Alan Blinder -- which said the stimulus program and the bank bailout likely averted a depression.
In doing so, they left something out.

The CBO (that's the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, for you newbies) has declared that the stimulus package:
  • Raised the level of real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.7 percent and 4.2 percent,
  • Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.5 percentage points,
  • Increased the number of people employed by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million, and
  • Increased the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs by 1.8 million to 4.1 million compared with what those amounts would have been otherwise. (Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers.)
So when Coburn and McCain write:
When Congress passed the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, otherwise known as the stimulus bill, it passed with assurances that it would stem the loss of American jobs and keep the economy from floundering. As most can see, it hasn’t.
Eighteen months since the law’s passage, millions of jobs are still gone and the economy is as uncertain as ever. The only thing getting a boost is our national debt – the stimulus has helped push it 23 percent higher, to $13.2 trillion, a new record.
You know they're just spinning. And that everything that follows is just a part of the spin. The facts may be true, but as the frame is skewed, so is the conclusion.

As the P-G points out:
No one is suggesting that every dollar of stimulus money has been spent wisely, but this report starts with a weak hypothesis supported by exaggeration. There ain't no cure for this "Summertime Blues."
As it's Friday and Fridays should be fun, here's some Eddie Cochran:

UPDATED to include the frickin link to the CBO report


EdHeath said...

Yeah, but was the North Shore Connector really necessary? Strikes me that the real purpose was to give Pittsburgh a nifty way to take convention visitors to a Pirates game. Of course, in the summer you could just walk across the already closed "Clemente" bridge. The subway spur might make sense in the winter, except any given Steelers games is probably sold aht.

So even though I agree that part of the McCain Coburn report was a gift to Pennsylvania (suburban and rural) Republican State Senators and Representatives, I wish some Democrats would act like they are older than eleven. Instead of having a flashy but ultimately silly subway tunnel (our version of the chunnel; the Alleghennel? ugh), couldn't we get an annuity equal to what the I-80 toll road funding would have been?

When the stimulus was passed, I don't believe any of its advocates were claiming it would fix everything, only that it would either keep things from getting worse or at least that it would limit the damage. Well, things got worse, so stimulus defenders are in the awkward position of trying to sell the "limit the damage" argument. It would intellectually dishonest to try to say that if the stimulus was not passed, nothing else would have been done. But that only makes the picture more complicated.

I think the stimulus was a good move, but I can't say for sure that it was the best move. I also believe Paul Krugman when he said then and ever since that it should have been larger. On the other hand, I would rather work on the North Shore Connector had never started, and/or that no stimulus money had been put into it.

All of which is to say that both sides are spinning, but I think it is fair to say the Republicans are spinning harder (and getting more dizzy?).

rich10e said...

Ed we're in agreemnt, No,absolutely not...it was a gift to the construction unions by arlen spector for their support 6 years ago...

rich10e said...

sorry maybe a little confusing...no the tunnel was not needed...

Blue Number 2 said...

I'm of the opinion that the money being used on the North Shore Connector could have been put to better use elsewhere to aid the transportation issues of the region.

However, I also believe that the region would be better off if we had an efficient train/subway that linked the major areas of the region, i.e. downtown, the universities, the airport, Monroeville, maybe even Greensburg, Cranberry and points in between. Spanning the Allegheny at some point, either under or over, is necessary to accomplish that goal. So, in that sense I'm in favor of it.

But, even from the sense of need, I felt it would have been much better to link up the university area to the T first.

Dayvoe said...

For the record, I do think the tunnel is a silly idea.

But that wasn't the point of the blog post. Sorry if that wasn't clear enough.

rich10e said...

Dayvoe....i think we got your point

Conservative Mountaineer said...


I'm just a dense little Conservative that (obviously) is lower than you enlightened liberals, but..

Just was the point of your blog post?

Mark Rauterkus said...

Good Dave.

Idea: Let's insist that PAT split into 2: One for rail and another for buses. They are different animals. They have different markets. They should be slip.

And, let's insist that neither have a monopoly.

EdHeath said...

Mark, I have heard the suggestion made that at the level where it is affordable for poorer as well as as middle class citizens, transit needs to be subsidized by the government, not run for profit. In order to provide poor citizens, who might live in communities that for profits bus lines would not serve, the ability to work at round the clock operations like assisted living and nursing homes (growth industries in the near term for our region), they need affordable, 24/7/365 bus service. Based on historical experience, private bus service is not likely to be affordable for all, run 24/7/365 for all communities, and indeed is likely to have little or no service to some communities.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Jitney drivers are for poorer folks, generally, and run for profit.

The option of a rebate to the consumer can be established for the poor rather than wholesale funding to an agency. This could be done very easy with an "E Z Pass" like system. In Hong Kong they have an "OCTOPUS CARD" that uses a debit system. If a rider is out of work, very poor, student, etc -- then that rider can get a credit each month into the OCTOPUS CARD system for transportation use. Elegant, simple, and allows for marketplace competition rather than system investments on global scales.

And, to break up the present PAT system with two agencies, one for rail and one for bus, would allow the subsidization to be evident. The Mt. Lebo Transit and its under-river tunnel for ball game season ticket users is a subsidy for the rich, not the poor.

Many of those in assisted care and nursing homes -- as well as retirement villages for more able bodied folks -- do have PRIVATE VANS and MINI-BUS service with their community. To bad those trips can't also pick up other local riders (due to the monopoly).

Ol' Froth said...

Ummm...isn't the reason we have the Port Authority in the first place due to the fact that the various private bus and trolley companies went, or were going, bankrupt?

Mark Rauterkus said...


To be honest, I don't know all the details of that history. But, what it the point?

Pgh used to have a dozen inclines. Sure, some might have gone bust. But, I dare you to try to open a new one in Pgh now, without PAT's ownership.

Or, why can't the Westmorland Bus that comes into the city every day stop places other than downtown? Why not a stop in Monroeville, East End, Oakland too?? -- Because of the PAT monopoly and the laws that work to PAT's favor.

Ol' Froth said...

The point is that its very hard to make privatly owned urban mass transit profitable, which is why the vast majority of urban mass transit systems are government run, subsidized systems. We used to have numerous, private transit companies (no monopoly) and they couldn't make a go at it. As EH noted, reliable, 24/7 mass transit is an economic necessity for those who do not or cannot drive.
I'll also note that jitneys are illegal, and not because they compete with cabs and busses, but because they operate without insurance, regluation, or safety standars. To a libertarian, that might sound like a good idea, but for a consumer, not so much. Jitnies do fill a transportation gap however, as they operate in many neighborhoods where the cabs wont go.

Ol' Froth said...

Forgot to add, I have no idea why the Westmoreland county busses don't make stops in Allegheny county. I know of no laws preventing it, as the Beaver County Transit AUthority busses make stops all along route 65 in Allegheny county, the same route covered by the Port AUthority's 14 and 16 busses.