Early Briefing: Putting A Stimulus Plan To Work

There's seemingly no end to the ways the economic downturn is shaping discussions these days. Richmond lawmakers are considering whether to grant developers some relief from fees, the governor is talking about higher tolls to Dulles, struggling Sprint Nextel is looking for partners to help it build its WiMax super network, and policymakers are searching for ways to make the region more competitive.

And then there's Metro columnist Courtland Milloy, who offers his thoughts on the big stimulus package now making its way through Capitol Hill. He notes that among talk of tax breaks for businesses and cash for taxpayers there's been little discussion of "the economic needs of young people who, for want of money, become either productive members of society or a costly drag on it."

He suggests part of the package be set aside for a modest jobs program.

Here's what I'd do:

Hire a brigade of young people to clean up the tributaries of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. Have them spend a summer walking the banks of the Potomac -- from the District to the Chesapeake Bay -- picking up trash. Along with their paychecks, give them a school credit for environmental science.

Have you noticed how the outside walls on some public school buildings are marred by unsightly rust, water stains and graffiti? Rusting bars and steel-mesh screens on the windows make some schools look like abandoned prisons. Give the students some industrial scouring pads and pay them to scrub the schools clean.

Quite a few outdoor murals throughout the region used to be vibrant and beautiful, but their colors are fading. Instead of inviting us to be part of a community, they have become signs of abandonment. Hire crews of aspiring artists to spruce them up.

Recreation centers, playgrounds, trash-strewn vacant lots, outdoor art projects -- all could benefit from a jobs program aimed not just at stimulating the economy but also at strengthening the social fabric of the region.

How would you stimulate the economy?

* The downturn is changing some of the political dynamics in Richmond. Virginia lawmakers took a step Tuesday toward throwing out the 30-year-old system that allows local governments to coax millions of dollars from developers to pay for roads, schools and other services affected by their projects.

If the measure, which advanced in the state Senate, is signed into law, local governments would have to end the practice of negotiating proffers, contributions made by developers to offset the cost of providing services to people drawn to a community by new homes. Instead, governments would be allowed to charge a flat fee for each house. Northern Virginia governments would be permitted to collect $8,000 per house.

The legislation was endorsed by the building industry, which abandoned support for the proffer system after defending it for years. To explain the turnabout, builders cited the slump in the housing market and the high fees charged by some fast-growing counties in Northern Virginia. Loudoun County, which charges the highest development fees in the state, collects about $47,000 for each new house.

* Your Dulles commute could get costlier if Virginia builds a new rail line. Charges on the Dulles Toll Road have risen to 75 cents at the main plaza and 50 cents at the exits, and they are scheduled to rise further under a plan to finance the project. The toll road is operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is also managing the rail project. Part of the authority's agreement with Virginia is to pay for much of the rail line with toll increases.

Gov. Timothy Kaine suggested that tolls could go still higher if the federal government declines to grant $900 million for the $5 billion project. Not that he supports the idea, mind you. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Federal Transit Administration chief James S. Simpson told Kaine and other state officials last week that the project is unlikely to qualify for federal funding, which is crucial to the financing plan.

* Sprint Nextel is holding new discussions to team up with other firms to deploy a nationwide high-speed wireless network, according to company and industry sources.

The venture may include a former partner, the telecom start-up Clearwire, as well as Intel, Google and SK Telecom, part of a South Korean media and technology conglomerate. See story and photo slideshow.

* Top political leaders from Maryland, Virginia and the District announced an effort Tuesday to make the area a leader in "green" energy and increase its competitiveness in the global economy.

The Chesapeake Crescent initiative will bring together officials from the federal government, the region's congressional delegations, states and cities in addition to members of the business community.

They will work on issues related to the environment, transportation, economic development and housing in the "crescent," which runs along the Interstate 95 corridor from the northeastern corner of Maryland to Hampton Roads in Virginia, officials said. The effort will be funded by $1.5 million from a group of entrepreneurs, $250,000 each from Maryland and Virginia and $100,000 from the District.

By Dan Beyers  |  January 30, 2008; 7:02 AM ET
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Comments

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Government has failed middle class taxpayers in states where the cost of living is high. Congress believes that people who earn between $75,000 and $100,000 are "rich" even though one must earn at least that much just to afford a modest home. All middle income taxpayers should remember who passed this poor legislation when they vote this fall. But they won't remember, voters are sheep in the eyes of Congress, and sadly Congress is betting on that. Boo hiss.

Posted by: bt | February 7, 2008 5:17 PM

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