Self-Interest Economics

Ariel Hart has a nice cover story in this morning’s AJC about the different metrics being used by political talkers to demonstrate how Atlanta is either getting fat or screwed in the distribution of Federal Stimulus funding.

As Hart points out, those in Atlanta  – who want more money – use the “For every thousand dollars metro Atlanta contributes to the economy, so far it’s getting back $1.37 from the stimulus road fund. The rest of the state is getting $2.02.” argument.

“How outrageous!!” cry the cultured urbanites.

The smaller cities and rural areas – who also want more money – roll their collective eyes and counter with this argument – summarized by Hart – “metro Atlanta is getting $66.81 per person in the area, while the rest of the state is getting $56.06.”

Not knowing which money-grubbers to trust, Hart turns to the economists, which surprisingly, are also of two minds.

So with few options remaining, the tired and intrepid reporter turns to the great-decider himself, Sonny Perdue, who’s spokesman rolls his eyes in his excellency’s absence and utters “If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that you can find an economist to say anything,”

And like a Turgenev short story, Hart’s article concludes without the closure we all seek.  We don’t discover who the real purveyor of truth is, or what it is about economists that makes them “say anything.”  It just is.

Fantastical Atlanta Transit Dilemma: Pick One

Wheatley reports over on the Loaf about an Atlanta Business Chronicle story that teases the transit-minded with visions of a revived Peachtree streetcar, thanks to that debt-driven dreammaker, the Federal Stimulus package.

But is a Peachtree Streetcar the best use of Atlanta transit money?  A commenter on Freah Loaf argues that transit should instead focus efforts toward expanding into Gwinnett, Cobb and Cumming (and ignore the desire of voters, apparently).

To me, this dilemma strikes at the heart of competing Atlanta visions.  City-lovers are inclined to support the streetcar, which would strengthen public transit in-town and give the city a much-needed iconic image (without employing Calatrava).  In contrast, metro-visionaries see the streetcar as putting the train before the engine at this stage since the reality is still that 4 out of 5 people in the metro-area live in the tragically transitless ‘burbs.  These folks call for a much larger MARTA network.

At a high-level, transit advocates agree that both these components are key to Atlanta’s overall transit vision, but which is more important and therefore should receive priority in the current battle over dollars?

If suburbanites wanted, instead of feared, MARTA, it might actually be a tough call.

MARTA & GA Lawmakers Get Bailed Out

Today, the ARC voted in favor of their plan to redirect $25 million in federal stimulus dollars to help bridge MARTA’s crippling budget shortfall that threatened to close down services for entire days of the week.

In doing so, ARC came to the rescue of not only MARTA and it’s riders, but also inadvertently Georgia lawmakers , who’s inability to pass a number of important measures this session was just beginning to gain some serious traction in the press behind this massive MARTA fumble.

Not only were rail-noodling Dems up in arms, but so was all of Atlanta’s business community, who knew full well the importance of public transportation if Atlanta (and Georgia) wished to compete in something we like to call “the global economy.”

It was just getting good.  Pissed lawmakers were giving the inside scoop on committee meetings,  MARTA was calling for special sessions, we had the House Majority Leader on record saying he went to Disney World more often than he rode MARTA (and therefore couldn’t see the benefits to his Isle of Retirement (St. Simons.)

Those were the days.  We were all pissed and we could smell the blood.  It was going to be an embarrassment to end all embarrassments.  One that might actually shame the legislature into action – since rational argument had long ago stopped having any effect.

But then ARC made their announcement that they had figured out a way to help MARTA through the year with the help of stimulus funding and all the press simply…vanished.  The hounds were called back to the house, the horses led back to the barn.

Now, as the ARC votes in favor of formalizing the MARTA bailout by giving it $25 million for “preventive maintenance” (which MARTA will repay with $25 million in “capital improvements” around MARTA stations), transit advocates are cheering with a pit in their stomachs.

Happy the city isn’t being saddled with a public transportation system that keeps the hours of a Chik-Fil-A, everyone is now wondering if the legislature learned it’s lesson.  Or have they instead learned that when they do nothing, someone else will clean up their mess?

With its generally spoiled 4-year old mentality, I’m going with the latter.

Decatur PD Applies For License Plate Reader

I somehow forgot to mention the coolest agenda item from tonight’s City Commission meeting when I read through the materials.

Toward the end of tonight’s meeting, Chief Booker asked the commission to approve a Police Department application to receive $38,359 in federal stimulus money to purchase an Automated License Plate Reader for a police cruiser.

If accepted, the city would pay only around $2,000 of the $40,000 cost.

The technology “allows for the capture of images of license plates and instantaneously compares them to millions of records to identify vehicles of interest.”  But beyond that, Chief Booker proposed another interesting scenario during the meeting.  To summarize:  if a burglary was reported at someone’s home and the victim reported that they had seen a white van out front earlier that day, DPD could check to see whether the patrol car with the ALPR had been down that street and if so, they could review the video and see if the van in question was there when patrol passed.  Then they’d have a license plate.

Cool huh?

Incidentally, the Mayor thanked Chief Booker at the conclusion of the presentation for DPD’s response during the DHS/Renfroe shutdown.  The Chief was very gracious and promised to pass the word along to his staff.

CSD Would Receive $1.8 Million From Fed Stimulus Package

The AJC has sifted through the education portion of the federal stimulus package, which passed the House last night, and has broken out how much each Georgia school district would receive.

As it currently stands, here’s what City Schools of Decatur would get over the two year period…

2009

Title 1:  $224,200

Construction: $732,300

IDEA:  $275,300

2010

Title 1: $224,200

IDEA: $333,700

2009-2010 Total: $1,789,600

The AJC explains “Title 1” and IDEA in their glossary as follows…

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): A federal law saying schools must provide free programs to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Their disabilities range from physical impairments such as blindness to emotional or behavioral handicaps to specific learning problems that affect one’s ability to process information.

Title I: Federal funds that target schools and districts with a large number of students living in poverty.”

That $732,300 for construction would be just a splash in the bucket of the potential Renfroe addition/renovation, which the Superintendent recently estimated would cost between $10-12 million.  The 5th Avenue renovation was estimated between $5-6 million.