Archive - Feb 7, 2009
It was with some reservation that I attended an Organizing for America event to discuss President Obama's Economic Recovery Plan. A week or so ago, Zephyr Teachout wrote Organizing for America Will, and Should, Fail which raised some very important issues about the direction Organizing for America needs to be heading if it is going to be successful. I’ve discussed the article with friends here in Connecticut and I wondered how the discussion would go today in New Haven.
I am pleased to say that it was much better than I feared it might be based on Zephyr’s article. Some of this is because people organizing the meeting wanted it to be much more than a call to lobby legislators, some of it is because they invited Lou Mangini, a Congressional Aide for Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, to speak about the recovery plan, and some of it was simply because it was a good group of energetic volunteers.
We started with a detailed overview of the Economic Recovery Plan. Mr. Mangini noted that economic stimulus plans have been a frequent tool of Congress during recessions. He explained where things are in the process of getting the plan passed and what it might look like as it gets implemented. He expressed gratification to see so many people gather to discuss an urgent legislative issue on a Saturday afternoon.
We then broke into small groups to discuss aspects that we were interested in. I joined a group talking about local issues around the plan and how it relates to grassroots organizing.
There were three key areas that we focused on. The first was getting it passed. Since it seems like there is strong support of the plan by the Connecticut delegation to Washington, we discussed contacting friends in states where the Senators and Representatives may not be as supportive. This does not mean supporting the plan as it is. There continues to be pressure to change the plan and we need to keep up the pressure to make sure that any changes will make the plan as effective as possible.
Beyond that, the issue of what projects will get funded needs key focus. Unlike other economic plans where specific projects are earmarked, this plan calls for the state and local governments to determine which plans will most effectively reach the goals of the stimulus package.
It is unclear exactly how many ‘shovel ready’ projects are waiting to be done with out the necessary funding to complete them. By ‘shovel ready’, what is meant is projects that have been designed and have the necessary permits. Some of the best projects may, in fact not be ‘shovel ready’, and there are separate issues about how to get such plans ‘shovel ready’ as quickly as possible.
It is also unclear exactly how much money will be made available to states for various projects. However, it is reasonable to assume that there are probably twice as many ‘shovel ready’ projects on the shelves waiting to be funded as there will be funding for.
So, who will decide what projects will be funded? This will go through typical existing agencies like councils of economic development or state transportation agencies. These agencies are not always as transparent as people would like, and may not always chose those projects that will be most effective in stimulating the economy.
Perhaps, if various projects can be listed online where people can discuss the pros and cons of each project, we will end up with better projects being funded.
Once these projects are selected, there will also need to be better transparency and oversight to make sure that they are done in as efficient and cost effective manner as possible.
Can volunteers from Organizing for America and other groups gather and discuss projects that would be most beneficial for our country? Can they make these discussions available online so everyone can participate?
Such discussions could help everyone in Organizing for America be part of the change that they worked so hard for during the election, and might, just might, address the concerns that Zephyr expressed, better than any one imaged was possible.
So, what projects are under consideration for funding where you are?
(Cross-posted at Greater Democracy.)