CNN Levies Right-Wing Hit on Infrastructure Projects

Bill Scher

As noted in yesterday’s edition of Progressive Breakfast, Marc Ambinder recently laid out the conservative strategy to attack any economic recovery program:

A trillion dollars worth of government spending over the course of a few years is a ripe target for conservatives. Think back to the (Bill-Clinton/Joe Biden!) crime bill of 1994, when Republicans rallied their base against the legislation by ridiculing a tiny part of it — proposals to expand midnight basketball leagues as a way of keeping kids off the streets and out of gangs. Watch for Republicans to settle on a handful of objectionable items and create the impression that the entire enterprise is suspect.

CNN just decided to help conservatives execute that strategy.

The CNN.com headline reads “Mayors’ infrastructure request full of pork, critic says.” And what does that story say?

A report to Congress that requests $73.2 billion to pay for infrastructure projects around the country includes plans for a polar bear exhibit, an anti-prostitution program, a water park ride, zoos, museums and aquatic centers, CNN has found.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors went to Capitol Hill earlier this month with a report listing 11,391 infrastructure projects proposed by 427 cities. The mayors claimed the proposal would create 847,641 jobs in 2009 and 2010.

Pete Sepp, vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, said the polar bear exhibit and many of the other proposals in the report are just plain pork.

“To the people supporting them, these proposals aren’t a joke, but to the taxpayers funding them, yes — this will be a joke for them, only they won’t be laughing,” Sepp said.

Those projects — plus money for aquatic centers, museums, bike paths, zoos, skateboard parks, dog and equestrian parks, police department stun guns, tree planting and murals — total $376.5 million.

There are three damning flaws with the above report.

1) Do the math. CNN claims the mayors’ request includes $376.5 million of “pork.” But the entire request totals $73.2 billion.

That means one-half of one percent of the proposal is pork, and 99.5% are solid requests.

How is that “full of pork?”

2) Where’s the pork? CNN pulls the classic trick of taking something that looks trivial at first glance and deeming it pork, without doing any investigation into the proposed project and underlying rationale.

Bike paths in particular are often egregiously lumped in as pork, when they are often an inexpensive way to provide transportation alternatives that reduce oil dependence and promote good health.

The televised version of the CNN.com report (which aired today on “The Situation Room”) harps on a $1.5M request for a new ride in a Miami water park. Sounds silly. But as the Moms Miami blog noted when the water park opened earlier this year, it is successfully providing Miami families with a safe, inexpensive recreational option for kids.

That’s the sort of thing that makes communities vibrant and livable. Maybe it provides incentive for families to stay in Miami. Maybe it raises property values. Maybe it’s an economic boost.

Or maybe not. I don’t know for sure if expanding this water park is an economically wise investment for taxpayers. And neither does CNN.

For all I know, there’s even more pork in the report than CNN concludes from making knee-jerk reactions to the one-line descriptions in the mayors’ report. That’s why we need an “infrastructure bank” to assess these requests on the merits, which Institute for America’s Future has proposed, and President-Elect Obama has proposed.

3) Relying on conservative hacks. The only attempt by CNN to get perspective on the mayors request was to run to the conservative National Taxpayers Union.

NTU has not done any research into these specific requests and can’t give any informed opinion what is pork and what isn’t. It has a clear agenda to attack any public investment, and CNN gave it undeserved credibility and a platform.

Further, after eight years of conservative government neglecting our infrastructure and driving our economy into the ground, these are the last people we want to rely on to assess the merits of infrastructure projects.

Good journalism into these requests is warranted. The public has a right to weigh in on how their taxpayer dollars are being proposed to be invested.

But this sort of drive-by journalism is nothing but a hit job.

It is imperative for us to prevent conservatives and their media enablers from focusing the economic recovery debate on “a handful of [allegedly] objectionable items” instead of the big picture: revitalizing our economy with public investment in clean energy, clean water, rail, roads, bridges, broadband, healthcare and education.

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