By Richard Eckstrom
I recently read an Associated Press report about a sleepy border checkpoint between Montana and Canada which will receive $15 million in “stimulus” funds. The checkpoint will receive the money despite the fact that only about three travelers a day cross the border there.
The project actually ranks low on a priority list compiled by the Office of Homeland Security, but two powerful Democratic senators pushed the project to the top of the list. According to the story, the project involves building a checkpoint station “the size and cost of a Hollywood mansion.”
Similarly, a North Dakota checkpoint which serves an average of 73 travelers a day will also receive $15 million in stimulus funds.
What’s most noteworthy is that other projects rated much higher on the Office of Homeland Security’s priority list -- including a Texas checkpoint that serves 55,000 travelers a day -- were bypassed for stimulus funds.
So what was the basis for selecting the Montana checkpoint -- which, again, sees almost no traffic -- over more pressing needs? No one is quite sure, other than the fact that two senators asked the director of Homeland Security to bump the project up ahead of others. Federal officials charged with overseeing border projects won’t make public their selection criteria.
According to the report, federal officials “said they wouldn't release the master list (of proposed projects) because it was just a starting point and subject to misunderstanding.” It’s an excuse I have heard before. As I travel the state to encourage local governments to post details of their spending on the Internet, it’s not uncommon for a mayor or a county councilman’s first response to be that ordinary citizens won’t understand the information. (To me, that shows a lack of faith in the public, and certainly shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to conduct public business as openly as possible.)
It may be the case that most people think spending millions on border checkpoints which see very few travelers is a wise investment. Others might argue it’s a waste of money.
But what’s clear to me is that those projects should have been decided on their own merits, rather than under the pretense of “economic recovery.” They look more like “pork” -- that time-honored tradition of politicians showering benefits on favored constituencies -- than they resemble sound policy to create jobs and end the recession.
Friday, September 25, 2009
By Richard Eckstrom