The Missed Opportunity for an Urban Stimulus: Mayors “Were Ignored”

Two-thirds of America’s population, and more than three-quarters of its economic productivity, come from major cities. So why did the Obama administration’s economic stimulus law end up giving metropolitan areas the short end of the stick?

Dan_Malloy1.JPGDaniel Malloy, mayor of Stamford, CT. Photo: Bridgeport City Council

Harry Moroz of the Drum Major Institute attempts to answer the question this week in a new article for The Atlantic. Talking with mayors from around the country, Moroz heard deeply felt frustration from mayors in both parties about the decision to route stimulus money — particularly for transportation — through state capitals rather than cities:

During the bill’s conception, mayors stressed that a state-focused
stimulus would bring slow, inefficient results, and that more jobs
could be created if money were funneled directly to urban areas. In a report issued last winter,
the U.S. Conference of Mayors listed more than 15,000 “ready-to-go”
projects that could provide 1.2 million new jobs in just two years.

So what happened, exactly? “I think we were listened to,” says
Stamford, Connecticut, Mayor Daniel Malloy, who will run for governor
of his state as a Democrat in 2010. “I just think we were then ignored.
And I don’t think we were necessarily ignored by the president. I think
we were ignored by the Congress.”

Congress’ move to "ignore" city leaders, as Malloy put it, is all the more surprising considering how many senior Democrats hail from urbanized regions: think San Francisco, New York City, and the Washington D.C. area.

But no one can accuse the nation’s mayors of failing to speak up. In a February letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood [PDF], 20 city chiefs urged that stimulus funding formulas send transportation aid to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) from regions with more than 200,000 residents as well as to state DOTs. Their pleas were not heeded, however, and cities ultimately paid a price.

  • The Senate isn’t built around representatives of population, and sadly, the Senate holds a lot of power. The House tends to be more reasonable on these things in my opinion.

    Two Senators for each state, that means two for Wyoming and two for New York. I think in theory it was a good idea, in practice, it has allotted to much power to too few people.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I call that Federalism’s perverse incentive. The Founders need to placate the slaveholders and settle the frontier two centuries later is a driver of sprawl. Though in this case I think its really more a case of the Obama people taking cities for granted, a rule of opposites, dance with everyone but who brung ya.

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