TOPIC: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

In California, critics not sure it’s the little train that could

Could it be a mirage?

California’s planned 800-mile bullet train system has been dodging flak from administration opponents since President Barack Obama announced his support. While the massive project has generated much skepticism, and many questions have been sloughed off as reflexively political.  But as Lance Williams of CaliforniaWatch reports, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a prominent state Democratic leader, has some serious reservations — and we don’t mean tickets bought way in advance. (more…)

Plain language about managers at California’s high-speed rail system

More uncertainty is emerging about California’s planned $43 billion bullet train system, after a state report recommended a serious shakeup in the management and spending on the joint federal and state project.

As Dan Weikel of the Los Angeles Times reports, California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office released a 28-page report raising serious doubts about both the decisions being made and the decision-makers themselves. The report urges that management of the entire project be stripped from its appointed board — the California High Speed Rail Authority — and turned over to the state Department of Transportation, more commonly known as Caltrans. (more…)

DOL: We can’t get you a job, but we can get you a place to look for jobs

The U.S. Dept. of Labor has launched a Web site that helps 16-24 year-old’s find summer jobs, reports Sandra Guy of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Web site may prove useful but it pales in comparison to DOL’s previous use of federal stimulus money to subsidize summer youth jobs. That money ran out last year and cities like Chicago have since cut down on their hiring programs.

No easy way out on water issues in California

After years of admonishment about wasting water, residents of perennially dry California are watching billions of gallons of the life giving liquid roll out to sea as a prodigious rainy season draws to a close.

With irrigation districts, water districts and enviros engaged in battles spreading out across the decades, Matt Weiser 0f the Sacramento Bee wades into the battle with a primer on efforts to boost water supplies in California and the substantial hurdles these projects must clear. (more…)

High speed rail funding leaves one coast for the other

A major windfall in federal funding offered to Florida for a new high speed rail effort, just might end up in America’s other sand-and-sun tourist destination — California.

Arguing that local matching funds and future operating and maintenance costs would be an albatross around Floridians’ necks, Florida’s Republican leadership recently rejected the $2.43 billion Washington offered for that state’s long planned fast train project. Now, according to Rich Connell of the Los Angeles Times, the race is on to get that money and California is hoping for a healthy slice, if not the whole pie. (more…)

Making sensible policy out of sensational youth violence

Derrion Albert 1993-2009

NPR ran a series all last week examining deadly violence among Chicago Public Schools students, a topic I covered extensively in July 2009. Now, as in 2009, just a fraction of CPS students, mostly young black males, are vulnerable to deadly violence. The problem, though,  became even more sensationalized following the videotaped beating and subsequent death of Derrion Albert in September 2009.

The city of Chicago is clearly doing a lot to deal with the violence. But it’s questionable if they’re choosing the smartest policies — or receiving any help from Washington. (more…)

Illinois: Hey, we’ll take Florida’s train money

As other states reject federal high-speed rail money, Illinois is asking for more. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, announced yesterday that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation will provide $685 million to begin construction April 5 on a high-speed rail track between Springfield and Joliet. Overall, the state is supposed to get $1.2 billion to build a track between Chicago and St. Louis — but Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business points out that Illinois could get more federal cash. (more…)

Unemployment crisis = unemployment insurance crisis

The federal government has a projected $10.4 trillion deficit over the next ten years. But most states also run long-term deficits, a problem partly caused by money states borrowed from Washington to pay unemployment benefits. Barack Obama’s proposed 2012 budget belatedly addresses state and federal government’s failure to handle a prolonged period of high unemployment.

Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains how Wisconsin came to borrow $1.56 billion from the federal government. (more…)

Off the rails

Departing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley wants Chinese investors to fund a high-speed train transporting O’Hare Airport passengers to downtown Chicago, reports Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times. The plan is classic Daley: a legacy project that will boost Chicago’s international image as more mundane city problems remain unaddressed. But private investors might be the future for high-speed rail as the Obama administration has faced rejection from Republican governors. (more…)

The thinking man’s trash can

In its final weeks, the Richard M. Daley administration used federal stimulus funds to bolster Daley’s legacy as a green mayor and perhaps make the city’s very expensive Streets & Sanitation system a bit more efficient. The city will spend $2.2 million on solar-powered trash compactors from Massachusetts-based Big Belly Solar, reports Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times. Four hundred compactors will be located downtown and each will automatically sense when it is full and trigger a notification to the city. Philadelphia installed similar solar trash compactors and saved $900,000 in refuse removal costs in the plan’s first year.