The Arizona Desert Lamp

Robert Shelton’s ready, watch your SPEED (also, new dorms)

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 26 May 2009

Bad government programs, like George Romero’s zombies, refuse to die, no matter how much lead you pump into them (somebody call the CPSC!). In April 2008, Presidents Shelton, Crow, and Haegar starting pushing for a state-based stimulus package called SPEED – the Stimulus Plan for Economic and Educational Development (Maximizing Education, Talent and Hospitals never made it past the drawing board). The package drew largely on lottery revenues, a regressive and opaque source of revenue. The plan’s primary support hinged not on the academic merits of the buildings, but on the economic activity that the SPEED would bring to the construction industry. This, perhaps, is to be expected – it’s hard to justify spending money on building a Starbucks twenty feet from a university-sponsored coffee shop, unless you’re intent on digging holes for the sake of digging holes. Yet Big Construction isn’t just looking for more work – among the many projects offered by the universities, ASU is proposing the construction of a new school dedicated to . . . construction.

In October of that year, Rep. Russell Pearce held up the bill, citing that antiquated philosophy that you “can’t spend money when you don’t have it.” This hold lasted until the end of the 2008 legislative session, and the bill appeared to be dead once and for all. Yet through its journalistic voodoo magick, the Associated Press has brought the story back to life (the circulated piece is largely drawn from Anne Ryman’s article in the Republic). The piece mostly is a rehash of last year’s debates, but there are some updates worth noting:

The committee later green-lighted the projects, but the state budget crisis caused university officials to hold off issuing bonds to cover construction costs. The officials are waiting until the 2009-10 budget is finalized because a pair of bills in the state Legislature could impact their spending authority and the amount of Lottery funds available.

Senate Bill 1029 would eliminate the SPEED construction program, except for about $167 million in already-approved projects.

House Bill 2635 would continue to route increased amounts of Lottery funds to help the state’s budget deficit. This could affect how much universities would get because they are last in line to receive Lottery funds, behind state services such as parks and transportation.

6thStDorm

In other Bob the Builder news, the $116 million dorm project has since been spun off from the SPEED program, and now two new dorms – “one at Euclid Avenue, south of Coronado Hall, and the other at Highland Avenue, north of Apache-Santa Cruz Hall” – are good to go (see left). The UANews piece buries the actual benefits of the project – more on-campus housing – in the bottom paragraph, and spends the rest of the piece having fun with Keynesian magic multipliers:

The project is expected to have a direct employment impact of 1097 jobs, which are expected to last one year. Direct jobs are positions that are primarily spent working on the design, engineering and construction. An additional 294 indirect jobs – in areas such as warehousing, transportation and other areas – will be created.

“When these workers spend their incomes in the state, they generate another 430 (construction) jobs,” said Alberta H. Charney, UA senior research economist and author of the report.

“And when these 430 workers spend their incomes in the state, they generate 238 rainbows of happiness!” When these 1097 “new jobs” and their “indirect and induced impacts” suddenly vanish from the economy next year, will it be fair to call President Shelton the greatest destroyer of employment in Pima County? Hopefully, it’s not too late to propose naming one of these buildings “Bastiat Hall.”

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