Category Archives: economy

Get Over It, Already

trump-cover-final

“Thousands Across the U. S. Protest Trump Victory”.  USA Today, November 10, 2016.

“Not My President, Thousands Say”, Washington Post, November 10, 2016

“Campuses Confront Hostile Acts Against Minorities After Donald Trump’s Election”, New York Times, November 10, 2016.   (An article about how some Trump supporters are targeting minorities with hate crimes.)

I’ve rarely blogged here about political themes or issues (a notable exception:  Last year when Trump slandered John McCain’s military service.   I’m a retired Army Officer and that was too much.)

I’m also an unabashed Democrat and supporter of Hillary Clinton.  I’m fiscally conservative – too often liberals and Democrats think government is the solution to every societal problem, and they implement new taxes or programs without thought about the negative effect of higher taxes on rents, housing prices and middle/low income wage earners.

But the election is over.   Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.  More voters felt she was the best choice for President.   But, under the Constitution and the Electoral College, Donald Trump won the presidency.  To the protestors and the Trump-supporter-hate-crime-perpetrators I say “Get Over It”.

To the protestors, I say:  did you vote?  Where were you over the last 6 months?  Why didn’t you work on registering voters and getting out the vote before Tuesday November 8th rather than taking to the streets in virtually fruitless protests afterwards?  Get involved in your government, your public safety and in politics starting today so you can really effect the change you want.

I could, like the protestors, write and scream about all the regressive laws and consequences which will take place over the next two years:  repeal (rather than fixing) Obamacare, actions against immigrants (although, frankly, Obama deported more illegal immigrants than any prior President), backing away from climate change and environmental protection, and so forth.

But, to be honest, Donald Trump will be President and we all need to concentrate on common ground – on all the work that needs to be done to improve the safety, quality of life and economy of the United States.

City InfrastructureHere are some examples of such common ground:

  • Infrastructure. Both Clinton and Trump correctly proposed massive increases in spending on roads, bridges, utilities and other infrastructure.   Let’s get together and do it.
  • Cybersecurity.  The Obama Administration has made great strides toward improving our cyber warfare and defense capabilities, and we need to do more.  In particular, we need to protect our local and state governments, our financial institutions, our defense industries from the potential of a devastating cyberattack.  Let’s get together and do it.
  • Veterans. It is a serendipitous coincidence that I publish this post on Veterans’ Day, 2016.  The terrible and stupid Iraq war perpetrated by the Bush-Cheney administration has resulted in hundreds of thousands of mentally- and physically-injured veterans.  The Obama Administration has started to correct the awful way the VA Healthcare system has treated veterans, but we must do more.  I support a son-in-law – a Marine with 100% disability – by buying him food and helping him with rent and care for his PTSD because his military disability pay and care is simply not sufficient for him to live in Seattle.  But many veterans don’t have anyone to help them and end up homeless and wandering the street, causing problems for our police and paramedics and emergency rooms.  For example, the Seattle Police Department alone has 10,000 encounters a year with people in crisis on the streets, many of them veterans.  Let’s get together and fix this.
  • Mental health and Opioid Addiction. Just as with veterans’ care, many people have mental health issues and/or are addicted to heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs.  Up to 60% of the calls a Seattle police officer handles are people in crisis.  This must be addressed and it is a bi-partisan issue.   Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman has made addressing opioid addiction a centerpiece of his campaign and his legislative agenda.  Let’s get together and do it.
  • FirstNet and support of our First Responders. I joined the First Responder Network Authority because I fervently believe in its mission to build a nationwide wireless network for public safety and our first responders.   FirstNet was created by both Republicans and Democrats in bipartisan legislation passed in 2012.  That legislation funded FirstNet with $7 billion from sale of spectrum to commercial carriers, and that same sale provided $35 billion or more to reduce the deficit.  FirstNet will give first responders – indeed all public safety responders – the technology and tools they need to deal with many of the issues listed above, as well as crime, wildfires and emergency medical care.  Let’s get together and do it.

iot-internet-unfollow-coffee-machine

  • Internet of Things (IoT).
    Many if not most of our electronics and gadgets will become part of the Internet of Things, perhaps 25 billion devices by 2020.  Smart light bulbs, thermostats, DVD players and video cameras are just the start. Utilities will connect every water and gas and electric meter, transformers, valves and the rest of their infrastructure.  Industry is creating whole manufacturing plants with every device connected.  But IoT is a huge security risk, as shown by the Mirai IoT botnet attack of September 20th.  IoT poses both great potential and risk for our society, and, frankly, the IoT needs to be regulated and secured as well as deployed.  Let’s get together and do it.
  • The march of technology and loss of jobs. Much Presidential campaign rhetoric talked about the loss of jobs to China or Mexico.  But, frankly, only 12% of the 5 million factory jobs the United States lost since 2000 have been lost to trade.  A whopping 88% of the job loss is attributable to automation and robotics!  Indeed, U.S. manufacturing output increased by 18% between 2006 and 2016, while the number of jobs decreased.  The issue we need to address is finding living wage jobs which can co-exist with the never-ending march of technology and automation.  Let’s get together and do it.

obamasnumbers-2016-q2_4

I agree, there is a time to protest, and I’m certain I will be in the streets at some point in the next two years.

But I’m also going to roll up my sleeves, find common ground on the issues I’ve listed above, and work to continue the improvements in the economy, quality of life, technology, infrastructure and public safety which have happened in the years since the beginning of the Great Recession (graphic at right).

I encourage you to join with me.

Let’s get together and do it.

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Filed under cybersecurity, economy, elections, Fedgov, FirstNet, government, government operations, Internet of Things, Uncategorized

– I-Everything, Lawyers, Watson and Plumbers

The I-Everything

The I-Everything?

Robert Reich* had an interesting piece on October 10th on NPR’s* Marketplace:  “Is technology to Blame for Chronic Unemployment?” He talked about the immanent end of many jobs and professions in the developed world, and specifically the United States, due to massive changes in technology.  Read or listen to it here.

The logic of his arguments is quite clear.

First, the miniaturization of electronics coupled with the consumer technology revolution (smart phones and tablets) is really just in its infancy. Gee, the smart phone, for example, is just five years old, and the tablet computer (in its very usable, iPad-type format) is not even three years old. We’ve just begun to tap their potential.

Next, we are seeing more and more data and information squeezed into ever smaller spaces. While the first personal computers had less than 640 kilobytes of memory*, today we have widely available thumbdrives with 64 gigabytes of memory. Service members and others can carry their entire medical history on a chip in a credit card.

Indeed, Reich said, we may very well, in the future, carry an “all purpose” device, the “I-Everything” as he dubbed it. It could contain all relevant information about you, ranging from medical history to financial information to personal preferences (all suitably encrypted, one would hope!). Using a personal-area-network it could communicate with many other devices in or on your body to monitor your health, allow self-diagnosis of medical issues and even carry on most routine financial transactions and interactions. The I-Everything.

These revolutions in technology have already terminated many kinds of jobs. Word processors and data entry jobs are gone and secretaries, if not gone, are highly endangered. Telephone and switchboard operators, and many newspaper jobs, are gone.

More jobs will fall victim to technology. Bank tellers are endangered, as are travel agents. Retail store clerks are still employed in great numbers, but a decline must set in as more shopping goes online. Even restaurant servers may be somewhat endangered as i-Pads and other devices become common at tables.

IBM's WatsonThis change will strike at professional jobs too.  Sloan-Kettering medical centers have been testing the use of IBM’s Watson to help do diagnosis of medical conditions and, starting soon, it will start dispensing medical advice.

(You undoubtedly remember Watson from its appearance on the Jepoardy television show.)

We can see many other professional jobs which will be suspectible to the “artificial intelligence” powers of computers such as Watson.   Such jobs might include attorneys and finance. Lawyers research and interpret laws, but computers are vastly better at raw text-based search. And artificial intelligence as demonstrated by IBM’s Watson computer can do much, if not all, of the interpretation and preparation of legal documents and briefs.

My title “Death of Lawyers” is a little dramatic. Lawyers aren’t going to die, but their profession will rapidly and significantly shrink. I suppose we’ll need trial lawyers for a while but almost all the “clerical” work of legal documents, wills, property transfer, tax preparation and so forth will fall victim to information technology. Most law schools and paralegals will soon follow. Indeed, most of the process of adjudication (“judges”) can probably follow as well.

IBM has 200 people working on applying applying Watson’s abilities to commercial problems like medicine and finance.   And my purpose in writing this column is not to “raise alarm” and cause people to “rise up against the machine”.    Computing is going to keep advancing and hundreds of companies and thousands of people are working to make that happen.  Smarter machines will have many applications to improve our quality of life.

Many professions, however, will experience resurgence. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and auto mechanics are definitely not susceptible to replacement by Watson – or to outsourcing to China and India either, for that matter.  But the sophisticated computers embedded in homes, appliances and automobiles will dictate more sophistication in these professions. Childcare, nursing and eldercare will still require “real people”.   Demand for, and the valuing of, these professions will rise.

Computers such as IBM’s Watson will eventually merge with the “I-Everything”, I think, to produce a true digital assistant, able to interact and transact much of the routine business of your usual life. The only trouble is that, with so many people out of work, who will be able to afford one?

Digital GovernmentWell, this is, actually, supposed to be a blog about the use of technology in government. What do these revolutionary changes mean for government workers?

It’s hard to see how the “I-everything” with integrated Watson can replace cops, firefighters, water pipe workers, electrical line workers, emergency medical techs, pothole-fillers and parks and recreation staff. Spouses angrily fighting with each other, throwing kitchen utensils and pulling out knives and guns – and then calling 911 – are not exactly susceptible to Watson-like reasoning. “Bureaucrats”, in the sense of employees who process documents, issue licenses and permits, and manage finances, may see their jobs in jeopardy.

And, of course, we’ll always need elected officials. Who would want to go to a public meeting and yell at a computer?

Or, perhaps, we’ll just send our I-Everthings to the meeting to yell at the electeds’ I-Everythings!


*Robert Reich is former Secretary of Labor for President Bill Clinton and presently professor of public policy at University of California – Berkeley. http://robertreich.org/

*NPR – gee, you know what NPR is – its that public broadcasting service which includes Big Bird and Jim Lehrer and others who may be sacrificed to the god of Federal Deficit Reduction.

*Bill Gates did NOT say “640k of memory should be enough for anybody” – see here.

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Filed under artificial intelligence, economy, future of technology

– CIO As City Cheerleader

Cheerleader(This post originally published July 8, 2012)

Do City, County and State government CIOs have a responsibility to be “cheerleaders” for their jurisdictions for economic development of the community?

I think so.

We CIOs have talked about “aligning information technology with the business” of government and “customer service” to other departments. Those are still important, although, increasingly, CIOs are contracting a lot of the actual “doing” of technology to software-as-a-service and other cloud providers.

But most elected officials have little interest in internal information technology functions, However virtually every one believes that bringing new business to their community – or growing it – is the key to improving the overall quality of life. New businesses bring new jobs. Governments prize technology businesses, especially, because they are “cool”, generally “green” and also bring high-paying jobs. Look on the websites of any number of cities and counties for economic development goals, and you’ll see emulation of Silicon Valley.

The governments’ CIOs are the technology experts within each government. Where better to get the expertise to help entice or grow such high-tech businesses?

Seattle recently sponsored a “Startup Weekend – Government Edition”….

(Read the rest of this blog post on my Digital Communities Blog here.)

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Filed under apps, CIOs, economy, web 2.0

– Miracle of Government Regulation

The Chicken Gun

The Government-Mandated Chicken Gun

Are there any “good guys” in government (or elsewhere) these days?

To listen to the crop of presidential candidates this year, you’d think government on all levels is a total drag on the economy and if you’d just eviscerate it and starve it via budget cutbacks, the private sector would explode creating millions of jobs and an economic nirvana.

An editorial in today’s (October 14th) Wall Street Journal talked about 81,405 pages of government regulations being added to the Federal Register last year, at a “total cost to the economy of $1.7 trillion a year” (although no source is cited for this figure).

Coincidentally today, I had the chance to listen to Steven Berlin Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From“.  Steven was speaking at the Code for America Summit in San Francisco [a wonderful gathering of innovators inside and outside government – I’ve blogged about Code for America before and I’ll do so again shortly].

Johnson related the story of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which made an emergency landing in the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese upon takeoff from New York’s JFK Airport. The incident was dubbed the “miracle on the Hudson” because no one died – or was even seriously hurt – in this near tragedy. Great credit for that result goes to a true hero of aviation, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger.

But Johnson made another point – the incident really could be called the “Miracle of Government Regulation” and another hero is the Chicken Gun. The Chicken Gun fires chicken carcasses into jet engines to test their abilities to withstand bird strikes. Such testing is required by the Federal Aviation Administration before it will certify jet engines and airplanes. Flight 1549’s engines were certified in 1996 and, after the goose strike, simply shut down, rather than flying apart or exploding when they ingested geese.

Thank you FAA and your regulations and engine certification processes!

(Note and confession: I shamelessly stole the title of this blog from Johnson’s presentation at Code for America.)

As we know, there are a whole host of federal regulations relating to aircraft and flying. And those regulations contribute to an air safety record which has been phenomenally successful.

Would any of us want to get in an aircraft or fly without these FAA regulations in force?   Of course not!

No doubt the FAA are “good guys”.

Today’s same Wall Street Journal edition carried a front page photo and headline regarding the conviction of Raj Rajaratnam for insider trading. Raj gets 11 years in prison for using insider information to manipulate stock prices and make himself (and friends) rich. Also in the Journal are pictures of Bernie Madoff, sent to prison for 150 years for his Ponzi scheme, and Jeffrey Skilling of Enron sent to prison for 24 years for all the accounting and other shenanigans at Enron in the early 2000’s.

Here we have three individuals who hurt every one of us Americans.

We all own stocks in one way or another, and insider stock trading takes money from our pockets and puts it in the likes of the Raj Rajaratnams’.

Enron's Lies
Enron

Skilling was especially evil – Enron tried to corner the market for electricity, driving up prices nationwide. Many investor and publicly-owned utilities, including Seattle City Light and Snohomish Public Utility District, went heavily into debt as a result, to pay for the artificially inflated prices created by this criminal.

Thanks to various Federal laws and regulations, these monsters and many others who have sapped our economy of money and jobs are in prisons.   Is insuring the fairness of the “playing field” of business and the financial markets a “drag” on the economy?  I think not!  Bring on the regulators!

In just one more example, think about automobile gas mileage. Would any car maker willingly invest tons of money into improving gas mileage without government regulation?  Undoubtedly NOT. They’d continue to produce gas-guzzlers, which would use a lot more petroleum, further enriching the oil companies, who willingly would pull it out of the ground at whatever price, increasing our dependence on imported oil, while at the same time increasing air pollution. That’s the cheap way to do business and make tons of money, despite all the deleterious effects.

I could go on-and-on about the miracles of government regulation which keep our water clean, make sure that sewage is purified rather than being dumped raw into rivers, keep working conditions in farms and factories safe, provide for safe automobiles and highways, reduce the risk of disease and contamination in our food supply, and much much more.

How does this relate to being a City government CIO?

Amazingly, I’m a regulator too! I and my department regulate cable television franchises for the people of Seattle, making sure that cable TV and telecomm companies build out all areas of the City, not such affluent ones where the companies can make a lot of money. We also require low-income and senior discounts, and a basic cable rate of $12 a month or less. We require, through a cable customer bill of rights, that customers be treated fairly and with dignity.  These are regulations which make cable television available to almost everyone.

I’m sure there are useless or burdensome government regulations, but I think most regulators are really the “good guys”.

Hey, Editors at the Journal, if business people and the financiers and corporate executives on Wall Street would police and regulate themselves (and, in honestly, many of them – especially small businesspeople – do), if they would not pollute the air and water creating superfund sites, would not use inside information to manipulate stock prices and enrich themselves, and would build safe homes and cars which are frugal with gas and low polluting, maybe we wouldn’t need so much regulation by governments.

Until that day arrives, I will proudly talk about the “Miracle of Government Regulation” and I would not want my family living in these United States without it.

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Filed under economy, ethics, Seattle City Light

– Schrier to the FCC: Broadband

Fiber Broadband - Click for more

Fiber Broadband - Click for more

This morning the FCC will start a year-long process to craft a “National Broadband Plan for our Future”.

The agenda is here and here’s Ars Technica’s insightful view of the process. The meeting can be viewed live at 10:00 AM (EDT) here, and the video record should be posted at that site after the meeting is finished.

I’ve blogged a number of times about broadband and how I feel the only real “broadband” is fiber-to-the-premise. I feel the United States is in danger of becoming a “third world country” in broadband networks.

Here’s what I’ll tell the FCC Commissioners today (with a little luck, and FTP/Video technology willing):


Good morning Commissioners.

I’m Bill Schrier, Chief Technology Officer for the City of Seattle, and I bring you greetings from “the other Washington”.

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission on broadband and its effect upon economic development and jobs.

Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle is the incoming President of the United States Conference of Mayors and has been an outspoken proponent of broadband – and specifically fiber to the premise – since 2005 when a citizen’s commission recommended creation of a symmetric, 25 megabits per second or faster fiber network.

We feel such a network will bring a fundamental change America’s economy – it will affect our way of working and playing as profoundly as did the telegraph, telephone, railroad, and original Internet.

We believe a fiber network is an investment which will last 50 years or more

We believe such a fiber network will carry two-way high-definition video streams. This network can convert every high-definition television set into a video conferencing station. And this addresses a fundamental human need – to actually see our co-workers and friends.

For the first time, working at home – true telework – will be possible because workers can connect with each other and see each other in real time. Whole technology businesses will collaborate on developing 21st century products. Students will be able to attend classes and interact with their classmates from home. Quality of life will improve as families scattered across a region can talk together while actually seeing each other.

Such a network can significantly reduce commute trips and travel. This, in turn, reduces our dependence upon imported oil and reduces the production of greenhouse gases.

You are launching this momentous task of creating a national broadband strategy. I urge you to think of fiber broadband with two-way video and similar applications as a fundamentally new economic network for America. I urge you to think in decades, not years. And, again, on behalf of the people of Seattle and Mayor Greg Nickels, thank you for listening.


I also had an ex parte meeting regarding the definition of “broadband” with FCC staff on March 31st. The public record of my statements at the meeting are here.

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Filed under broadband, cable, economy, fcc, video

– Microsoft vs Open Source

Microsoft Public Sector CIO Summit - click for moreThis week is the Microsoft Public Sector CIO summit in that village named Redmond “across the pond” from Seattle. It’s also a week of continuing rotten economic news for public and private sector alike. In this environment, it sure is tempting to chuck Microsoft’s Office and web products and their complicated Enterprise and Select Agreements in favor of open source equivalents.

But you know what, the City of Seattle is not going to do that. Why?

Regular readers of this blog – if there are any – know I’m from Seattle and most of you know I’m a serious supporter of Microsoft software and products.

Clearly, I’m prejudiced.

Microsoft provides 40,000 jobs in my area, we have hundreds of thousands of shareholders (many of whom are also constituents) living here. We benefit from the tremendous wealth which has flowed from the around the world into Puget Sound to literally thousands of people, institutions and non-profits in the region. That wealth flows elsewhere, of course, too. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing wonderful things for schools and libraries across the nation and around the world. Microsoft research and technology centers are at many locations outside of Puget Sound – indeed there are about 50,000 Microsoft jobs OUTSIDE of Washington State.

On the other hand, all governments have budget pains. I got my first official budget cut memo three weeks ago (we’ve been doing actual budget cutting for at least 9 months). In the past I’ve had to lay off people based almost solely on seniority (or, rather,”juniority”). And I’ll undoubtedly be doing it again at some time in the future, if my job isn’t cut first!

Microsoft’s licensing costs are a large part of our budget, as are the maintenance and licensing costs we pay to Oracle, IBM, ESRI, and many other vendors. We do need to examine alternatives and options.

But I’m somewhat baffled that any CIO of a large government would seriously consider using open source software for our mission critical systems and services. This seems a little bit like using cell phones to dispatch police officers and firefighters or outsourcing your help desk to India. It will save money in the short term and work pretty well “most” of the time …

What is the advantage of using software from Microsoft – or Oracle, or ESRI, or Peoplesoft, or Hansen or … any major software vendor?

No business large or small would seriously consider writing its own financial management system, even though, with web services, database software and a spreadsheet program we could probably do it. We could probably cobble together a computer-aided-dispatch system or work management system from similar components.

The advantage of off-the-shelf or “shrink wrap” is that it is pre-written for us, the bugs are fixed, the upgrades are provided and – of increasing importance – security issues are handled and addressed.

Sure, you’ll say, Microsoft software is really prone to security flaws and attacks. Why is that? Because it is the most popular and ubiquitous software in the world! Its logical that any software which reaches significant market share will become a target for teams of hackers employed by terrorist-nation-states and crime syndicates. And the software for open source is on the web and freely available for such hackers to view!

Now, I understand that open source is supported by a developer community, and that’s good. But this developer community is nebulous. It is a difficult place to find when something serious goes wrong. Governments now rely heavily upon technology to provide critical services and interact with constituents. CIOs are responsible to elected officials keep that technology reliable and available. To depend upon an amorphous “community” of developers with no direct stake in your mission is a risky proposition.

Few businesses -other than local governments – have technology systems so important that people’s lives are actually in jeopardy when those systems fail.’ Sorry, I don’t want a “nebulous” community supporting my public safety and utility system.

Next, in an open source world, what do we do about application integration? Gee, almost every vendor writes their software to work with Microsoft Office, Exchange/Outlook and similar products. Even hardware vendors such as Nortel or Avaya or Motorola will make sure their hardware/software integrates with Microsoft. If there is an issue with the way PeopleSoft HRIS or Government Financials works with e-mail software or office software, they will always fix the Microsoft integration first. When a hot new product comes out – like BlackBerrys – the vendor will make sure it works with Microsoft software right out-of-the-gate.

Believe me, I know this first hand, since the City of Seattle was (still is) a GroupWise e-mail user. I had department directors knocking down my door to get BlackBerrys but the GroupWise version was released FOUR YEARS behind the Exchange/Outlook BlackBerry.

Furthermore, many of our applications now vitally depend upon web services for their user interface. Most of those applications vendors will not be officially supporting open source versions of web services anytime soon.

So, if we – government CIOs – move to using open source software, how do we handle the support and integration?

Answer: like everything else, we hire smart people. Highly proficient technical people who understand the bits and bytes of how this stuff works and can make it happen. Managers who can develop networks of people in other jurisdictions and in the open source community to fix the bugs, get the new releases and work with the integration. Skilled “open source” employees who are dedicated to our mission of “making technology” work for our government and the people we serve.

Well, where is our budget pressure? Yes, it is in revenues and budget dollars. But it is also in FTE – headcount. How many times have each of us been told to reduce headcount? What is the one number (again, besides raw dollars) which newspapers, the public and elected officials always watch and measure? It is “Number of Government Employees”. There is constant pressure – even in good times – to hold the line on headcount, if not actually reduce it.

And when we do reduce headcount, what positions are cut and who is laid off? It is always the last hired, which are usually the youngest, tech-saavy (at least on new software or open-source software), most connected employees.

With open source not only will we have to increase headcount, we’ll become vitally depend upon those new hires and that additional headcount to make our most critical and important applications work.

By making us MORE reliant on headcount and FTE, I think a move to open source software actually exacerbates our budget problems.

On the other hand, elected officials and those with budget oversight are much more likely to accept payments to our software and hardware maintenance vendors as necessary requirements. They all have personal experience with technology, if only their cell phone and desktop computers. They all understand the need to maintain cars and buildings and computers.

But how much of our core and critical work can really be “crowd sourced”? Do we really want to open-source computer-aided dispatch systems or records management systems which have personally identifiable data or arrest/911 call information? And I’m very nervous about open sourcing any part of SCADA (utility control), or traffic management or other control systems which are vital to our governments and targets for attack and compromise.

In these high-pressure, budget-constrained, headcount-hunting times, use of open source software appears to be a high-risk, low-return proposition at best, and a “government fails” newspaper headline at worst.

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Filed under budget, economy, Microsoft, open source

– Sugar Rush Stimulus

Local and State Stimulus as well as FedgovThe Federal economic stimulus package is at the top of the news. Everyone is looking to Washington DC to spend our way out of a deepening recession.

And we’re all going to be disappointed. After the disappointment, local and state governments will have to pick up the slack.

The Fedgov can pass an 800+ billion dollar stimulus package (here’s a fascinating graphic of the package) .

It can be full of tax breaks and grants and “shovel ready” projects. And – hopefully – that will lessen the effect of this recession. But after that, the Feds will be tapped out. Because the $800 billion comes on top of a $700 billion TARP financial-system rescue on top of a two trillion dollar war on top of a 10 trillion dollar national debt. This “stimulus” is also full of tax breaks which put more money in the pockets of Americans and businesses. But there is no guarantee we’ll actually use that money to buy things and pump up the economy. Consumption accounts for over 70% of the GDP (according to the Federal Reserve) up from 62% in 1970. And consumer debt has skyrocketed – while personal income has risen about 500% since 1980, household debt has risen over 1000%. It is just as likely Americans will pay down their debt as opposed to “spend and stimulate”.

After the “sugar rush” of the stimulus projects is over, what can local and state governments do to address the frightening prospect of middle-class white collar recession plus 10% unemployment? We need some longer term, more sustainable programs.

I attended a brainstorming session with some City and non-profit leaders this past week, and here are some random thoughts and facts about from the “other Washington” (State):

1. Consumer spending may be down, driving down the economy, but people are contributing in other ways. In Seattle we had 130,000 people visiting and using food banks and meals programs in 2008. But Puget-Sound area people also have contributed two million more pounds of food to Food Lifeline over the last 7 months, and volunteerism to support food banks is breaking records.

2. In parallel to that, we’re seeing increased use of City facilities. Use of parks is way up, perhaps because people can’t afford expensive days out of town. Library circulation is up 10% to 15%, as is library walk-in traffic. Free public computers in libraries are booked all day, perhaps by job-seekers and resume-writers, but also by the homeless. Community technology centers are doing a land-office (as in “Hooverville“) business.

3. We need a local stimulus package. And the people of Seattle have continually stepped up to this challenge. Seattle-area voters have approved a number of taxes and levies over the past few years, which will pump more work into the local economy. These include:
•   Sound Transit. In November, 2008, voters approved a $17 billion expansion of light rail, adding 36 miles to the system.
•   Pro-Parks Levy. This levy passed in November 2008 and will fund $146 million in parks improvements over the next six years.
•   “Bridging the Gap”. In 2006, Seattle voters approved $365 million for street, bridge, sidewalk and other transportation improvements.
•   Housing Levy. Seattle voters have twice approved levies to create affordable housing, the latest one in 2001 for $76 million.
•   Fire Facilities Levy. In 2003 Seattle voted $167 million to remodel or rebuild every fire station in Seattle. In 2008 we opened a new Fire Alarm Center and Emergency Operations Center as just one of the projects funded by that levy.
•   Pike Place Market rebuild. This $73 million levy also passed in November 2008 and funds a rebuild of the 101 year old historic market.

4. This morning (Wednesday, February 11th) Mayor Greg Nickels will announce a further set of local stimulus ideas and projects.

We’re losing both blue collar and white collar jobs – construction and high tech and aerospace jobs. We’ll need every one of those projects above and even more initiatives to put Seattle and the Puget Sound back to work to move us out of this recession.

The bottom line is simple: the Fedgov stimulus is an important blood transfusion for an ailing economy. But the patient is very sick, and the transfusion will be a sugar rush. It will be up to state and local governments to keep the medicine coming until the economy regains strength and becomes robust again.

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Filed under budget, consumerism, economy, Fedgov