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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

July 15, 2009 at 10:00 AM

That sinking feeling: D.C.’s dis’ of ferry system points to deeper trouble

Top of the News: The report in this morning’s Seattle Times that the state ferry system — the nation’s largest — has been virtually shut out of federal stimulus money is troubling on several levels.

One has to wonder where state political leaders were while the allocations were being crafted. Also, does President Obama have a Harry Hopkins, the brilliant and wily administrator who did such a good job during the Depression handling New Deal stimulus? Apparently not. And is there objective economic assessment in stim projects or just raw political calculation?

The neglect of the ferry system, an essential part of the state economy, is emblematic of the struggle states face to maintain existing infrastructure in the face of repeated tax cuts and tax limitation initiatives. Thus, relatively little of the stim is going to forward-leaning infrastructure that would add to productivity and lasting jobs: say, bullet trains. But even back-filling help from the feds is better than nothing. Right now the message seems to be: Obama to Washington state: Drop dead.

The Midweek Briefing: Could the Mark Sanford scandal have a Boeing angle? The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., offers more details about how the governor misled his staff while “hiking the Appalachian trail.” And there’s this tidbit: “The governor allowed some economic development initiatives to take a back seat during his secret trip. Sanford was invited to — but turned down — a dinner invitation June 24 with representatives from a company looking to expand its S.C. operation, according to e-mail records. The company’s name was redacted.”

–Speaking of aerospace jobs, Dallas TV station WFAA had a fascinating report on how hundreds of aircraft repair jobs were sold to foreign workers. Resumes were apparently optional. “Insiders say the companies that are importing the mechanics are so eager to save money, they’re overstating their qualifications. The result may be a threat to safety, abetted by lax enforcement of immigration law.”

–Peak oil deniers take note: China sees renewable energy as a “strategic industry,” and, according to the New York Times, is working hard to gain global dominance in the field. It’s using protectionist tactics to get there. This is among the issues Commerce Secretary Gary Locke faces on a China trip this week.

–Also from “the other Times” is this provocative interactive graphic showing real unemployment by state, not the narrow “official” measure. Washington’s at 16 percent. South Carolina at 20 percent.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Hole-y airliner.

Remember Southwest was fined

For maintenance gaps

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