I’ve always found Democrat Sen. Patty Murray slow on the uptake. I’ll never forget interviewing her many years ago when I worked for the Seattle Times editorial board. We were talking about federal entitlement spending. I asked her about FICA taxes. She didn’t know what I was talking about; when I said “payroll taxes,” she still had a frozen blank look on her face. It’s the same look in the photo featured in the Seattle Times article yesterday on how her special stimulus earmark isn’t going to do much good:
Turns out that her stimulating provision is worthless. She’s claiming credit for boosting a project that is already underway and falsely asserting that the money will immediately provide jobs for projects that won’t get underway until at least 2011.
A multibillion-dollar provision of the new federal stimulus package, billed as a huge jobs boost for the Northwest, might not translate into lots of new jobs for years.
The measure, inserted into the bill at the urging of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, would enable the federal Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to take on another $3.25 billion in debt to pay for construction projects, such as massive new power lines.
Murray has said the increased spending limit would deliver a swift jolt to the Northwest’s economy, creating jobs and retooling critical infrastructure that would spur development of renewable energy such as wind power.
“It puts people to work immediately. Everyone from engineers to lineman. All the people who are going to have to get up there to build this grid,” Murray said in an interview Thursday, after details of the package were announced.
But even without the new stimulus package, BPA was expected to begin construction of some new transmission lines this year. And, despite claims the added spending power will quickly create jobs, construction of many of the new power lines wouldn’t start for several years.
Officials with BPA, however, said there is a benefit to the new spending authority — the equivalent of having your credit-card spending limit raised.
Encouraging more borrowing for a debt-ridden America. Peachy! As for Murray’s unreality-based claim that her provision will put “people to work immediately,” it’s news to a lot of folks in the industry:
The stimulus package probably won’t make much difference for the one major project ready to go this year, a $342 million installation of 79 miles of new power lines paralleling the Columbia River between Umatilla, Ore., and John Day Dam.
The BPA is completing environmental studies now and could break ground on the new lines in the spring, Johnson said. In initial interviews, Johnson said the BPA could afford the new lines even without the added spending power.
“The numbers would certainly work out. There would be adequate capital for that,” Johnson said early Thursday.
However, the head of BPA, Administrator Steve Wright, later cautioned that without the higher debt limits, it wasn’t a done deal.
“It was an open question; I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Wright said. “It was going to be a difficult decision, and now made easier.”
That was news to Robert Kahn, an observer of the BPA in his role as executive director of the Northwest and Intermountain Power Producers Coalition, an alliance of independent power generators.
“I find that utterly shocking, that there is any question (that the line would get built),” Kahn said. “I have never seen, up until now, any indication otherwise.”
Oh, and guess what? The problem with getting other projects underway is not funding. It’s the regulatory process.
In the case of the John Day project, the BPA estimates it will open the door to 878 megawatts of new power, much of it from wind turbines. One megawatt is enough to light roughly 680 Northwest homes.
It’s the first of a slate of transmission projects the BPA is on the verge of pursuing. But it would be 2011 or later before additional projects are ready for construction because they still must go through planning, environmental studies and the process of getting permits.
“Are these ready to be built? No. The answer is no. It’s not a problem of money. It’s a problem of permitting,” Kahn said.
Hello, Patty? Patty?