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Habitat, Housing, Nukes and Ships: Rescuing the “Stimulus”

Saturday, January 31, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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Republicans know that a huge wave of spending is going to be part of the so-called stimulus package. They ought to be willing to detail the sorts of spending that makes sense, the kind of one-time appropriations that, coupled with tax cuts, could help push the recovery forward.

I have already written in favor of a huge investment in nuclear power (accompanied by quick-start provisions) and a home purchase tax credit big enough to draw bottom-feeders into the market, with a deadline that also forces their hand (closing before July 31 perhaps?).

Another proposal that Senate Republicans should be pushing is for an increase in the number of ships under construction as the Navy has plans to decrease to around 280 ships, which is inconsistent with the number of missions the Navy has been asked to undertake. Ship cosntruction is a serious job provider that also leaves the country better defended –the sort of stimulus that makes sense.

Finally, and perhaps less obvious to many conservatives, Senate Republicans ought to be pushing for a huge allocation of funds to sensitive habitat acquisitions. Over at ReadTheStimulus.org, a search of “habitat” turns up about $2 billion in various places connected to habitat purchases or enhancements, but the opportunity to both serve the goal of environmental protection/conservation and pump priming is far larger than that amount suggests.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of private property in the south and the west are burdened with land-use restrictions as a result of the habitats, species, and wetlands they support. The environmental laws of the country unfairly transfer to these property owners the entire cost of the national goal of species/habitat protections. Many of these landowners (I have represented scores of them over the past 20 years) are entrepreneurial and eager to invest in and develop their property but find themselves locked into endless land-use battles with the federal and state governments and activists, battles which even when they are won drain resources and productivity.

A massive allocation of the looming appropriation to the acquisition of property highly-valued by environmental activists and federal regulators would instantly serve the goals of the activists while also pushing capital into the hands of the landowners for their reinvestment and use elsewhere. Condemnation should be prohibited, but if even 5% of the stimulus was directed towards a national program of arms-length transactions securing the most sought-after private property at fair market values, many goals would be served and the federal dollars would flow quickly back into the private economy with a minimum of red tape and bureaucracy. If, say, $40 billion were allocated to the effort with at least 50% allocated on a per capita basis among the states, President Obama would oversee the expansion of federal land holdings in the name of conservation to rival that of TR’s while also lifting the extraordinary burden on private property owners forced to sit with their assets idled by these laws.

Such a program should mandate the expenditures on purchases by the end of the year, provide tax relief for the sellers and participation of the activists in the prioritization of the purchasing, but at the end of 2009 there would be something permanent to show for the stimulus and the amount dedicated to the effort would be at work in the private sector, creating jobs and searching out new opportunities.

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