Don’t try to convince the 400 and some odd residents of Ekalaka that federal stimulus funding won’t energize the economy and create jobs. They have been trying since 1924 to get Highway 323 paved for the 72 miles south to Alzada. Last week, crews laid asphalt on the final sixteen miles of the project. Though the project began in the mid 1960s and used a “convoluted hodgepodge” of funding, work on the final 16 miles used $8.7 million from federal stimulus funds, more than half of the needed money. The rest came from federal earmarks and appropriations.
No longer can Ekalaka bill itself as the only county seat in the country that doesn’t have a paved road running through it. Locals will no longer be able to tell potential visitors that “you can drive here, but you have to back out”. Traffic on the new road is expected to increase from around 40 cars on the old gumbo road to more than 100 per day on the new asphalt. The Carter County Museum is expecting a jump in visitation. The new highway will make it easier for farmers and ranchers as far north as Culbertson to move cattle and grain to markets to the south. Nancy Espy, chairwoman of the Eastern Montana Transportation Commission says “The benefits of that road will be unbelievable,”.
Not if you listen to Congressman Denny Rehberg; When he first ran for Congress, his daddy told him, “Don’t promise to pave the road from Ekalaka to Alzada.” There just aren’t enough votes out there to matter. When it came time to vote on the stimulus bill, Rehberg said, “We needed to stimulate the economy and create jobs, but this bill did neither,”. Like all Republicans, Rehberg was a no vote. Not that Denny is opposed to using federal tax dollars to help his Montana neighbors. In the 2010 budget bills alone, Rehberg inserted 63 pages of earmarks estimated to be worth $1 billion. No, he is just opposed to using federal dollars that are proposed and approved by a Democratic president and congress. Denny didn’t really oppose the stimulus money either, he just didn’t want to be seen as supporting Barack Obama. Since the passing of the stimulus, he has had no problem begging for some of the stimulus cash, even though, by his reckoning, it will not create jobs or stimulate the Montana economy. In a letter to the Department of Commerce last year in support of funding from the American Recovery and Investment Act for expanding broadband internet to rural areas, he let slip his true feelings on the economic stimulus.
“This investment is needed to help provide service to underserved areas, to enhance broadband capacity, to promote education and public safety and to encourage sustainable broadband services.”
While, at the same time I guess, the money would fail to stimulate the economy or create jobs. Even while criticizing the administration as big tax-and-spend Democrats, Denny had no problem boasting that he had teamed up with the president to secure $11.75 million for conservation easements in Montana. In June and July of last year alone, Rehberg announced in news releases on his website his attempts to secure $28 million for Montana companies and projects.
I have no problem with Denny Rehberg trying to bring money to Montana for needed projects. That’s his job. Rather my objection has more to do with the fact that he can’t seem to be honest about what he is doing. This year alone, Denny has solo-sponsored 22 earmarks at a cost of $66,510,600. Compare that to the record of Max Baucus of 8 earmarks at a cost of $11, 054,500 and Jon Tester at 11 earmarks costing $7,342,510 and it’s hard to see where the fiscal conservative propaganda comes from. Republicans in general seem to want to have it both ways. They show a willful ignorance of just what a recession means. When there is too little money in the financial system, it is up to the government to use tax dollars to stimulate the economy. Money used to lay asphalt between Ekalaka and Alzada improves lives. It helps the city, the county, the museum, farmers, ranchers, truckers and oil companies. Cutting spending won’t work nor will money given to millionaires as tax breaks which will not enter the economy and will not create jobs or support Montana, it will only serve to deepen our debt. Denny Rehberg knows that, or at least he should by now.
Congratulations to Carter County for wisely using my tax dollars. I’m looking forward to cruising all the way from Ekalaka to Alzada on the new blacktop.