Friday, September 16, 2005

Let's Do the Katrina Math

This isn't a religious issue, just one that I have to get off my chest.

Since 1995, "the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA [Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project], spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside."

Source: Editor and Publisher

As we all know, these projects were not funded and the levees and pumps were allowed to deteriorate.

As New Orleans City Business noted earlier this year, the Corps' construction budget for the district has gone from $147 million in fiscal 2001 to $82 million in fiscal 2005. Scores of projects, from efforts to build levees, canals and pumping stations to bridge improvements -- all of which deal with flood mitigation -- are incomplete. (The administration's fiscal 2006 budget proposal cut construction funding for the district even further, to $56 million.)"


(That story mentions former OMB director and current Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and explains his involvement in the cuts in funding to the Army Corps of Engineers.)

So what do we know? $250 million in improvements remained to be done to the levees and pumps, but the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans was cut by $65 million between 2001 and 2005 (with a further $26 million cut scheduled for 2006).

The estimated cost of post-Katrina reconstruction, according to the President, could be more than $200 billion (that's Billion with a 'B').

I'm not a math wiz, but I think $250,000,000 is a lot less money than $250,000,000,000. Thanks for your forward-looking budgets, Messrs Bush and Daniels.

Furthermore, President Bush has said the government would pick up most of the tab for reconstruction. I'm not one to say that New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt. I hope they do it. I just hope they do it wisely and don't just put up houses in the same places that were flooded by Katrina. But to be told that the budget deficit will be further increased by these expenditures and some programs may have to be scaled back is unacceptable.

Personally, I think government officials are secretly relieved that they have Katrina to use as a scapegoat for not hitting their deficit-reduction goals (which they probably wouldn't have made anyway). And if they get to take down a few entitlement programs along the way, well then three cheers for natural disasters.

Of course gutting entitlement programs and/or privatizing Social Security would do more to perpetuate the kind of poverty we've seen in the wake of Katrina than simply staying the course. It's time for new solutions to these problems, but in the meantime pulling the rug out from under the lower class won't do any good. Neither will ramming conservative agenda items at the Gulf Coast by eliminating the current prevailing wage law, waiving small/minority business contracting bid requirements, and providing school vouchers to displaced students.

But those are discussions for future blogs. In the meantime let me restate my point that the Bush administration's short-sightedness has cost the taxpayers of this country $249,750,000,000!