While many ordinary Americans wondered last week what Santa Claus was going to leave for them under the Christmas tree, many American mayors were wondering how much money President-elect Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress will take from taxpayers to hand over to them.
"We're not intending to spend money lightly," Obama said at a Dec. 19 press conference.
No, he intends to spend it heavily. On CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Obama adviser David Axelrod said, "We've talked about a package from $675 billion to $775 billion."
Congressional Democrats reportedly would like to boost that to $850 billion. In 1972, according to the Office of Management and Budget, President Nixon approved an entire federal budget that was only $857 billion (in inflation-adjusted fiscal-year 2000 dollars).
How would Obama spend all this money? Serving liberal ideology and interests.
Lawrence Summers, who will head Obama's National Economic Council, explained Obama's strategy in an op-ed piece in Sunday's Washington Post.
"Investments in an array of areas -- including energy, education, infrastructure and health care -- offer the potential of extraordinarily high social returns while allowing our country to address some longstanding national challenges and put our economy on a solid footing for years to come," wrote Summers.
A smart mayor looking for a Summers-inspired federal Santa to hand him a big pot of tax dollars might try to work up the perfectly Obama-correct stimulus project -- one that hits energy, education, infrastructure and health care all at once, like, say, building something for a health-care education facility that helps save the planet by reducing America's carbon footprint.
As it happens, the U.S. Conference of Mayors published a 1,557-page report on Dec. 19, listing 15,221 "local infrastructure projects" that the mayors of 641 cities say they have "ready to go" as soon as Obama and Congress can send them the cash.
I took a look at the document to see if any city had struck upon the perfectly Obama-correct "stimulus" proposal. I did not find one -- although I cannot say I carefully studied all 15,221 proposals (a chore I will leave to the famous due diligence of Congress).
Edwardsville, Ala., came close, however.
Page 1,355 of the report says Edwardsville would like $37 million to build an "electric solar enhanced scenic railroad line for support of local vineyards and tourism" that "duals as transport for district schools."
All that's missing is the health-care element. Perhaps Edwardsville could build a rail-side detox center between the vineyards and the schools?
Another interesting thing about the mayors' report is that it includes a remarkable number of projects aimed at creating jobs through changing lightbulbs. In city after city, mayors have been literally asking themselves: How many government workers does it take to change a lightbulb?
They also have been asking: How much can we charge taxpayers to hire government workers to change lightbulbs?
A few examples:
On page 222 of the report, the city of North Miami, Fla., proposes to "establish a 'change a light bulb' program for all income-eligible households and change out all incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs to reduce energy consumption citywide."
This will create two jobs, says North Miami, and cost taxpayers $2,000,000 -- or $1,000,000 per newly hired 'change-a-light-bulb' program worker.
Sunnyvale, Calif., has an even bolder proposal. Page 983 says Sunnyvale would like federal money to "replace high-pressure sodium street lights with LEDs." This, Sunnyvale says, will cost $8,378,750 -- and create one job.
Sunnyvale would be more efficient in another project it is proposing. The city, says the report, could "install photovotaic systems at city facilities" for a mere $3,094,000. That would create another job.
Midwesterners appeared to be more frugal than their colleagues on the coasts. On page 272, Des Moines, Iowa, says it can "retrofit parking garages with LED lighting and motion sensors." This would create five jobs for $1,000,000, or just $200,000 per job.
And Calumet City, Ill, does even better. On page 292, it says it can achieve "LED bulb replacement at traffic signals" for $326,000, creating five jobs in the process -- a relative bargain at $62,500 per job.
One would like to think that before the typical member of Congress votes on the Obama stimulus plan, his or her mind would be illuminated by the fact that most of the dollars spent creating government jobs from Calumet City to Sunnyvale must first be taken from the pockets of workers performing chores that people paid for of their own free will.