BYRecently Steven Manlanga of the Manhattan Institute authored “How Stimulus Spending Ruined Buffalo” in the Wall Street Journal. It describes that stimulus was the vehicle for ruining Buffalo, New York and at the core of this stimulus was none other but a light rail system:

  • In his State of the State Address this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $1 billion in incentives to attract new investment. Too bad Mr. Cuomo ignores the factors that help keep areas like Buffalo inhospitable to new investment—namely steep tax rates and the high cost of government.
  • Sometimes these schemes have done real harm. In the 1970s, the federal government decided to invest $530 million to build a 6.2-mile light-rail system through downtown Buffalo. It was supposed to further spur redevelopment.
  • Opened in 1985 and anchored by a transit mall that banned cars, the rail line fell well below ridership projections—and downtown businesses suffered mightily from the lack of traffic. As Buffalo landlord Stephen P. Fitzmaurice wrote in 2009: “Walk down Main Street on the transit mall; aside from a few necessities like drug and cell phone stores, blight dominates.” Last month the city received a $15 million federal grant to restore traffic to Main Street.
  • These massive investment subsidies failed partly because officials were ill-suited to select the right projects and often instead gave money to favored insiders. Even former Mayor Anthony Masiello described the federal government’s redevelopment funds as “a politically motivated system trying to please everybody.”
  • Image: Main Street in Buffalo: Emptied of traffic and stores by a light-rail infrastructure stimulus project in the 1980s.

Lesson 1: Factors that help keep areas like Honolulu inhospitable to new investment—namely steep tax rates and the high cost of government.

Lesson 2: Rail systems are planned as reasons to spur development. They do not. Quite the opposite they produce blight which cost even more money to reverse.

Lesson 3: Yet another rail line where projected rail ridership was a myth ( a lie.)

Lesson 4: Clueless politicians (i.e., Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Current Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, and Hannemann’s managing director Kirk Caldwell, now a candidate for mayor) and appointed boards (HART) are “ill-suited to select the right projects and often instead gave money to favored insiders” (Mr. Malanga refers to pay-to-play politics which are prominent in Hawaii.)

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