DREW JOHNSON: "Take your jobs plan and shove it, Mr. President"
Chattanooga Times Free Press opinion page editor Drew Johnson wasapparently fired for writing a scathing article to Barack Obama, telling him to “Take your jobs plan and shove it...” It was reportedly the paper’s most-read article ever. In honor of Johnson's willingness to Speak Truth To Power (once considered a valued trait in the days when we had a free press), we reproduce his op-ed here.
Welcome to Chattanooga, one of hundreds of cities throughout this great nation struggling to succeed in spite of your foolish policies that limit job creation, stifle economic growth and suffocate the entrepreneurial spirit.
Forgive us if you are not greeted with the same level of Southern hospitality that our area usually bestows on its distinguished guests. You see, we understand you are in town to share your umpteenth different job creation plan during your time in office. If it works as well as your other job creation programs, then thanks, but no thanks. We’d prefer you keep it to yourself.
That’s because your jobs creation plans so far have included a ridiculous government spending spree and punitive tax increase on job creators that were passed, as well as a minimum wage increase that, thankfully, was not. Economists — and regular folks with a basic understanding of math — understand that these are three of the most damaging policies imaginable when a country is mired in unemployment and starving for job growth.
Even though 64 percent of Chattanooga respondents said they would rather you hadn’t chosen to visit our fair city, according to a survey on the Times Free Press website, it’s probably good that you’re here. It will give you an opportunity to see the failure of your most comprehensive jobs plan to date, the disastrous stimulus scheme, up close and personal.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 helped fund the Gig to Nowhere project, a $552 million socialist-style experiment in government-owned Internet, cable and phone services orchestrated by EPB — Chattanooga’s government-owned electric monopoly.
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The Gig to Nowhere is a Smart Grid, a high tech local electricity infrastructure intended to improve energy efficiency and reduce power outages. After lobbying for, and receiving, $111.6 million in stimulus money from your administration, EPB decided to build a souped-up version of the Smart Grid with fiber optics rather than more cost-effective wireless technology. This decision was supposed to allow EPB to provide the fastest Internet service in the Western Hemisphere, a gigabit-per-second Internet speed that would send tech companies and web entrepreneurs stampeding to Chattanooga in droves.
In reality, though, the gig, like most of the projects funded by your stimulus plan, has been an absolute bust.
While the Smart Grid will cost taxpayers and local electric customers well over a half-billion dollars when all is said and done, there has been little improvement in the quality of EPB’s electric service. Worse, despite being heavily subsidized, EPB’s government-owned Internet, cable and telephone outfit that competes head-to-head against private companies like AT&T and Comcast is barely staying afloat, often relying on loans from electric service reserve funds to afford its business expenses.
Further, there has been no credible evidence to suggest that EPB can even provide a gig of service consistently and reliably. Any companies hoping to utilize the Gig to Nowhere are quoted monthly billing costs that make the service unfeasible. As a result, Chattanooga has remained a relative ghost town for technological innovation. Almost no economic development whatsoever has resulted from the gig.
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What the gig has brought, however, is that shocking price tag. Because of your unwillingness to balance the budget, Mr. President, the $111.6 million federal handout to subsidize the Gig to Nowhere will actually cost federal taxpayers $158.2 million, due to interest. Once EPB received the stimulus infusion to fund the pork project, the electric monopoly took out a $219.8 bond that will balloon to $391.3 million by the time Chattanoogans are done paying it off.
The bond’s first payment comes due this fall and there remain significant questions about how EPB can manage to pay the debt without hiking electric rates on EPB customers.
Building a Smart Grid to get into a telecom sector already well-served by private companies was a bad idea from the start. But getting government involved in places it doesn’t belong is a hallmark of your administration. As a result, you and your policymakers were happy to fund the Gig to Nowhere.
You claimed that the Smart Grid would create jobs for Chattanooga. But in reality, all it did was push America deeper in debt and lure a local government agency into making a terrible financial decision that will weigh on Chattanoogans like a millstone for decades to come.
So excuse us, Mr. President, for our lack of enthusiasm for your new jobs program. Here in Chattanooga we’re still reeling from your old one.