Economy Hope: Porn, Roads and Auto-Flush Potties

Everybody in D.C. clamors for a piece of the stimulus plan, to GOP's chagrin.

January 23, 2009, 4:19 PM

Jan. 26, 2009— -- How many taxpayer dollars does it take to change a light bulb? Well, if you live in North Miami, Fla., your mayor says it would cost $2 million to switch households to energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs.

That's just one of 18,750 ready-to-go local job and infrastructure projects that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has proposed the federal government fund as part of the $825 billion economic stimulus plan.

There are plenty of suggestions for bridge repairs, road paving projects, new buses, trolley, garbage trucks and school improvements on the list.

But there is also $886,000 to build a 36-hole "disk-golf" course -- think Frisbee throwing meets golf -- in Austin, Texas, and $33,725 for automatically flushing toilets in Sumter, S.C. And don't forget the $1.4 million children's water park requested by Pine Bluff, Ark., and the $500,000 that Chula Vista, Calif., wants for a dog park.

As the stimulus plan works its way through Congress, every group from the mayors to road builders to zoo operators is looking for their piece of the pie.

"Everybody says: Bailout? Well, I deserve to be bailed out. Where do I line up?" said Lawrence J. White, an economics professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

That even includes the porn industry.

Earlier this month, Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, and Joe Francis, the man behind the "Girls Gone Wild" videos, called for a $5 billion bailout of the adult entertainment industry.

But now Francis told ABC News the proposal "was to just point out the absurdity in all this.

"When you get the government involved in these so-called bailouts, it is just everything contrary to what Adam Smith talked about in the 'Wealth of Nations.' This whole invisible hand that is supposed to bring consumers and producers together and create this equilibrium of an economy becomes nonexistent because of this government intervention," Francis said. "Adam Smith is rolling in his grave right now."

Republicans Question Stimulus Plan

Many Republicans aren't too happy either.

They said that the plan costs too much, doesn't provide enough tax relief and that many programs won't actually create jobs for years.

"I'm concerned about the size of the package, and I'm concerned about some of the spending that's in there," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a news conference Friday. "How you can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? how does that stimulate the economy?"

(A provision in the legislation clears the way for expanded federal funding of contraceptives through Medicaid.)

"At this point, we believe that spending nearly $1 trillion is really more than what we ought to be putting on the backs of our kids and their kids," Boehner added. "Because at the end of the day, this is not our money to spend."

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to consider that chamber's version of the legislation Tuesday.

The debate is starting to fall along traditional splits between Republicans who are opposed to a large government and Democrats who generally believe in significant intervention.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said there haven't been enough hearings on the package.

"I think there is a big premise that government spending and government expansion creates jobs, which is a flawed premise," Kingston told ABC News. "There was actually no debate on it. There is an assumption by Democrats that more government spending somehow is going to jump-start the economy."

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., also a member of Appropriations, has concerns about how some of the funds would be overseen.

For instance, he supports weatherization of homes but is upset that House Democrats are proposing to increase government grants from $200 million to $6.2 billion. Rehberg said that it takes somebody 120 hours of instruction to gain certification to properly oversee the process. In Montana, he said, only four people have such certification.

"We don't have the trained people to go out and make sure it's done right," Rehberg said.

A Larger Stimulus Plan?

Others, however, believe that the stimulus plan doesn't go far enough.

Nobel Prize-winning economist and liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said the plan isn't big enough.

President Obama met with members of both parties Friday, trying to push the bill through Congress.

"I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and the members of Congress about particular details on the plan," the president said. "But what I think unifies this group is recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with and dealt with rapidly."

Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said they expect the bill to clear Congress by President's Day, Feb. 16.

"Again, if not, there will be no recess, but I feel certain that we will succeed," Pelosi said.

Mark Zandi, chief economist and co-founder of Moody's, warned that the government needs to avoid projects like the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, a proposed bridge to a small Alaskan island that eventually became a national symbol for government waste and pork-barrel spending.

"It's key that we don't build bridges to nowhere and don't do things that don't significantly help our economy either in the short or long run," Zandi said. "There is a line between projects that do the economy a service in the long run and projects that are driven for political purposes that aren't determined based on economic criteria; those are the projects we have to avoid."

Such "wacky proposals," he said, can harm the effectiveness of the stimulus package in more ways than one.

"The stimulus is more than dollars and sense, it's about shoring up confidence," Zandi said. "If taxpayers hear about money used for these kinds of things, it's going to undermine confidence, it's not going to shore it up."

Government Waste

An oversight board, he said, should be created to judge which proposals are "economically efficacious projects."

"Policymakers need to be very vigilant and put tight controls in place to ensure that stimulus money is used wisely," he added.

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington group that exposes what it calls pork-barrel spending, said the biggest question is: "What kind of jobs will be created and where will they be created and how does that stimulate the economy?

"We've seen over the years that increased government spending does not necessarily translate into an economic boost. If government was the answer, we'd be in wonderful shape," Schatz said. "The government does not create jobs. Businesses create jobs. And taking money from one sector of the economy and funnelling it through Washington to whatever projects they decide to spend money on will not really have a great impact."

Most of the projects from the mayors probably won't become reality but, Schatz said, "The existence of the mayor's list does give people an idea of what they probably will eventually spend the money on."

ABC News' Russell Goldman and Rick Klein contributed this story.

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