The Avenue

As America struggles to get its mojo back as a preeminent center of innovation and thereby prosperity, metropolitan and national economic leaders would do well to study the case of Israel. Israel? Yes, Israel.

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Frank Sobotka never delivered on his dredging in Season 2 of The Wire, but it appears like Baltimore is finally one step closer to getting a much improved Port of Baltimore. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced last week that the state signed an agreement with Port America to operate the port for 50 years. The deal is contingent on Port America, the nation’s largest port operator, to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the facility.

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With a House-Senate “conference” committee soon to decide whether to create a truly valuable regional industry clusters initiative, misconceptions linger. Some rurally oriented conferees fear that cluster strategies pertain exclusively to urban development and leave rural America out. Others fret that cluster initiatives point exclusively toward high technology growth. However, none of the doubters need worry.

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An important federal program that tends to fly under the radar received some unprecedented real estate this past weekend--an enormous spread on page A1 of Sunday’s New York Times. Jason DeParle’s article, and some nifty interactive maps on the Times website, portray the recent rapid growth of the food stamp program, now officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or by its rather unfortunate acronym, SNAP.

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With all the hubbub around job creation it is easy to overlook the fact that the federal government did provide guidance on how best to geographically target funds for highway projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). That law directs transportation agencies to place priority on “Economically Distressed Areas” for project selection of ARRA funds.   Ok, makes sense. It is natural to want to boost jobs in those communities that are suffering.

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The New York Times ran a fascinating article earlier this week concerning looming federal debt issues. I’ll let the article do most of the talking, but the general rub is that federal debt payments will jump substantially in the coming years--and this has very real consequences for how and what government funds. Without a doubt, those consequences will reverberate across every policy field.

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Last week at a forum on local government’s fiscal straits, Mayor Elaine Walker of Bowling Green, KY, supplied her top desired federal recession response: “For us,” she said, “the biggest thing is… the Community Development Block Grant….In Bowling Green, we use it for everything.” Said Walker: CDBG could be a critical anti-recession measure because it allows local governments “not to balance [their] budgets but to… get money into the local economy.” CDBG—a flexible program that provides communities with resources to address development needs particularly in urban or struggling locales--hasn’t

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Vice President Biden’s chief economic advisor Jared Bernstein seemed loathe to make headlines during a forum the Metro Program staged last week in Washington with the National League of Cities (NLC) on the nation’s deepening local government fiscal crisis. Instead, he stuck close to his text, raised smart academic questions about possible courses of action, and emphasized he was not expressing any official administration preferences about how to proceed.  And yet for all that, Bernstein committed news. Most notably, in a sign of gathering momentum for additional economic stimulus, he expresse

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Congress seems intent on once again using infrastructure spending to address the nation’s rising unemployment. The real shame here is not whether this is--or isn’t--a good idea but that we don’t know one way or the other.  The promise of the recovery package (formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA) was for an unprecedented approach to transparency, accountability, and performance.

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Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia made a comment that prompted nervous laughter early in a forum the Metro Program held with the National League of Cities (NLC) yesterday on the looming local government fiscal crisis.   Deadpan, he said: “Hearing a presentation that the recession is over reminds me of a sign I saw one time a couple years ago that said, ‘Mission Accomplished.’” The man has a point. That GDP does not equal jobs is well understood.

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