Will Wilson is a former GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stimulus Watch looks like a website that probably should have been around long before the stimulus package: a thumbnail glance at all of the "shovel-ready" projects eligible for federal dollars, as well as a "vote" on whether the project is critical or not. I should note, as the site notes, that these are simply eligible projects and that none has been selected for the stimulus package.
Obviously, Stimulus Watch is prone to the same vote stuffing that usually affects online balloting. And the comments aren't really of the "high-minded discussion" variety. At first review, it appears to be exactly what you'd expect: less a reasoned analysis of the merits and drawbacks of specific spending plans and more a referendum on typologies of public investment. Yea on veterans nursing homes; nay on more dog parks (at least federally funded dog parks).
I'm not sure how to read the fact that most of the projects on the site get lots negative votes, while a very few get a slim number of positive votes. Are there not many good projects out there? Is this a second-order rejection of the government infrastructure stimulus in general? Or is it simply an artifact of self-selecting "vocal minority" voters and the handful of projects that have been listed on the site so far?
I lean toward the last answer -- just a small, unrepresentative sample -- but I'd also be curious about the reaction if Americans could see a complete list of the projects that will eventually receive stimulus dollars. I wonder if we'd let out a collective "Is that the best we can do?" The Economist suggests that some states are better than others -- and that 19 states make all their requests public. Would people say, "I want more of what Massachusetts is having?"
Still, an open online forum on all the public works projects up for federal funding is long overdue. Perhaps fewer dog-park-to-nowhere proposals would get serious consideration if such a site existed all the time.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.