After much umming and arring, and pretending that tax cuts are sufficient for economic stimulus, it appears as though the government has finally got around to putting together a proper economic stimulus package to help get us through the rather dire recession that’s going on here and around the world. At first glance the numbers seem reasonable, although it’s obvious that most of the emphasis (and therefore money) has been spent on the tax cuts we’ll be getting on April 1st. While of course it’ll be nice to get a tax cut, for many people it won’t be much help if they’ve already lost their jobs.
Firstly, there’s nothing for public transport. While disappointing, it’s not unexpected. An economic stimulus project really does need to be ‘ready to go’, and unfortunately – due to the general disdain government has viewed public transport with – there are hardly any projects that are ‘ready to go’ but not actually already underway (electrification of Auckland’s rail network being an example of a project already underway). So what is in the stimulus package for transport? Well, according to the Transport Minister there are five major projects accelerated by the package: the Kopu Bridge, Matahorua Gorge realignment (somewhere in the Hawke’s Bay), the Hawke’s Bay expressway extension, Rimutaka Corner Easing and the Christchurch Southern Motorway. So, clearly nothing for Auckland then. That’s not to say Auckland doesn’t have its fair share of transportation projects going on at the moment – in fact it’s such a struggle trying to list them all I can’t be bothered at the moment, particularly motorway building projects. However, there are a couple of ones that could have very easily been included: namely the Victoria Park Tunnel (which perhaps wasn’t included as it’s meant to start this year anyway) and the Manukau Rail Link, which – quoted from the ProjectDART website – “at this stage has no timetable for construction”. I suppose that a lot of pressure was put on to have projects that would create jobs in the regions, where unemployment is most likely to rise, but it still seems like a bit of an opportunity has been missed for Auckland.
Regarding public transport projects, I do hope that in the next couple of years the planning and design work for major improvements such as the CBD tunnel loop and the railway to the airport can be completed, so that if further stimulus packages are required, next time we might have some ‘ready to go’ public transport projects.
I’m a reasonable fan of the other projects announced, such as the insulation of all state houses, the building of extra schools and the addition of many buildings on existing schools. However, it just seems like we’re being given a pretty small package compared with other countries around the world (even on a per capita basis) by a government that is fixated by tax cuts for the rich. A lot of analysis in the USA showed that giving tax cuts to businesses and richer individuals was the least effective way of spending stimulus money (as they tended to save the extra money rather than spend it, quite a prudent move at the moment from an individual’s perspective). I guess it’s hard for the National government to forego their ideological beliefs in tax cuts.