The Times says New York is expected to receive about $24.6 billion in direct stimulus aid, or more than $3 billion more than what was expected. This is excellent news: even in a stimulus economy, $3 billion is real money.
The White House’s own document says the Feds mean for this all to go to “creating or saving 228,300 jobs,” “an additional $100 per month in unemployment insurance benefits to 1,104,000 workers,” “Doubling renewable energy generating capacity over three years,” computerizing health records, etc. But New York is the world capital of graft; surely we can find ways to peel that extra $3 billion for projects of our own devising — projects that we know will get New York moving again and, thanks to the unusually heavy representation in Albany of city boys like David Paterson and Malcolm Smith, will mostly take place in the five boroughs.
We have hastily assembled a team of policy wonks to identify five particularly ripe investment opportunities. So let’s run that check to the bank and do this:
1. “Volcanoes” tourist attraction. As a follow-up to the allegedly successful “Waterfalls” exhibition from last summer, this shovel-ready quasi-natural installation will make good use of fallow space in the Flatlands, Staten Island, the West Side rail yards, etc. Fifty-foot mounds will, at regular intervals, spew lava, ash, and gift certificates to participating local businesses. Funds will also pay for special heat-shielded tourist buses, and economy-stimulating lawsuits by local residents.
2. Government celebrity-cams. The decline of location tax credits has hurt the local film industry. Solution: government-subsidized camera crews. Each time a certified out-of-town celebrity like Lindsay Lohan or Victoria Beckham hits the Big Apple, he or she will be fitted with a GPS device and tracked by fully-funded (and -unionized!) camermen, grips, boom operators, etc. Private-sector paparazzi will not be interfered with, but as they seem to concentrate on celebrities getting out of cars without their underwear, kissing inappropriate people in nightclubs, carrying copies of the New York Post, etc., government crews with federally-authorized total access will pick up the slack at cosmetic surgery appointments, dress fittings, sleeping etc.
3. Street vendor upgrades. The recession has hit restaurant sales and made street carts the dining choice of thousands of heretofore upscale midtown executives. As such executives have been getting it in the neck from government lately, we should do something to show them they’re still welcome in New York. Crews of culinary and design experts will be assigned to upgrade the drabber coffee and lunch wagons. Thus taco carts, for example, may be transformed into churrascarias, and dumpling wagons into pan-Asian kiosks. A team of engineers from Seattle will equip coffee carts with Cimbali machines and train operators in barista skills.
4. Spot fashion consultancy. Just because we’re in a depression doesn’t mean people should be walking around in rags. New York must keep up appearances if we aren’t to lose foreign tourist dollars to more fashionable cities. Flying squads of government image consultants will rove high-profile areas and aggressively extend to frumpy citizens their expertise and clothing credits, provided their subjects agree to follow-up compliance visits.
5. Panhandler skills workshop. With homelessness and poverty on the upswing, New York is getting a new freshman class of street and subway beggar. Unfortunately many of these novices show little of the presentational flair that once made local bums popular subjects of tourist reminiscences and Hollywood movies. In seminars and role-playing exercises, trainers will educate the newly-dispossessed on lines of patter and entertainment specialities such as marionette dancing, tuneless saxophone playing, and Biblical rants.