- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If someone handed you a billion dollars, would you know how to spend it? Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is asking for your help.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has launched a new web site, Stimulus.Virginia.gov, which bills itself as “a centralized location for potential projects that may benefit from federal stimulus funds.” Interested citizens are given the opportunity to submit a 750-character proposal for stimulus spending in a variety of categories, including infrastructure, Medicaid, education, and our favorite, “Tax Relief - Individual.” If the state doesn’t even know how to spend the money, is it really needed?

The site logged 8,000 hits in its first two days and visitors submitted well over 1,000 suggestions. But only a small part of the total stimulus money will be eligible for citizen input.

Sen. Jim Webb issued a press release indicating Virginia would benefit to the tune of $2.8 billion, though most of that funding is already earmarked. Of the remaining billion-plus dollars allocated to Medicaid and revenue stabilization, $821.5 million will be used to offset Virginia’s burgeoning biannual budget deficit. This leaves around $200 million in discretionary funds, or about 54 cents per Virginian per week. A slightly larger tip for the pizza delivery guy.

One gets the impression that this is window dressing, akin to scripted “Town Hall” meetings or other events to make citizens feel like they have some kind of influence. One wonders how many of the over-the-transom suggestions will come from lobbyists or their surrogates who will also be working the back end of the process. The inevitable press releases touting programs arising from this experiment in participatory democracy will have to be examined closely to figure out which of them probably would have been funded had the web site never existed. Meanwhile we can sum up our proposal in sixteen characters: give the money back.

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