Few if any federal programs have been as dismal a failure as the Clinton administration's 1994 urban empowerment zone initiative. Back a decade ago, six urban centers were each handed $100 million to promote job growth in the inner cities. Clinton followed that in 1998 with another $400 million for another handful of urban centers, even though the jury was still out on the first urban experiment in 1994. But Clinton and the Democrats knew their power base and their votes came from the urban areas, so let the dollars flow.
Well, guess what? Those urban areas are still losing jobs at an alarming rate while the neighboring suburban centers are all adding jobs. After President Bush took office, the program was changed from a handout to a tax incentive program that makes much more sense.
A spokesman with the Department of Housing and Urban Development - as expected - still sees promise in throwing good money after bad. He blames the job loss on bad schools, affordable housing and other factors that - you guessed it - would take even more tax money to prop-up these decaying urban areas.
"There is little evidence to indicate that major reform occurred," said one official. "Whatever these programs were, the research and the experience suggests that their impact was marginal at best," said another.
For goodness sakes, let's learn a lesson from this billion dollar-plus boondoggle. Companies don't want to add jobs in the inner cities because they are violent locations, the workforce is questionable and without a government handout, not one company in their right mind would add urban jobs.
Clinton's "little experiment" in urban renewal has now spread to include 59 federally designated urban empowerment zones and renewal communities. Your tax dollars - to the tune of $17 billion in available incentives through 2009 - are being funneled to these areas to create jobs, despite the data that shows few if any jobs have been created.
One political party argues that we need more taxes to fund more projects and put more money into depressed areas of the country. One political party believes that taxes should be lowered and useless programs eliminated.
Pick your party. But before you make that important decision, just think of the urban renewal effort started a decade ago and think what good that money could have actually accomplished.