Cultural Trail pork?

Just about anyone who works downtown or cares about the city center felt a tinge of excitement yesterday when leaders announced $20 million in federal stimulus would be headed to Indy to complete the Cultural Trail.

Now the project will be finished by 2012, a couple of years earlier than expected. It promises to beautify the downtown and improve infrastructure beneath the surface. The trail will attract investment—what company won’t want to be close? Maybe we’ll even walk off a few pounds.

It also will be done just in time for the Super Bowl. That won’t be lost on hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Even suburban dwellers who never step foot downtown will benefit, because the trail will be an attraction both to top talent and companies looking to expand.

One more plus: Construction workers will begin drawing salaries soon, a major reason the stimulus was passed in the first place. Many economists think the stimulus was a good decision, considering the ugly alternatives.

Now for the “but.” And it’s a big one. How much longer can the federal government continue writing these kinds of checks?

Federal debt held by the public is projected by the Office of Management and Budget to explode. The debt currently is 50 percent of gross domestic product. By 2018, it’s projected to shoot to 85 percent. And don’t ask about the distant future; the trajectory is toward fiscal oblivion.

Keep in mind that the figure needs to be 60 percent or below to stay in the European Union. Sixty percent also is a standard promoted by the International Monetary Fund.

Republicans resist fighting the debt because they fear tax increases. Democrats are hard to get on board because they don’t want to cut government.

Let’s fast-forward a couple of years. If the stimulus accomplishes the goal of keeping the economy out of the abyss, what should the government do? Cut nonessential projects like the Cultural Trail? Raise taxes?

Thoughts about the trail itself?

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