Eddyville, KY

Opinion

Proposed DRA cuts could impact local communities

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - Updated: 1:02 AM

If Congress makes no intervention, federal budget proposals will likely have a significant economic impact along the Mississippi River Delta corridor, which includes western Kentucky.

President Donald Trump presented his proposed 2017 budget to Congress last week, drawing significant attention for its increase in military spending and decrease in services for the poor like LIHEAP, which helps thousands of low income individuals in western Kentucky stay warm through the winter.

Overlooked by many was removal of funding for the Delta Regional Authority.

The DRA doesn't draw too many headlines, locally or nationally. That's too bad.

Created by Congress in 2000, DRA creates jobs and supports infrastructure throughout the eight-state Delta region.

It works to build stronger communities throughout some of the countries poorest areas in Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Illinois.

The tie that binds those communities together is the Mississippi River, which carries hundreds of millions worth of cargo between international ports in the south up to industrial centers like Louisville, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh (and, yes, the Herald Ledger staff realizes the Mississippi doesn't run to Pittsburgh, but you can't enter a room without walking through the doorway).

According to DRA Chairman Chris Masingill, the group has invested "$163 million into more than 1,000 projects that have partnered with other public and private investments for a total of $3.3 billion" raised in the private sector.

Masingill said those projects have created or retained 26,000 jobs.

If his numbers are right, that's $163 million to produce 26,000 jobs.

Doing the math a little further gives you a cost of about $6,269 per employee.

If those jobs are moderately above the minimum wage (in other words, workers don't have to take government subsidies), then most of them paid that amount back in the form of property, payroll and sales taxes over the course of two to three years.

On the way to paying back those funds, workers also created spin-off jobs.

For every welder or concrete finisher or heavy equipment operator, there was someone selling them gasoline to get back and forth to work, another business cooking them a hot meal.

Those infrastructure projects created jobs throughout many -- if not all -- the DRA's 252 counties.

Just last month, DRA announced $235,000 in new investments that helped support 115 jobs in the Arkansas-Louisiana Multimodal Economic Corridor.

The same day, DRA announced more than $100,000 in funds for marketing southern Illinois.

And it's worth noting those aren't pork projects. This isn't just building bridges because there's an "unused" pot of money somewhere.

The Mississippi is one of the country's busiest water routes, and it relies on having skilled trades supporting the ships.

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