Could running out of money to maintain city sidewalks be a good thing?

The city of Los Angeles is facing just this possibility, and fabled financier Pete Peterson opines that it could indeed turn into an opportunity. First of all, some history:

Sidewalks first appeared in the city in the early 1900s, and up until the [1974] federal stimulus funds, the repairs of these concrete paths had been the responsibility of the adjacent landowner. But with millions of Uncle Sam’s dollars in hand, the city appropriated that responsibility and, consequently, liability for anyone tripping or falling on damaged sidewalks. A few years later, with both the expanded agency and services firmly entrenched, the City Council decided to continue the program even after federal funds ran out in 1978. It has been in existence ever since.

It looks like the city may be forced to revert to the old policy. This is because of lack of funds. Peterson, however, says that this is an opportunity for conservatives to come up with creative solutions (instead they are squawking). But he also explains how the public maintenance of sidewalks came about in Los Angeles:

The sidewalk story reveals policy and political points worth considering by partisans from the left and right. First, it belies the Keynesian dynamic that federal stimulus spending can be easily and quickly infused (and later withdrawn) to jumpstart recessed economies, providing a transition period until private-sector spending can buttress an economy. In Los Angeles, as in many instances, stimulus monies were simply a bureaucratic “starter kit,” creating a public-sector fiefdom where there once was none, with supportive structures both inside and outside government. Adding up total expenditures for the program since its start shows that the “investment” of several million dollars back in the Disco Era devolved into a city-based project that has cost local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Next time Speaker Pelosi wants $26 billion to fund state shortfalls, tell her to take a walk…on the sidewalks of L.A.