Much of the debate over our federal government’s ridiculous level of deficit spending is akin to a junkie weakly protesting the evils of drug abuse while waiting for his next fix. The feds shovel out billions of dollars to state and local governments – after skimming off Washington’s gigantic overhead, of course.
Every state and local politician who protests the excesses that gave us $16 trillion in national debt, with a serious possibility the debt ceiling will shatter again in the next few months, is only a few weeks away from receiving their next slice of federal pork. This dynamic has reached all the way to the Republican presidential primary, where Rick Santorum, in particular, took a lot of heat in the last debate for earmarking money from the overstuffed central government he is now resolved to trim down.
Some states receive much more in federal pork than they contribute in tax revenue, while others get much less. That’s how “redistribution” works. The state and local governments who get the shaft are nevertheless reluctant to jeopardize the crumbs they receive from Washington’s table, because something is better than nothing.
A city in Michigan is taking a lonely stand against the federal pork delivery system, by turning down an $8.5 million grant for a new Amtrak terminal, as reported by the New York Times:
In what could be a new high water mark of anti-Washington sentiment, the city of Troy, Mich., is rejecting a long-planned transportation center whose construction would have been fully financed with federal stimulus money.
The terminal, which would help Troy become a transportation node on an upgraded Detroit-to-Chicago Amtrak line, was hailed by supporters as a way to create jobs and to spur economic development. But federal money is federal money, so with the urging of the new mayor, who helped found the local Tea Party chapter, the City Council cast a 4-to-3 vote this week against granting a crucial contract, sending the project into limbo.
“There’s nothing free about government money,” Mayor Janice Daniels said in an interview. “It’s never free, and it’s crippling our way of life.”
(Emphasis mine.) The Mayor also said, “I want to leave a legacy for our children of managing our responsibilities – not crushing them with debt money.”
As the Times goes on to note, some Republican governors have said no to railroad money, but usually because the project was patently absurd, or because the federal money would have led to massive, ongoing obligations by the state, which would have to complete and maintain the project. The Troy denial is a pure expression of principle, because the feds proposed to shoulder the entire cost (barring, perhaps, the kind of cost overruns that tend to afflict these projects) and the ongoing maintenance costs were a modest $31,000 per year.
Although Mayor Daniels cited the immense national debt as the reason for rejecting the federal money (she actually lowballed it by a trillion bucks) the rejected money from Troy wouldn’t be repurposed for debt reduction. It would be shifted to another project elsewhere. In fact, the office of Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, swiftly announced they would be “reviewing our options for utilizing the grant, including the potential transfer of the grant to another applicant.”
Both the Governor and other political leaders, along with some business interests, told Daniels it was a mistake to throw away that tasty federal money, because it would bring jobs and other economic benefits to the community:
Taking Tea Party reasoning to the local level has outraged supporters of the transit center, which has been in the works for a decade. Michele Hodges, the president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, which supports the transit project, said that her organization “will be a pit bull for what’s best for this community.”
David A. Kotwicki, a local lawyer, noted that members of Congress might talk tough on spending, but that they still bring projects home to their districts. The vote against the transit center, he said, looks like “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
Besides, he asked, “What if there’s a grant to provide 10 new police officers?”
Or what if there’s a grant for 10 useless bureaucrats, or 10 miles of rail that nobody needs? The Troy Tea Party Revolt illustrates the true difficulty of grappling with the federal leviathan. A stand on principle in one city doesn’t make much of a difference when a dozen more cities in the same state, and hundreds more across the nation, stand ready to gobble up rejected federal funding, and there is no way for someone in Mayor Daniels’ position to insist the rejected funds be returned to America’s children (i.e. used to reduce the deficit.) And it would take five hundred acts of defiance on the scale of Troy’s to make a noticeable dent in Obama’s deficits, never mind the standing national debt.
On the other hand, President Obama’s deranged 2013 “budget proposal” included another $47 billion for his high-speed rail obsession. Previous “stimulus” funding led to a high-speed comedy of horrors in California, where the railroad boondoggle has included a route that “defies logic and common sense,” in the words of Rep. Dennis Cardoza. Somehow that massively expensive project ended up originating in a tiny town that barely exists, and ending at a town “perhaps best known for the state prison where Charles Manson is locked up.”
Where does the federal spending lunacy end? If Obama gets a second term, we’ll blast right through a $20 trillion national debt and keep going. One of the reasons the insolvency machine keeps grinding on is that there are so many people eager to bathe in that river of deficit-financed federal cash. Somebody has to stand up and say “no.” Someone has to be the first to jump off the crazy train, or we’ll all be on board when it crashes.