Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Role of the Federal Government

I've often had debates with friends and family members about the role of the Federal Government in our lives. This includes recent discussions about Hurricane Katrina and where the ultimate responsibility rests for the people's well-being.

Taking the conservative side, I've asked those persons who would prefer more Federal Government control over their lives why adding an extra layer of bureaucacy based in Washington D.C. would be more efficient or better than letting the state and local municipalities be responsible for most governmental aspects of our lives. This includes disaster planning and recovery, two issues recently on display in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

With the media's latest finger-pointing towards--who else!--President Bush after Katrina, people seem to have lost perspective on how getting the Federal Government involved at the lowest level of citizens' affairs often leads to massive waste of taxpayer money. Today's Wall Street Journal provides a perfect case in point with "A Moronic Proposal":

Some public-spirited folks in Bozeman, Montana, have come up with a wonderful idea to help Uncle Sam offset some of the $62 billion federal cost of Hurricane Katrina relief. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that Montanans from both sides of the political aisle have petitioned the city council to give the feds back a $4 million earmark to pay for a parking garage in the just-passed $286 billion highway bill. As one of these citizens, Jane Shaw, told us: "We figure New Orleans needs the money right now a lot more than we need extra downtown parking space."

Which got us thinking: Why not cancel all of the special-project pork in the highway bill and dedicate the $25 billion in savings to emergency relief on the Gulf Coast? Is it asking too much for Richmond, Indiana, to give up $3 million for its hiking trail, or Newark, New Jersey, to put a hold on its $2 million bike path?

And in the face of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, couldn't Alaskans put a hold on the infamous $454 million earmark for the two "bridges to nowhere" that will serve a town of 50 people? That same half a billion dollars could rebuild thousands of homes for suffering New Orleans evacuees. One obstacle to this idea apparently will be Don Young, the House Transportation Committee Chairman who captured the funds for Alaska in the first place. A spokesman in his office told the Anchorage Daily News that the pork-for-relief swap was "moronic." Sounds like someone who wants Mr. Young to become "ranking Member" next Congress.

In all there are more than 6,000 of these parochial projects -- or about 14 for every Congressional district -- funded in the highway bill. The pork reduction plan is particularly appropriate as a response to Katrina, because we have learned in recent days that one reason that money was not spent on fortifying the levees in New Orleans was that hundreds of millions of dollars were rerouted to glitzier earmarked projects throughout the state of Louisiana.
In hindsight, the issue of the failed New Orleans levees was thus not a lack of money, but the mistakes made in allocating federal taxpayer dollars towards useless pork spending such as bike paths in New Jersey and parking lots in Montana. Responsibilty for this ultimately lies with Congress, which created the Highway Bill montrosity, and President Bush, who actually signed this piece of crap.

Which leads me to the following questions: Why is the Federal Government paying for rarely-used bridges in Alaska and hiking trails in Indiana? Why should my federal tax dollars be paying for projects that serve only the citizens of another state? Shouldn't the State and Local Governemnts be responsible for infrastructure within their borders?

The citizens of hurricane-stricken Louisiana should be asking these questions as well, and in particular, why their elected representatives at the local and state-level failed to adequately prepare for the hurricane and instead used hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars to fund other less important projects throughout the state. It should also be clear to sound-minded individuals that the responsibility to evacuate the City of New Orleans lies with locally-elected officials, including the Mayor and the Louisiana Governor, and not with some bureaucrat sitting in an office in Washington D.C.

The hurricane-related deaths of nearly 80 people at a New Orleans nursing home and hospital are a perfect illustration of failure at the local government level. To my earlier point, I find it difficult to understand how any rational person could blame these fatalities on President Bush or FEMA, who ranks include fewer than 8,000 employees nationwide. In contrast, the City of New Orleans alone employs some 6,000 persons, all of whom should be more familiar with their city than your typical FEMA employee. Nevertheless, people will be tempted to follow the lead of the mainstream media, who most recently twisted President Bush's statement of apology for federal failures during the crisis into a general mea culpa of overall responsibilty.

Without a doubt, there will be more natural disasters and perhaps even a terrorist attack on the scale of Hurricane Katrina in the coming years. The last thing we should do is to give citizens the idea that the Federal Government will ride to their rescue come hell or high water.


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