Sunday, August 26, 2007

Basic Budgeting for Political Candidates

With the bridge collapse in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the politicians have come out of the woodwork demanding new and bigger spending for infrastructure. The federal government sets standards which the states are supposed to monitor and maintain for a variety of public works from electrical grid, levees, water supply and roadways. While the bridge collapse is certainly a tragic and dramatic example of system failure, does pointing fingers and laying blame based on a political model help at all? There are those in our legislatures that want the federal government to basically seize control of every issue. Do we really want to have to petition Washington to have a street widened or turn lanes installed? I ask that because that is what many in Congress claim to want. In essence, this would take local bond issue improvement funding and revert it to federal control. If you want an example of what that is like, consider that the state of Texas, for all of its highways, bridges, dams and such only gets back around 70% of the money sent to Washington in the form of fuel taxes. With larger populations and related larger numbers of Congressional members, more populous states would get the lion's share of funding under a federally controlled system,leaving states like Kansas, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Arizona with minimal attention. That is virtually the system now in place for federally funded programs, the results being things like "The Bridge to Nowhere" and "The Big Dig" both programs earmarked by well connected Congressmen.

The problem is WHERE do we spend our money? If your family income is say, $2000 a month-your first needs are shelter,food, utilities, transportation,clothing. Beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets are in that frill area of "want" over "need". If your family has problems making determinations about what is necessary over what is a frill, then you probably have serious cash flow problems. Ramp that up to a federal level, and unless the government creates new and bigger taxes, there is only so much money to go around. Yet we have Congresspersons and lobbyists that place pet projects in the way of real and necessary improvements. And that can come from a whole plethora of sources. Dams and levees can be almost permanently delayed by lobbying from environmental groups. Educational funding can be diverted for free lunches and ESL programs over books and computers. Highway funding can be delayed years, even decades, over silly internal squabbling such as we are seeing on the Trinity River parkway fiasco. And the list goes on and on and one.

With finite resources, the federal government CANNOT pay for everything. Right now, voters are being hit with a number of campaign proposals such as National Health Care, Infrastructure Improvements to highways, dams, power plants and water resources, Educational reform that would cost billions to implement and programs that we can't even begin to detail here. I know different people have different needs,but when you look at these promises, please stop and ask yourself from which pocket of income the funding for such programs will come. It has to come from somewhere. And the last big wave of corporate taxation is what led to massive offshoring of critical industries. Perhaps, like many families out here, the federal government needs to live within its means and allow a free citizenry to define their own priorities and pay for their own needs rather than taxing everyone and giving us back only a fraction of services in kind.
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