CHOICES OUR GUVMINT MAKES FOR US EVERY DAY
In some quarters, the hurricane Katrina disaster has evolved into a debate over whether the Bush tax cuts crippled the country’s ability to fund FEMA and shore up the levees in New Orleans. One side believes the guvmint (in honor of our fellow Americans suffering on the Gulf Coast, I am using the pronunciation “guvmint”) was shortchanged by the tax cuts and had to cut essential programs and the other side believes it has plenty but wastes too much of what it has.
I have listed below some state, local and national funding questions our guvmint has faced over the years. Would you have answered the funding questions the same way as our guvmint officials did?
Do we spend $500 Million or more to upgrade the levees protecting the 500,000 residents of New Orleans so the levees will withstand a Category Four hurricane? Most experts say there is only one chance in two hundred (or less than 1%) that a Category Four hurricane will occur.
Do we spend $88 Million for nostalgia/ambience reasons to refurbish 18 trolleys and put them back in service to replace the perfectly good buses on the Route 15 mass transit line that serves Girard Avenue in Philadelphia? You know, I rode the Route 15 trolley almost every school day from 1966-1970 and darned if I saw any ambience back then- the trolleys were just real slow. Is slow another word for ambience?
Do we spend $625 Million for a state economic development fund called Growing Greener whose objective is to promote so-called smart growth and subsidize environmentally-correct remediation and re-development of the core areas of Pennsylvania’s decaying small towns? Arithmetic whizzes say this program costs $50 to every man, woman and child in the state. That does not include interest expenses nor law firm fees on the bond issue.
Do we spend approximately $30 Million a year to pay the salaries and perks for 253 Pennsylvania state legislators? That figure includes the recent 17% pay raise this fine group recently approved for itself at the end of a very long workday. And FYI, the state of Pennsylvania has just 20 members (two senators and 18 representatives) in the US Congress.
Do we spend $1.2 Billion per year to subsidize Amtrak’s operations? Amtrak carries approximately 25 million passengers so the annual subsidy works out to $48 per passenger. Or should we just shut down Amtrak and leave a bunch of hideously-painted hybrid cars at each station so train buffs can carpool between stations. To curb misuse, we could ask the Pentagon to rig the hybrids to automatically self-destruct if anyone deviates too far from the designated train route. FYI- $1.2 Billion would pay for 48,000 well-appointed hybrid cars. The bad news is I am not sure what the Pentagon would charge to arm each car to self-destruct. The good news is the cost of GPS systems is falling fast.
Do we spend $250 Million to help pay for a football stadium where only 10-11 games are played a year? Recent estimates place the value of the Philadelphia NFL franchise at about $1 Billion not including the stadium. That is second only to the value of the Washington Redskins. I am confident many of you are thrilled to have helped the Eagles reach this lofty and valuable perch!
Do we spend $250 Million to help pay for a baseball stadium which will hold 81 games a year? Most urban planners agree investments in baseball stadiums provide the taxpayer with a good payback since it generally revives a city’s downtown area. Philadelphia has shown to be the exception to that rule. Several unnamed experts have gone out on a limb to suggest it may be due to the fact the Phillies stadium was built several miles from the downtown area.
Do we give away millions in stadium parking lot revenues to the owner of the area’s NBA/ NHL franchise because he never fails to remind us he paid for his own stadium (but neglects to mention we gave him the land for almost nothing)?
Do we establish a Levee Committee or Board, whose reason de’etre is to manage the New Orleans levees, and expand its authority and purview to include the establishment and oversight of riverboat gambling and casinos?
Do we establish a Delaware River Port Authority, whose reason de’etre is to manage the bridges connecting the city of Philadelphia to New Jersey, and allow it to expand its authority and purview to include many types of large economic development grants and multi-million dollar donations using the funds provided from bridge toll receipts?
The above are real examples of the choices our guvmint made on our behalf. A fair person may conclude our guvmint has plenty of money to devote to essential programs. But as some are so fond of saying …”we only get the guvmint we deserve”.