September 29, 2005

Pork Comparison of the Day

Carroll Andrew Morse

Imagine that the town of Smithfield made the following announcement…

Although revenues are stable, due to a cost analysis, funding will only be available for a few programs this year. We are closing down the school department, the police department, and the fire department, because the only programs we can afford are laying new bikepaths, acquiring conservation land, and funding several museums.
Would you think the government really had the costs right? Would you think the money was being well spent?

I am picking on Smithfield here because their FY 2005 general fund expenditures, as recommended by the Town Manager, are about $49,000,000 – about the same amount of RI highway bill funding that should be redirected to Katrina relief. For $49,000,000, Smithfield is able to fund its School Department (about $25,000,000), fire and police Departments (about $3,500,000 each), public works department (about $2,800,000), and almost everything else that municipal government does.

When spent by the Federal government, $49,000,000 gets you a few miles of bikepaths ($38,000,000), a big purchase of conservation land ($8,000,000), and a few other odds and ends.

Is laying a few miles of bikepaths really as expensive as running an entire town? How much would the bikepaths cost if Smithfield was buying them, instead of the Federal government?

This is the heart of the anti-pork argument. It is not just a philosophical argument about the proper role of government spending (although that is part of it). It’s the fact that municipal governments tend to spend money more carefully, at least when compared to the Feds. The Feds just throw money in a general direction, so that Senators and Congressmen can brag about how much money they brought home.

The long-term solution to this problem is to reduce the Federal tax burden, so that people can afford the local services they need.

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Excellent example, Andrew. Those who are more immediately accountable will tend to be more careful with the dollars.

Posted by: Marc at September 29, 2005 12:33 PM