CUTTING FEDERAL SPENDING
BY: PAT HUNTER
The nerve of some federal congress representatives and senators and their political rhetoric about cutting spending, the deficit, and not increasing the debt ceiling. During the lengthy debate about our federal government's deficit and cutting spending, how much talk did you hear from federal lawmakers about all the hometown pork and goodies that Congress and Senate love to bring back home. These pet projects are often detailed in newsletters and websites.
Many time local officials will refer to these federal goodies as "Free Money" or "Free Grants" but there's no such thing as Free anything, someone has to pay for all the freebies. I can't tell you the number of times that I heard our own EDA (Loudon County Economic Development Agency) comprised of local (county and cities) government officials and business leaders (chamber) make lofty plans paid for with local taxpayer monies for Washington DC junkets for personal audiences with federal elected officials to request more of that "Free Money" for local or regional economic pet projects. One that comes to mind, requests for federal monies for the Chickamauga Lock project. Many times, these federally funded projects added to the deficit, no doubt. Washington style politics, demanding cuts in spending while feasting at the public troughs. I encourage you to read KNEWS Tom Humprey's column about the liberal giving of federal monies to Tennessee.
By Tom Humphrey
Sunday, August 14, 2011
There seems to be a disconnect this summer between the great wailing and gnashing of teeth over federal deficit spending and the promotion and celebration of federal spending on the state level.
Without going into the amply covered national deficit debacle, here's a sampling of some recent state-level stuff.
A news release that begins, "The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced cuts today that federal and state aeronautics grants totaling $22,415,775 have been approved for 12 Tennessee airports." It's mostly federal money, of course.
Gov. Bill Haslam made multiple forays to various places around the state, often joining with local state legislators, to announce "enhancement grants" of Federal Highway Administration money. These totaled about $12 million, according to a TNReport account, and included such things as a $600,000 "hiking and biking trail" near Cookeville and $70,000 for a walkway in Spring Hill.
The state Department of Agriculture sent out a news release last week encouraging those who are interested in selling Tennessee products overseas to sign up for the "federal Market Access Program," which reimburses up to 50 percent of their expenses.
Another news release begins thusly: "The Tennessee Department of Education today announced 156 schools will receive funding for the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program (FFVP) for the 2011-12 school year. A total of $3.15 million was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase, prepare and distribute fresh fruits and vegetables at no charge to students 8th-grade and below."
Another one: "Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Historical Commission announced today Historic Preservation Fund grants for 28 community organizations for programs and activities that support the preservation of historic and archaeological sites, districts and structures." About $600,000 is involved, the release says, with the money "from federal funds allocated by the Department of Interior under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act."
And so on.
Now, these are all doubtless good things. And in the great scheme of federal spending, they're fairly minor — a drop in the bucket to, say, the federal spending at Oak Ridge and environs (just tearing down the old K-25 uranium enrichment facility was recently estimated at $1.2 billion.) And that, in turn, is a drop in the fiscal bucket compared to entitlement spending or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Still, it is somewhat incongruous to see such things at a time of protests over federal spending and with some other federal programs running out of money.
The federal folks, for example, announced this summer that $51.9 million of Tennessee's federal highway construction money has been "rescinded." The $21.6 million allocated to the state for the federally funded "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families" welfare program," meanwhile, ran out at the end of June, though the federal fiscal year continues until October.
Oh, and by the way, the Tennessee Valley Authority has received in past years about $200 million for patching up the Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River but needs about $200 million more — and President Barack Obama's tight-fisted administration didn't put anything for the project in its most recent budget plan.
About 40 percent of this year's total $30 billion state budget is federal money — and that's down from the last year, when the stimulus money was flowing in. If you count tax dollars only — not $5 billion in license fees, college student tuition and the like that still counts as state money in the overview — the federal total is much closer to half, about $12 billion federal versus the state's $13 billion.
And those state tax dollars are in many cases indirectly tied to federal funds spent by those receiving the money and paying sales taxes. That goes beyond the state budget to Social Security checks and payroll for federal employees.
This all apparently figured into Tennessee being one of five states placed on "negative outlook" in credit ratings by one investor service.
What we have here is a mixed message. Our politicians, particularly the Republicans now running the state show, roundly denounce federal deficit spending while happily handing out federal checks to hometown folks.
As a political service, this practice seems to have pretty high ratings right now. But, it is submitted, the outlook for the longer term is negative.
Tom Humphrey, chief of the News Sentinel Nashville bureau, may be reached at 615-242-7782 or email@example.com.