Free Money

Free Money

Years ago, as a member of a subcommittee created by the school board, a member excitedly spoke about some new program. As I pondered the program and its value, it struck me as a lot of money for a select few students. Not much “bang for the buck” as a whole. It was not in a prioritized program (another issue) so as a newbie, I wondered why it would be considered. The Chair after the enthusiastic entry ask the “money question”: How will it be funded?  The response was simple, if not absurd. Free money.

After waiting longer than the proverbial pregnant pause (as the newbie, I thought Shirley would ask the question) and since nobody else ask, I did. What exactly is “Free Money”? The member didn’t bat an eye with a response with more than a hint of condescension, the money comes from the Federal Government. It is free. I laughed at what I thought was a joke, but I was the only one. Everyone else understood. I quickly responded, it is not free. It is either tax dollars or money borrowed to be repaid by the very people we were there to serve. To increase the debt burden on the whole to help a few children did not seem like a prudent move. Everybody just glared.

Back to the present, it is the same. People see programs as “free” or paid for by rich people. This is wrong.

These are citizens’ tax dollars. How do people not understand this. Foreign aid, while magnanimous in principle, is simply not in the budget. Federal programs, existing ones, surpass revenue collections. Providing additional “free services and products” costs money – and we can’t pay for what we have now. Are people delusional?

This is not a national problem, it is everywhere. This week, our city council voted to buy a boat for the Fire Department with a federal grant. The amount of “match” money required from the city was modest in relation to overall cost, but still several citizens’ average annual salaries. It passed unanimously. Do people think Federal money is free? People keep me asking if I still think we are doomed, this is yet another example.

If I stood on a streetcorner and ask every local citizen in my town to give me a dollar so the local Fire Department could buy a boat, most would laugh, fewer would give the money. I doubt you could raise enough money for the required match, much less the princely sum to actually buy the boat. The whole ongoing maintenance and training costs are also ignored. City Council, sure, he’s a nice guy, buy the boat.

Do people want free stuff? Absolutely! Do people want to end homelessness? Yes! Great, give me an extra ten percent of your salary in taxes and I can eliminate homelessness. Want free Community College, great! Give me an additional twenty percent of you salary and it is a done deal. When put this way, the answer is different. The general response is to go tax rich people to solve our problems, but they don’t have that much money either. If you tax rich people enough, they will leave the country. Some people may say good riddance, but it doesn’t solve the problem. As someone famous said, the problem with Socialism is eventually you run out of other peoples’ money.

Until people start to pay attention to policy and the spending associated with policy decisions, we remained doomed.

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Categorized as Policy

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