Local opinion columnists

Grants, strings dilute our liberty

By From page A11 | February 16, 2014

We often hear or see the phrase, “Paid for with a grant by . . .,” when reviewing a commercial or press release concerning a new government program or initiative. People seem to think that the money comes from a generous and wealthy fellow named Grant. Unfortunately for taxpaying citizens, grant money is not free bonus money. It usually consists of diverted and targeted tax dollars.

Ever wonder why we are told there isn’t any money available for basic necessities like streets or sidewalks, but then magically, there is enough money for some crazy art project or new software system? The black box we call “government” has plenty of resources to achieve what we want. The obstacle we face is that once those resources are in the black box, unknown elements are in play directing those resources, not always to the benefit of the community it purports to serve.

The government works for, and derives its power from, the people. Thus, the people prioritize the government’s workload. The citizens of a community or region determine which items and services they would like. Their representatives go out and find resources to enable those requests. This is bottom-up governance. This is where the phrase “bring home the bacon” would be appropriate.

Unfortunately, far too often, politicians and bureaucrats determine which equipment and services we the people should have, as opposed to the other way around. We are left with defacto legislation through funding. Your community can have a sweet pot of money if you spend it like you are told to.

Laws no longer need to be passed to compel the citizenry to behave certain ways; just threaten to withhold funding unless the community complies with some edict, or strap a bundle of cash to otherwise unpopular legislation. This is how a community can end up with a train station we didn’t know we needed.

Now we are in the worst of all positions: We (and our children) are on a long-term financial hook for something we never wanted or needed, while actual needs we requested to be filled are unsatisfied.

A common response I’ve heard when inquiring about the need for specific grants is, “If we don’t get it, someone else will.” It is usually followed up with verbiage extolling the economic benefits of getting the grant. The money may be a short-term boost to those directly providing the questionable good or service, but it does not outweigh the long-term cost to community of having unfulfilled needs languish, and the IOUs that will inevitably need to be paid by future generations.

Even if you agree with the intent of the project or service, flowing our tax dollars up through numerous government layers just so they can trickle back down is a waste. All these “administrators” are not working for free; one can assume they are each consuming an average of $100,000 in salary, benefits and overhead. After all, you can’t have a herd of administrators without having a senior vice administrator of administrative affairs, right? In any operations chain, middlemen are a drain. Why not keep our resources at a local level, where we have more control, and a more responsive public service system to boot?

In the end, this is a failure of representation. Hordes of unelected bureaucrats and administrators are not an acceptable substitute for the ideal responsiveness of an elected representative. A system that consumes our resources (money, property, time and liberty) without providing requested value should not be allowed to continue unabated. The responsibility of changing that system falls upon the people.

Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at [email protected]

Brian Thiemer


Discussion | 1 comment

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  • The MisterFebruary 16, 2014 - 8:11 am

    You've nailed it, Brian. Regardless of the politically correct illusion, local governments are accountable to whom ever writes the checks with conditions. Taxpayers place no conditions on their tribute to the government when their money is taken away in the form of taxes. But that "free" money at the end of the string will make your local potentates jump like marionettes. (Right, Pete?)

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