Saturday, February 04, 2006

Social services, tax cuts and "pork"

Yesterday, my fellow commissioners held a press conference to object to the budget reconciliation bill passed by the House. In addition to a series of changes to Medicaid and Medicare, the legislation in its final form contains a 5-year reauthorization of the TANF program, reductions to the child welfare program, and a series of changes to the child support enforcement program.

Commissioner Wozniak and Gerken said we shouldn’t cut services to pay for “tax cuts to the rich.” I believe the quote Comm. Gerken used was “Robin Hood in reverse – taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

Besides being typical Democrat Party rhetoric, this perspective clearly misses the point. The tax cuts are not the reason that the federal government is cutting spending - Americans across the country are asking their governments at all levels to cut spending.

The issue isn’t that government doesn’t have enough money to spend – it’s HOW they’re spending the money they do have. And it’s our demands that complicate the issue.

You see, while we all want government to cut spending, we never actually want government to cut our spending.

If we’re unhappy with cuts in actual social service dollars, then we should be willing to tell our representatives in Washington what we DO want cut…and let’s start with looking at our own community. What would be more important to us – to have money put back into essential services for children or to have the following “pork” projects, as identified by Citizens Against Government Waste:

**$2,000,000 for the University of Toledo (Agricultural Research Service - Buildings and Facilities)

**$1,000,000 for the City of Toledo Police Athletic League Youth Center for at-risk youth (Discretionary Grants - Juvenile Justice Programs)

**$500,000 for the University of Toledo Center for Parents Criminal Justice Program (State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance - Byrne Discretionary Grant)

**$1,500,000 for the Toledo Shipyard Improvement Plan (Operation and Maintenance, Navy)

**$1,000,000 for the University of Toledo/Bowling Green Fuel Cell Research project [Hydrogen] (Renewable Energy Resources - Department of Energy)

**$1,000,000 for the Toledo combined sewer overflow project [Ohio Environmental Infrastructure] (Corps of Engineers: Construction)

**$450,000 for Mercy Health Partners, Toledo (Health Resources and Services Administration - Department of Health and Human Services)

**$650,000 for Medical College of Ohio at Toledo for facilities and equipment (Health Resources and Services Administration - Department of Health and Human Services)

**$275,000 for Toledo Public Schools, for its Construction Career Academy (Fund for the Improvement of Education - Department of Education)

**$50,000 for the Toledo Zoo, for Thinking Works (Fund for the Improvement of Education - Department of Education)

**$200,000 for Ohio Educational Television Stations (OETS), Toledo, for the Ohio Cares Project (Social Services & Income Maintenance - Administration for Children and Families)

**$50,000 for Toledo Children's Hospital, Toledo, for health promotion and risk prevention programs targeted to teenagers (Public Health Improvement and Leadership - HHS)

**$6,900,000 to Replace logistics complex at Toledo Express Airport (Air National Guard)

**975,000 for Toledo (Terminal Air Traffic Control Facilities Replacement - Federal Aviation Administration)

**$350,000 for Toledo JARC (Job Access and Reverse Commute Grants - Federal Transit Adminstration)

**$1,250,000 for Toledo downtown waterfront redevelopment (Federal-Aid Highways - Federal Highway Administration)

**$250,000 for Cherry-Bancroft-Summit Corridor Neighborhood Business District revitalization, Toledo (Federal-Aid Highways - Federal Highway Administration)

**$250,000 for Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority for the Northwest Ohio Brownfield Restoration Initiative (Economic Development Initiative)

**$242,500 for City of Toledo for building construction and streetscape improvements along Detroit Avenue (Economic Development Initiative)

**$97,000 for Lagrange Development Corporation in Toledo for construction of a community center (Economic Development Initiative)

**$630,500 for City of Toledo for the Erie Street Market for facilities reconstruction (Economic Development Initiative)

**$97,000 for City of Toledo for economic development planning for the Reynolds Road Green Corridor Project (Economic Development Initiative)

**$1,000,000 for City of Toledo for wet weather flow and wastewater infrastructure improvements (State and Tribal Assistance Grants - EPA)

**$650,000 for University of Toledo for the Lake Erie Center (Science and Technology - EPA)

**$1,700,000 for the University of Toledo Turbine Institute (NASA)

**$1,000,000 for the Maumee Watershed Hydrological Study and Flood Mitigation Plan (Conservation Operations)

**$1,500,000 for the Maumee River Basin (NOAA - National Ocean Service, Construction)

**$325,000 for Lourdes College, Sylvania, for science equipment, technology, and instructional resources, and for the Lourdes College Planetarium (Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education)

**$500,000 for Lucas County for law enforcement technologies (Law Enforcement Technology - Community Oriented Policing Services)

**$1,000,000 for McCord Road, Lucas County, grade separation (Rail-Highway Grade Crossing Mitigation - Federal Railroad Administration)

**$250,000 for Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority for the Northwest Ohio Brownfield Restoration Initiative (Economic Development Initiative)

( Source : http://www.cagw.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reports_pigbook2005_database)

Do we seriously think that renovations at Erie Street Market, planetarium equipment, streetscape improvements, educational television and planning a “green corridor” project are more important than essential services for our children? But I guarantee that for each one of these projects listed above, there will be a significant number of people who will say that we just have to have federal money for this, so don’t cut this project.

And these are just the ones from our area. Consider the costs when you combine all the counties in the country – not to mention the cost of the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

With limited amounts of funding, firm priorities need to be established. Our goal should be to get government to spend money only on that which is detailed in the Constitution and collect enough in taxes only to cover those obligations. But as long as voters demand these pork-barrel projects, politicians will continue to try and gain the support of various special interest groups by “purchasing” their goodwill with our tax dollars.

The tax cuts weren’t just for the rich – they applied to everyone who actually paid taxes, including Commissioners Wozniak and Gerken. We don’t need to repeal the tax cuts. We need to have our representatives in Washington stop spending money on projects that just buy votes and, instead, reserve those funds for mandated government services. And we need to stand strongly behind them when they do.

3 comments:

Lisa Renee said...

First, let me say welcome to the blogopshere, and I appreciate having the opportunity for discussion.

I don't support the cuts made, but I also agree with you that earmarks or pork which ever title you prefer is a growing concern. What you are suggesting as far as only funding constitutionally obligated programs sounds wonderful in theory yet is not going to happen in our lifetime unless there is a major shift in government. Northwest Ohio could stand up and say "No Thanks, we don't support this type of earmark programs", and what would the end result be? Other districts more than happy to take the federal dollars leaving our area even worse off. Something as you are suggesting has to be done on more than just a local basis, or even on a State basis. It would need to be done on a National basis. If you look at the stats as far as how many years out of the past 25 that Ohio was a donor state where we received less tax dollars than was sent to Washington? The majority of the time we were a donor state. It's only been since 2000 that the amount of Federal tax dollars received in Ohio was few pennies more on the dollar than what was collected.

Fully supporting the idea that cuts do need to be made in the Federal Budget, my disagreement stems from what was selected to be cut. It seems counterproductive to cut 40 billion dollars from Social Service Programs yet request well over double the amount cut as an increase in spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If all pork projects would have been cut from the 2005 budget it would have saved $27.3 billion dollars. According to the Congressional Budget office the total amount estimated to be spent in 2005 is 2,479,404 billion (2,052,845 billion budgeted). In 2006 the estimated amount to be spent is 2,567,617 billion (2,177,550 billion budgeted). So even with the 40 billion dollars in cuts to entitlement programs and even if pork/earmarks were magically stopped? There still is alot of waste that could be cut.

Cutting entitlement spending as part of an overall reduction in federal spending is one thing. However this is not being done across the board and it will affect more deeply those who can least afford it.

As far as the tax-cut issue goes, even Senator Voinovich stated we cannot afford the tax cuts. I think that issue needs to be looked at very carefully and to be honest I can see the reasons for both extending it (I don't support making it permanent) or ending it. There are valid pros and cons to each side of that part of the discussion. Yet, to me? There are still larger areas of the budget that could have been cut that would have kept some of the entitlement spending and enable the tax cut to continue.

Lloyd said...

Interesting you bring up these pork projects, for I suspect that without this information, the funds will go to waste.

Can we really expect these funds to be used , for example, to upgrade Detroit Ave or Bancroft as earmarked for?

Is there any accountability for this?

Aaron said...

Lisa, wasn't it you that posted the ratios of taxes paid and tax money spent by home state? The public rewards those politicians who are good at diverting federal money back into our state (e.g. Kaptur, Voinovich) regardless of party. I think watchdogs (my typical example McCain) are needed to shine the spot lite on the most eggregarious cases, and then see if the public reacts. The problem is, they won't react unless it is a case of fraud or percieved corruption.

I don't see a way out, except sweeping cuts that don't discriminate by program.

Maggie, I just discovered your blog via Lisa's. Thank you so much for taking the time and risk of doing this.

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