Originally Posted November, 2009. Examples outdated, links may not work, but system unchanged.
When I was growing up in Maryville, TN, I spent a lot of time from probably age 10 to 15 on Pistol Creek. We used to catch a lot of suckers, red eyes, crawdads, and lizards. Crawdad tails made the best bait, but I never even considered eating one of them. I and two or three buddies would be gone for hours, with bicycles and fishing tackle, completely free, fishing and wading and seining. We had names for our favorite spots and would say, “Let’s meet at the stump, or at the log.” It was fun. I think the creek is almost devoid of big fish now and was told by my dad that he thought it was because blasting to install sewer lines along the creek had killed the fish.
Near the head of Pistol Creek, at the outer limits of my childhood area of exploration, there is a low lying marshy field of about 12 acres not fit for residential development even though it is surrounded now by residences and a nearby school. While in Maryville for Thanksgiving 2009 I read a Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times article about that 12 acres titled Wetland Classroom Nearly Done.
It turns out that the city received a $992,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to build a boardwalk and an octagonal pavilion in that marshy field for use in environmental education of city school students. I guess that kind of thing was left to the Boy Scouts when I was a kid. I drove by the project and thought it looked pretty good. I’m sure that it will be an asset to the City of Maryville, that some kids addicted to their cell phones and iPods will learn a bit about nature, and that some Tennessee politicians will get a boost to their re-electability.
But there is a small problem. If we were paying all our bills and had some money left over, I think this kind of thing might be OK, but we didn’t and don’t have $992,000 available for this project without borrowing it. Some may be thinking, “C’mon, Darryl! It’s only a million dollars.” But the problem is that there are tens of thousands of projects of various sizes like this all around the country and that the cost of all of them adds up to billions of dollars we don’t have. I did a quick search in The State Newspaper, Columbia, SC, and found the following federal grants reported in just the last few weeks:
- $45M to Clemson University for a study on wind energy
- $ 1M to cities of Columbia and West Columbia for pollution studies
- $240K to four SC cities to install electric car charging stations
- $4.95M to USC to study the possibility of off shore storage of carbon dioxide
- $9M to Clemson to establish a center for tissue regeneration research
- $4.8M to USC to help seriously ill patients find and volunteer for clinical trials
- $13M to South Carolina State Univ. to develop textbooks for use in Tanzania!
- $1M to six SC colleges to boost nuclear education
- $138,807 to Coastal Carolina University to hire a campus cop
- $35M to Toda America, a Japanese company, to make battery components!!!
That little sampling totals about $114M and doesn’t even scratch the surface. I wonder if numbers 5 and 6 are considered part of our health care bill.
So, there are two major issues here. First is the problem of mounting debt, currently at $12T and increasing by $3.8B a day. The New York Times today reports on growing resistance in congress to raising the debt limit which will be necessary to assure continued payment of the bills. Second, there seems to be no sense or system of priority in how we allocate and spend taxpayer money. It’s just one project at a time often not even voted on but just tacked on to unrelated bills, sometimes apparently in return for a favorable vote! Consider the proposed increase in federally funded health care, for example. Where would that fit in a priority listing with the stuff above?
I know. You are going to say that all we have to do is whack military spending. But even President Obama, now that he has access to all the available information, is having trouble justifying big cuts to the military as much as I am sure he would like to.
Life was a lot simpler in those Pistol Creek days.