It's easy to point the finger at elected officials, especially those in Congress, for the huge debt and unprecedented deficit spending draining our treasury.
In reality, they're doing what they're supposed to do, at least in their eyes, and that's to win elections to continue to represent their constituents. The bottom line is that those who elect these people are at least partially to blame. We're the ones who demand money we don't have any right to, and taken from other people who don't benefit one bit from one dime of it.
Gowanda was recently happy over a $650,000 "grant" (I love that word, it's so much nicer than "Pork") to increase traffic safety. This money included training for children to cross the street. I'm sure village residents were extremely happy to receive this money. It doesn't make it right though, does it? How about all of the other taxpayers whose taxes contributed to a clear case of pork spending to ensure the gratitude of voters for particular politicians? How happy are those people?
Fredonia, like most local municipalities, is facing some hard times. Some of that has been self-inflicted over a period of years, but the bill is due, maybe overdue. So now a proposal has come from Randy Butts to hire nine full-time firemen under a grant (there's that word again) that will actually pay for those nine new employees for only two years. The discussion that followed may have been one of the more arrogant and obtuse set of excuses and proposals I've ever seen from any department head. The end result is that Fredonia will be paying tens of thousands of dollars for decades if this proposal were to be agreed to. There is no doubt or argument to that last statement. But what the heck, there's grant money to be had!
Grant money is handed out like candy throughout the country, literally billions of dollars and at all levels, from the state or federal governments, to schools and municipalities, to individual groups. And we're all guilty of participating in this corrupt and illegal system of spending our tax money. I say illegal because if one reads the Constitution carefully, most "grants" are not for things required and allowed for the good of the country.
How much money did Brocton get to refurbish their arch? I admire the efforts and money they raised on their own, but I doubt any other taxpayer from any other area would see Brocton's arch as a legitimate use of their tax dollars. I don't either.
Sewers, water treatment facilities, roads and bridges, those things I can see. Some of the monies directed at schools are obviously legitimate, others are not. Money for education is one thing; money for social engineering through the school system is not.
The largest issue with "grants" is the obviously accepted attitude that it's free money. Our own county sheriff recently referred to a $6 million grant by making the statement that at least "it's not coming off the backs of our local taxpayers." Really? Where'd that money come from, the Tooth Fairy?
And that unfortunately lies at the root of the issue. The feeling seems to be that it's not tax money, and it is, and that all grants are worthy, and they're not, and of course the best one, "at least we're getting it instead of someone else." What galls me is that so many of the people with the above attitudes toward grant money are very much anti-tax and spend individuals politically. Pork barrel spending isn't just the money given to "the other guy". The bridge to nowhere is a bad idea whether it lies in Alaska or South Dayton. The Homeland Security Act is filled with billions of dollars to be handed out for ... well, homeland security. In truth, it is one of the largest sources of pork barrel spending in the country. It is not being used to harden nuclear plants and the like, it's being used to supply rural fire and police departments, and even in areas so far off the beaten track any potential terrorist wouldn't be able to find them, areas without one single attractive target. But hey, that's OK, here's your vests and your gas masks and your radios and lo and behold, even a boat! Sorry people, but like it or not, that's pure pork barrel spending. Even when it's beneficial to some, that doesn't mean it's a legitimate use of tax payer money.
It may not seem related, but it's no different than weapons systems maintained, or bases kept open, needed or not, because they're built in a certain politician's district. I can't count the articles in The Buffalo News related to excessive spending, but that stopped when plans were made to close the Reserve Base in Niagara Falls. All of a sudden, that spending was absolutely necessary.
Unfortunately a huge amount of government spending is dictated by pure partisan politics, not need nor legality.
How many school buildings have been unwisely added on to with considerable future costs added to their respective districts, in maintenance and utilities, because those additions were built with grant money, "at no cost to the local taxpayers," paying for the original building or modification?
Was the last large scale addition to Fredonia needed now? How much longer was Wheelock school kept open and money sunk into the building because grant money was available? How many satellite schools are open in Dunkirk for the same reasons, at huge administrative, maintenance, utility and staff costs to the district? How many small and underperforming rural districts are open solely due to grant money? That "free money", that money that seems to fall from the skies, is an addictive benefit to localities throughout the country, and paid for by everyone else. Of course, everyone thinks they're fully deserving of that money; it's just the other guy's grant that's turned to pork.
We all seem to be collectively feeding from the trough we all claim to decry. We all have our hands out to those same politicians we deride for buying their tenure with pork spending and favors, all the while begging for more to come our way. Every time any efforts are made to consolidate services or political entities, those benefiting from their current status rise up to protest. Those same people are often the first in line to suggest cuts and savings for others; people who vote against school mergers want others to merge; people in towns want to eliminate villages and vice versa; that's the way of it.
If every town government and public authority were eliminated tomorrow, millions of dollars would be saved. The Public School system has become more than it was supposed to be, and won't return to its formerly utilitarian status until somebody scraps the system and begins anew. I could go on and on, but as long as grants are available to maintain the status quo, don't expect too much. As long as you apply and accept them, don't complain either.
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org