I'm curious why with all of the complaining over taxes in this area, as well as the entire state and country, why several local examples of pure "pork barrel" spending have been relatively ignored. I use the popular term of "pork barrel spending," but in reality, let's call it what it really is, vote buying.
In Congress they call it "member items", I'm not sure what they call it in our state legislature, but it's all the same. I guess grant sounds better yet, almost like we won a prize!
Gowanda recently received $650,000 to improve pedestrian safety, including teaching children to cross the street. We need tax dollars for that? Gowanda needs grant money to clear cutouts for the disabled, or for paining lines and crosswalks? Looking at comments in the paper at the time, not much was said.
More recently, the Chautauqua County Health Department announced they received a grant of $450,000 to combat obesity. That sounds really neat, doesn't it, to combat obesity! We always seem to be at our best when we use military terms for projects - the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs. Now we're combatting obesity. No matter what, how much good does anyone really think that $450,000 is going to accomplish? Let me make a guess; not much.
Shortly after that grant was received, another announcement from state Sen. Cathy Young's office that another grant was obtained for the area, $100,000 for the somewhat controversial Incubator. I've followed that subject with interest, and still don't see much in the way of results for the money already spent on the building, so I'm not sure what that additional $100,000 is going to accomplish.
I do know this and that is that in just a few months 1.2 million of my tax dollars has been spent on projects that are either clearly not needed or a case of good money after bad, and most local politicians love it! Elected officials at all levels trip over themselves to take credit for these grants, which all of them seem to think come from I like to say, the Tooth Fairy! And that's the REAL DEAL here folks, politicians taking credit for bringing money into our area.
And it works too, as I hear lots of locals who normally complain about taxes saying things like "At least we're getting some money back!" What you really should be asking is, "If they have that much money to blow on nonsense, why'd they take my money to begin with?"
The second question should be, "How much of our money was used and spent elsewhere on projects just as ridiculous and totally non-beneficial to us?" That's an easy answer, even without a specific number, and that answer is, "LOTS more than we got back!"
It would appear that if it's called a government grant nobody seems to see it for what it really is; pork barrel spending! And why do elected officials like to get these grants and take much credit for it? That again is an easy answer, said earlier in this little rant, it is buying votes, pure and simple.
It happens at all levels of government, obviously in larger amounts the higher you go. I think everyone has knowledge of one of the more famous examples, the multi-million dollar "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska. Newsflash people, there are worse examples than that all over the country. I'd guess pork spending at the federal level is in the billions of dollars. Congress will tell you that "member items" are a small part of the budget, but to paraphrase one of my all-time favorite politicians, Everett Dirksen, "A million here, a million there, and the next thing you know you're talking about real money!"
I wish we had the likes of him back in Washington, along with William Proxmire, who used to issue a monthly "Golden Fleece Award" to whoever had the worst case of pork barrel spending in their district. Nobody wanted to receive one of those, and the newspapers loved them!
Was it last year we got the new boat from Homeland Security funds? I'm sure it's a nice boat, but did we really need it? Nobody seemed to care. Why would they, it was free money! (I might point out that the Homeland Security Act has provided HUGE dollars of pure pork to the entire country) But what the heck, if it's your local fire department or police force that receives the money, even though you live miles from any sort of potential terrorist targets, who cares, right? And besides, it's free money! And we all know our projects are worthy, it's the projects of all those other guys that stink!
If you factor in the additional costs of laws passed with the needs of lobbyists in mind, your government is illegally taxing its citizens for the express purpose of staying in office. And that's it, not to help you or me, just to stay in office.
That is what becomes the most important issue with far too many elected officials, and the source of most of their corruption. Whether it's health care, military procurement, even the building of roads, if lobbyists are involved, somebody is being "taken" and that somebody is the taxpayers of this country.
When Dick Cheney oversaw an energy policy during his term of office, he refused to say who was in the room. It was common knowledge that lobbyists from various energy companies were in the mix. The same for the Bush administrations addition of an unfunded drug benefit for Medicare, mostly written by representatives of the Pharmaceutical companies. And who were the experts giving advice to the Democrats for President Obama's Healthcare Act? Why, the insurance industry, of course, and a few others deep into providing health care. This is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue. This is a professional politician vs. citizen (taxpayer) issue.
So remember, the next time a gift of pork comes our way, call it a grant, what have you, and you praise those who brought it, remember where that money came from. It was all yours to begin with, and most of what you gave out is going elsewhere.
If all pork barrel spending were to end, and government was to only fund that which is required in the Constitution, no spending were done to appease lobbyists, our taxes could be cut in half, prices of many goods and services would decline and we'd all be happier for it.
The purpose of Pork is twofold; one is to keep professional politicians in office, and the other is to enrich various industries at our expense. Don't complain if you advocate feeding at the trough.
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org