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Opinion

Cal Thomas: Say no to pork barrel wishes

Cal Thomas

Most children have probably finished their Christmas lists to Santa Claus. Some elected officials, however, are still compiling theirs.

Close behind Detroit’s wish list comes a long one from America’s mayors.

Last Monday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors sent its list of wishes to the political equivalent of Santa Claus: Congress. The mayors apparently figure with all the talk from President-elect Barack Obama about infrastructure repair and job creation, they might as well try to pile onto Santa’s lap, too.

The mayors claim the economy will be stimulated if their wishes are granted. What do they want? The National Taxpayers Union has analyzed the 72-page list. Here are some of the lowlights.

•$1.102 billion in projects involving sidewalks.

•$1 million for annual sewer rehabilitation in Casper, Wyo. (emphasis mine).

•$6.1 million for corporate hangars, parking lots and a business apron at the Fayetteville, Ark., airport.

•15 projects with the term “stadium” in them, including a $150 million Metromover extension to the Florida Marlins’ baseball stadium.

•81 projects mentioning “landscaping” or beautification efforts.

Kristina Rasmussen, the National Taxpayers Union’s director of government affairs, offers more analysis of the mayors’ report on the group’s s blog: “Total cost of the wish list is $73,163,299,303. They claim this will create an estimated 847,641 jobs in 2009 and 2010. Divide that out, and you get a cost to taxpayers of $86,314 per job. Not exactly a great deal.”

No, it is not a great deal in that sense, but it is a great deal … of money, not that this matters these days with hundreds of billions being tossed around as if it were confetti. But who’s counting? Certainly not Congress; Congress has opened the purse strings faster than a bank teller faced with Willie Sutton’s stickup gun.

Here’s one proposal I especially like: $1,500,000 for an initiative in Dayton, Ohio, for the “Reduce Prostitution-Off the Streets Program.” The proposed spending would “connect individuals involved in prostitution with resources to leave a life of prostitution.” I guess Ronald Reagan was right when he observed, “It has been said that politics is the second-oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”

The Beach Boys might like this one: “$6,000,000: Ventura, Calif., Water Surfers Point Improvements.” “This project is to protect the beach with natural buried cobble stone, create sand dunes over the buried cobble, relocate, and rebuild the State Owned Omer Rains beach front bike path, and construct parking lot and drainage.”

Where in the Constitution is there authorization for such spending?

Government can always find new ways to spend our money. That’s because it’s not government’s money. Does government ever ask if the public approves of such pork barrel spending? Does it ever ask us if we have enough money? No, government tells us how much of our money it intends to let us keep. Instead, shouldn’t we be telling government how much of our money we will allow government to spend?

Democrats, especially, used to talk about “mortgaging our future” by irresponsible spending. Now the Congress is behaving like a bank gone wild, handing out money to almost anyone who asks for it with few strings and no sense attached.

The so-called jobs the mayors claim will be created will only last for a brief time. Then what? Those who take them are likely to be back where they were when the projects are finished: out of work and waiting for the next government rescue.

Read the entire wish list at www.usmayors.org.

Congress should say “no” to the mayors. Given the attitude in Washington these days – and a Democratic president about to take office with a bigger Democratic congressional majority – that is unlikely to happen.

The question ought not to be how we get prostitutes off the streets in Dayton, but how we retire them in Congress.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.
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