The road goes on forever and the party never ends. Those are the words of Country Singer Robert Earl Keen and I find them appropriate to the attitude of many in our country and government towards spending and debt. For so long our nation has had what appears to be an endless stream of money. The problem with spending with no limits is now our nation faces over a 17 TRILLION dollar national debt. Are there no limits to our ability to rack up debts that are clearly becoming unsustainable and debts that surely can’t be paid back? Will the party ever end?
Once again Tuesday night I tried to address this growing financial nightmare locally to my colleagues on the Flagstaff City Council. My comments were made during a debate regarding acceptance of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). I brought up the fact that we can start a grass roots effort locally to encourage the Federal Government to get their house in order by turning down this grant. I heard the usual response, “If we don’t accept this money, it’ll just go to another community.” That may very well be the case but if enough cities and counties took the high road and said to the Federal Government, no, we don’t want this money, fix this national fiscal crisis, maybe we could start getting somewhere. I know this is an optimistic approach but how long are we to sit by while Federal, State and Local Governments drive our nation into the financial abyss?
Another disturbing aspect of last night’s grant acceptance, which by the way passed 5-1 with myself dissenting, is the attitude many have of “spend every dime”. In fact, $62,000 is going to fund the start up of a thrift store that will cater to women and infants. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for women and infants and I’m all for non-profits and the many good deeds they perform in our community but is funding start ups the role of our local government? Apparently so, with several of my colleagues saying that, “This was a risk they were willing to take”. One of my colleagues asked me, “If we don’t fund this, who will?” To which I replied, these things used to be (and still should be) funded by the private sector, individuals, churches, etc. We survived for a long time as a nation before all this government spending, debt and intervention.
I questioned the applicant, BothHands, if they had experience running a retail or thrift store operation. “No,” was the reply. I also asked for a business plan but one was not available. I was assured that a lot of smart and experienced people will help out with this venture once they get the funding. I was told that others are investing in this venture including United Way, another organization that receives over a quarter million dollars of city tax payer funds per year. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars does it take to open a thrift store when the items for sale will be donated? Perhaps myself and my colleagues would have had a better idea if we had seen a business plan.
History shows us that the party always ends. The hangover from this long running party of spending and debt is going to be harder and harder to handle the longer we party. Time for a last call, a good nights sleep and let’s wake up, drink a cup of coffee and fix this mess we’re in before it gets worse.
I was taught as a kid that money doesn’t grow on trees. Maybe my parents were wrong and it does. Surely by now though, just as in the children’s book The Giving Tree*, the tree has been picked bare and all that remains is a stump to sit on.
*For those unfamiliar with this book, it tells the story of a boy who visits this tree often while growing up, using it for shade and swinging from the limbs. The tree and the boy are both happy. The boy eventually grows up and begins to pick the apples from the tree and sells them. The man begins to ask the tree for more and more and the tree happily obliges. But soon the tree is bare. Then man cuts the limbs and branches off and uses them to build a house. Eventually there is nothing left but a stump.