Washington’s money: Strings always attached

Freedom Editorial

This election season, as in all others, candidates are running television and radio ads that tell voters what they’ll do once in office or question their opponent’s record. They all do it and no one is particularly worse than any other. The short 15- or 30-second commercials are little more than soundbites with no real information. But they can reveal a lot about the candidates and the voters.

Not to pick on him, but Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry is currently running a commercial that obliquely questions President Bush’s commitment to homeland security. He asks why we’re opening fire houses in Iraq and closing them in the United States. The implication is that for an American president, Americans should come first. That’s certainly a reasonable point, although it takes for granted something that many voters will not question. But they should.

Control of the opening or closing of fire houses in the United States has traditionally been a responsibility of the communities those stations serve. Local people know better than Washington politicians what their communities need and how best to address those needs. Communities can use sales taxes, bonds, surcharges or a number of other funding mechanisms to provide the revenue needed to build and operate the fire houses necessary to protect their lives and property. Injecting federal money into this process only complicates matters.

Money from Washington almost always comes with strings attached, telling officials what it can or must be used for. Those restrictions might not be necessary in every community that accepts the money. Besides, taxpayers in Clovis or Texico shouldn’t be forced to fund fire stations in Kansas City.

Proponents of more federal tax money supporting local public safety often point out that the feds can provide more money than communities might be able to provide on their own. Although that might be true to a point, taxpayers would have more of their money to spend on local needs if they weren’t sending so much to Washington.

In addition, we don’t find anywhere in our nation’s founding documents a passage that authorizes the federal government to either collect or disburse funds to take care of local needs. The federal government is supposed to handle those public needs that states or communities cannot provide for themselves: foreign relations, a comprehensive national defense, settling disputes between states and other “big picture” issues. Whoever is sitting in the Oval Office has bigger things to worry about than whether this city has enough fire stations to serve the community.

We realize the federal government is continually creeping into areas that rightfully are the concern of state and local governments, and that Americans have become accustomed to looking to Washington for answers. We’ll all be better off when Washington is put on notice that we expect the federal government to take care of its business and allow us to take care of ours.