(Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in the Colorado Statesman)
Great societies care about how they treat their neighbors and are concerned about the legacy they pass on to their children. Recently, Lone Tree City Council voted on three intergovernmental agreements to help fund the Southeast Light Rail Extension. The overriding issue is accepting federal money for regional projects. America was founded on the idea that projects benefitting a certain region be paid for by that region. It isn’t fair, just or sustainable to saddle the next generation with an ever-increasing federal debt or to ask citizens in neighboring states to pay for regional projects that do not benefit them.
John Eastman, a well-respected constitutional attorney, has written an excellent piece, “Why General Welfare Limits Spending.” The left has hijacked the phrase “General Welfare,” found in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, to justify spending countless trillions of federal tax dollars on questionable projects. In reality, “General Welfare” means that the federal government is to use tax dollars only for things that benefit all of us.
The interstate highway system benefits all of us, enabling us to freely move about the country as individuals, to transport oranges from Florida, produce from California and beef to New York. It provides for our Common Defense with infrastructure to move troops, supplies and people in the event of disasters or attacks. This too is a critical responsibility of the federal government.
The federal government’s allocation of our tax dollars for projects is a sacred responsibility, not to be taken lightly. The gas tax was created to pay for the interstate highway system and was “sold” as monies to build and maintain our roads and bridges. This makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is politicians and bureaucrats shaving anywhere from 20-30 percent off gas tax funds for other projects, such as public transit, bike paths, and walk paths. Federal grants are given out like candy to kids for these projects while our interstate roads and bridges crumble.
The federal contribution of $92 million towards the $207 million (or $233 million, depending on the source) for the construction of the 2.3 miles of additional track for the Southeast Light Rail Extension is an example of federal funds for regional projects. It’s not fair that someone in Ohio pay to build Light Rail in Colorado.
There are two popular rebuttals from those who lobby for and accept federal monies. The first is, “If we don’t take the money, someone else will.” Secondly, I hear, “We pay income tax, therefore, we are just getting back some of what we paid in.” In reality, not only are we misappropriating tax dollars, we are spending more than we have. Within the past few years alone our federal debt has ballooned from $10 trillion to over $18 trillion. This is irresponsible. The federal government is spending money that does not exist.
Hard choices need to be made, and city government is in the position to make them. As elected officials at the local level, we have a responsibility to say “no” to the federal dollars being offered to us for our regional projects. If all of us across the country — mayors and city council members alike — rallied together and said “no”’ to the sweets being offered to us by the feds, we would be doing our part to stop the unhealthy hand-out of tax dollars to projects that are not for the “General Welfare.”
Our children and grandchildren are the ones who ultimately suffer from this irresponsible taking of “taxpayer funds” that don’t exist, which is ratcheting up the federal debt. Our only hope to address the deficit is to cut spending and free up the economy.
Kim Monson is a Lone Tree City Council member