I have some fairly strong opinions about the way government ought to be run, but I usually keep them to myself. I don't know why this particular issue is blog-worthy, but it's something I've been pondering ever since the "Road Construction Ahead" signs went up outside my apartment complex last week.
I am a cyclist. I am a cyclist who commutes daily, often in an urban environment. I ride move than 10 miles on uneven potholed roads while competing for space with cars. About ¼ to ⅓ of the roads I ride on have bike lanes in various states of repair. They are a blessing to both the cyclists and automobile drivers.
The construction signs went up last week on the main street in front of our apartment complex. While it will be a bit of an inconvenience, I'm generally grateful for public works projects which improve infrastructure. However, I was curious what the construction was for. Were they widening the road? Resurfacing? Adding a sidewalk to the north side?
After a bit of searching, I discovered a couple of news stories briefly mentioning the purpose of the construction:
Cyclists in Austin will soon have more room on the road.Thursday the city council approved a plan to create bike-only lanes along Lake Austin Boulevard at Lyons golf course.Cyclists say the lanes will tie together pre-existing lanes in West Austin. They say they should also make the road safer for cars and bikes alike.
"Cool!" I think. This is a road I ride multiple times per day, and they are going to improve the bike lanes. What could be bad about that?
Then I found this little nugget at the end:
The lanes come at a cost of more than $800,000. Federal tax funds will pay for them.And that's where I have a problem. Neglecting the fact that almost a million dollars will be spent on this project, it's the source of the funding that I really take issue with. Why in the world is the federal government paying for the 1¼ miles of bike lane outside my apartment? How in the world is this remotely related to anybody beyond my immediate locale, and why should they be funding this? If anything, the funding should be coming from city coffers, since it's the citizens of Austin who will benefit, and none of the other 300 million members of our democratic republic.
But you know what? The citizens of Austin probably are paying for this anyway! The city can't raise the money it needs to because of the onerous tax burden placed on its residents by Washington, so they have to get those same dollars by chasing grant money coming from Congress. Instead of keeping the money locally, where is it taxed and spent, it gets to go on a 3,000-mile trip to Washington and back, with dozens of people and organizations taking their cut along the way.
The end result is little accountability, and lots of overhead, meaning that a $800,000 project is probably paid for by taxing 2 or 3 times that.
And that, my friends, is the real problem with federal spending: the fact that the vast majority of it exists at all. It should be local or state spending, but not federal. Unfortunately, the little sentence known as the Tenth Amendment has long ago lost any meaning for the vast majority of American leaders.
(You may now go back to your regularly-scheduled programming. I promise not to wax political for at least a few more months. :) )