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Too Much Money, Too Many Buckets

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By Ed Braddy
American Dream Coalition

Politicians at all levels like to play a “gotcha” game with their boss – that is, the people. 

This is especially true in local governments.  When citizens oppose the government’s endless thirst for Other People’s Money, they are usually told cuts will have to be made for essential services like police and emergency services.

In Osceola County, commissioners are trying to close a $2.8 million dollar budget deficit and the county manager wants to cut $650,000 from fire rescue.  Yet these same hand-wringers recently spent $9.2 million to purchase 370 acres for land conservation.  Gotta keep that land out of the hands of greedy developers, right?

Wrong.  It turns out that over 100 acres of this land, called the Tohoqua property, are part of the state’s protected areas and another 139 acres are degraded wetlands, which means two-thirds of the land could not be developed anyway.  Not only had the commission’s staff recommended spending a half-million less on the property, but the county’s own Land Conservation Advisory Board recommended against the purchase.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, under state environmental regulations the degraded wetlands must be restored at an additional cost of $3 million.  So Osceola County taxpayers are still on the hook for more spending.

This is a case of too much money in the hands of politicians with itchy trigger fingers.  But how could they spend more than $9 million when they cannot even provide $650,000 to fund a core service like fire rescue?

Because – in the parlance of politics – government has different “buckets” of money to spend.  In 2003, voters approved the SAVE Osceola program that puts tax dollars into a separate bucket for the purchase ecologically sensitive areas.  The Tohoqua property was purchased out of this bucket.  Fire rescue is funded out of a different bucket.  Osceola County probably has a half-dozen or more other “buckets” filled with taxpayer money that cannot be spent on core services.

Regardless of how many “buckets” the government has, there’s only one pool of taxpayers to draw from.  The problem is two-fold: Government has too much money and it has too many buckets.

Ed Braddy is director of the American Dream Coalition that promotes freedom, mobility, and homeownership.

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