Magic Pots Of Money

First published on the Wake Up Tucson Blog:

Over the last year I have taken issue with characterizations of politicians here in Tucson. Specifically the commendations and congratulations for spending time and effort focusing on, and eventually succeeding in, bringing federal grants to our local community (in the form of TIGER and other federal transportation dollars) for our newest, big scale, fun-time, public works project: The Modern Streetcar.

Without getting into a lot of other issues with this project let me state one simple fact that people seem to be missing: There is no magic pot of free money in Washington, DC.

Federal grants and project funding only come from our own pockets or from pockets in other communities.

To the former, why are we sending money to Washington just to have it sent back to Tucson? To the latter, why should Tucsonans be living off of anyone else?

However, the situation is more complicated than that simple philosophical construct. You could answer that you believe that both of those are wrong and you still would likely take the money. Why? Because you don’t want someone else living off of you either. If we don’t take the money, won’t someone else?

Nasty little conundrum, right??

So we fight (i.e. “lobby”), through all the prerequisite negotiating, conditions, requirements, hoop jumping, etc, for our “fair share” of federal dollars. And if we get them in the end, after the IRS agents, accountants, managers and impact studies are paid for, that dollar that began in a Tucsonan’s pocket has been wrung through the strainers and beaten about until we’re lucky to get a couple quarters back to work in the town where it started.

I have sold insurance for some time and it has some relevant similarities. It involves money sent to large organizations who pool the premiums from a lot of clients in order to pay the claims of a few. And this consolidation process costs money: claims adjusting, billing departments, marketing expenses, etc. Which means that for every dollar you pay for insurance only about 50-60% will go out as settlements. This inefficiency leads to a simple recommendation to every client I have, “Do not buy insurance against risks which you could pay for yourself.

I am giving that same advice to the people of our community: Please stop promoting a process of sending huge amounts of money to Washington just for them to send us back part of what they took to handle issues from afar that we can take care of ourselves.

Can insurance be a vital tool? Yes. Can government? Sure. But I argue we have lost almost all sense of discernment of when are the appropriate times.

Does it actually make any sense for an organization 2000 miles away to build a road or cross walk around the corner from my house rather than our city (or my neighborhood) doing it ourselves?

You can probably guess I lean towards the resounding “No” side of that question.

But the problem is even worse than that because of a significant difference between insurance and government.

With insurance choice is available. You can change carriers for a better rate or choose not to take a policy at all (to “assume the risk”). Our federal government doesn’t work like that though.

They are an insurer who lets you opt out of benefits but still makes you pay premiums.

With government you can say no thank you to many of the goodies, but you still are forced to put money in the group goodie fund.

Thus we’re back to fighting each other.

If we don’t take that road or cross walk, someone else will… and because we have no choice over the taxes only over the piece of the pie we try to grab for ourselves, it becomes self-perpetuating. Acting like a drug or addiction. At first it seems to be a benefit (a new bridge or school), but over time we are simply scrambling back for our next fix just so we don’t fall behind… just so that more money isn’t leaving Tucson that is being brought back in.

The only way to pull out of this spiral is to be clear with lawmakers: We will no longer support those who work to bring home the bacon. Going forward we will support only those who work to keep the bacon at home.

Just like any addiction however, there will be a period of withdrawal. A time of discomfort (pain even) as we learn to live without the artificial, redistributed cash which Washington offers up. But also like withdrawal there is a healthier economic future on the other side of that hard time.

We’ll never get healthy though, if we keep believing in the magic pots of money, if we keep patting those people on the back who perpetuate and promote the fantasy of “free Washington cash”.

I hope as a community we can admit we have a problem and commit to kicking our habit.

I pray we do it before we accidentally overdose.

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