You can’t spend money without cause

Recently someone asked me why government in general and Great Barrington in particular spend so much money on so many things. I answered, “Because they can.” I am a liberal. I believe that government should help solve problems. I believe that our children should get the best education possible and if we want the best and the brightest to teach them, we have to pay teachers as we would pay our doctors.

But when government wastes our money, it is counter-productive. It makes people angry and they end up distrusting government. They are inclined to vote for bad proposals like Question 3 on this year’s ballot that would limit how much money can be raised by government. If government wastes money on projects that are just designed to spend money with no thought; if government wastes our money, especially in hard times like these, it infuriates our taxpayers. All of this is especially true when some of our senior citizens can hardly afford to stay in their home and pay their taxes.

Government serves a sacred trust. When you unnecessarily cut down trees in the middle of Great Barrington, when you re-pave and widen streets so that speeders will speed even faster, when you spend huge amounts of taxpayer money to build libraries and then lock the doors at 5 o’clock so that our children can’t use the computers or study, you undermine government. People lose faith.

So, when I read in this very newspaper that here is a potential plan afoot to raze a beautiful, modern high school like Monument Mountain because the electrical system is too old to support modern computer learning or because there are too many doors to the high school creating a security hazard, or because the school boiler is too old, I am infuriated. The old joke used to go that a conservative is a liberal who has just been mugged. We are about to be mugged and it’s just plain depressing. My worst fear is that if the government trots this one out and it fails, they’ll just come up with a different way spend our money.

What this means, of course, is that the citizenry has to be eternally vigilant. We have to ask questions. We have to watch these people.

Let’s just review a few of the rationales offered for possibly tearing down the beautiful high school. The most obvious is that the boiler needs replacing. What would you do if the boiler in your house needed replacing? You’d do what I did, you’d get another one. Does anyone really believe that you would save money by tearing down a high school because of an old boiler?

Then there is the argument that there are too many doors and entrances to the high school. A security hazard, we are told. You really can’t be serious! The obvious answer is to close down some of the entrances and leave some open. We remember when some stupid kid decided to ride a motorcycle down the hallway from one end of the school to another. That was a long time ago. It seemed then that if you left the front door open and closed the doors at both ends of the great hall, the motorcycle incident and other problems could be solved.

Do you need to rewire the school so it can support more computers? Get the electricians and computer wizards together and figure it out. Does anyone really believe that with all the knowledge we have about computer systems, we can’t solve this problem?

We are supposedly coming out of a great recession. People are hurting. Our retirements are threatened. Our kids need all the help we can give them. Why in the world would we invest our tax dollars in projects that could easily be put off? None of this makes any sense. And the arguments in favor of tearing down a wonderful high school that has more space than it needs because there are fewer kids there now than there were when the school first opened are just stupid.

There will be those who write and say that there was no such intention, that the state was just invited in to give advice on whether to fix up the school or to start over. But that’s how they play the game. You drop a pebble in the water and then, after moving forward with the plan, you say, “Well, we told you what we were going to do.”

I want to hear from the School Committee and the Selectmen and the town manager on this. Once they tell us where they stand, we can hold them responsible.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/9/10

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One Comment on “You can’t spend money without cause”

  1. David Vincent, a City Expatriate Says:

    The editorial you wrote is provocative but skewed too far on behalf of the lack of controls in generic Government. Spending by Government does not occur because of ability it is quite specific and usually starts with a wonderful scenario to fix and the surely evolves into a big bowl feeding special interests, like standing water begins to smell. I work in a State Agency that you employ one of the principal appointees. The Agency was created out of a knee jerk response to Public Health Insurance and revelations that the wealthy Governor wanted to use Public Health Insurance to put his father in a nursing home. It is my personal belief that certain things should be available at little or no cost to everyone. One of them is health care. Your employee’s boss has been in trouble since day one due to inexperience and an unusual appointment by Eliot. Thus getting back to what government should do. One of them is to ensure adequate public health insurance for everyone by prevent fraud and abuse. Instead this agency is owned by special interests. The first special interest is actual political interference in its functioning by converting it into an employment agency for relatives and friends of medium level politician’s family and friends producing bogus accomplishments. Consider this example not dissimilar to the school agency you speak of. When the special interests are upset with this agency for walking on their roads they have their politicians hold meaningless hearings. Then its business as usual. Sharing equal responsibility is the agency and the other components of government for their circus act and failure to meet the vital needs of the people. Ironically you have contributed to this circus and failure to ensure the maximum amount of people receive public health insurance by enabling your employee who also works there to protect those responsible. The answer is that the function of local, State and National Government, and this coming from the soul of a progressive is that Government’s role is to regulate and motivate but never to control. Government other responsibility is to lead and motivate. Research in significant medical issues (you’re favorite) produced the polio vaccine, HIV, influenza, and so much more by doing or paying for the continuing research. The only other thing that Government can do is print debt obligations and print the money supply to pay for these obligations. I like to domestic (not foreign policy)of the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. His cousin later did a better overall job. I bet you do. too.


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