Hundreds of city leaders are in Washington for the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Considering that winter weather in our nation’s capital is about as warm as Barney Frank’s personality, there’s only one reason for the mayors to meet there: grovel for more federal hand‐outs.
From the New York Times:
Saying that last year’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan has failed to ease urban unemployment, the nation’s mayors are asking the federal government for a second wave of stimulus money.
If you don’t succeed the first time, apparently you should fail, fail again. Charleston’s mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., says that “most economists” believe more federal stimulus spending is the “only thing” that can reduce unemployment. Most Keynesian economists—such as Mark Zandi and Paul Krugman—perhaps, but the broader profession is actually divided on the issue.
The mayors are upset that they “are being deprived of the federal aid owed to them.” To be fair, they are referring to the fact that formulas used to allocate federal surface transportation funds in the stimulus bill went disproportionately to non‐metro areas. But this only serves to illustrate why it’s inefficient for citizens to be taxed by the federal government only to have the money returned to state and local governments through some politicized mechanism. State and local governments should fund their own transportation needs. But mayors are all too happy to receive the “free” money from Washington than funding their spending through the more transparent method of taxing their own constituents.
It takes a tremendous amount of gall for some officials and analysts to argue that the federal government is depriving state and local governments of resources. Donald Kettl, the dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, made such a claim in the December issue of Governing. The chart shows that federal subsidies to state and local government have been going through the roof:
Instead of wasting time and money trying to get federal taxpayers to make their political careers easier, the nation’s mayors should focus on solving their own problems, which as a Cato essay on HUD community development programs notes, are often a result of poor policies:
The reality is that no amount of federal money can overcome the local hurdles to growth in cities such as Detroit—including political corruption and destructive tax and regulatory policies. Indeed, just like international development aid, federal aid to the cities likely increases corruption and stalls much‐needed local reforms.
With the federal government running huge deficits, it cannot afford to fund ineffective and often wasteful local development projects. Community development is a local concern, and only local leaders and businesses using their own funds can make sound cost‐benefit decisions on projects. By providing local leaders with handouts from Washington, we simply encourage them to make irresponsible decisions. At the same time, experience has shown that federal politicians use local projects as political tools that are disconnected from sound economics.