Can Wyoming Slay Fedzilla?

By Bradley Harrington

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” – Howard Aiken, “Portraits in Silicon,” 1987 –

As anyone who follows my column knows well, I am a vociferous advocate for abolishing Wyoming’s reliance on federal funding for any of its internal operations. For what happens if and when those dollars disappear, or threaten to become substantially reduced?

By creating that kind of vulnerability within our own state’s business, we:

► Lose our independence to the federal government, and therefore the ability to make our own decisions, since he who controls the dollars controls the declarations;

► Place ourselves in the position of relying upon external economic factors outside of our control – such that should those factors fail, we have to scramble to make up for the lack.

Hare-brained politicians who have no clue as to either principle, however, continue to prostrate themselves for “free” federal funds, and what you end up with is this:

“An upcoming deadline is once again threatening Wyoming’s share of federal highway money. Congress has until May 31 to extend a bill that provides billions of dollars to states – including $228 million a year to Wyoming – for surface transportation projects.” (“Highway funding concerns grow as congressional deadline looms,” WTE, Mar. 25.)

And some of the threats we face, if that money doesn’t materialize? “Officials say missing the cutoff would delay or cancel needed highway repairs and potentially cause job losses in the state’s construction industry.”

Now, if that bothers you, I’d suggest you strap in good and tight, for “the hits just keep on coming”:

► Wyoming’s “share” of the federal highway heist comprises fully 65 percent of our highway budget, whereas other states get by on an average of 40 percent. Naturally, this makes us far more vulnerable in the event the dollars decide to dwindle.

► Repairs done later instead of sooner raise costs overall, thanks to inflation, as the prices of both labor and materials continue to escalate.

► Fedzilla’s Highway Trust Fund, the source of most of the transportation allocations to the states, continues to spend more money than it steals, and there’s some real opposition in Congress to funding that shortfall through further taxes.

► Consequently, some state bureaucrats are getting worried indeed. For, unlike times in past years, WYDOT Director John Cox tells us that “this time there is not an identified funding stream in order to reauthorize the bill.” Oops.

Indeed, Mr. Cox continues, “If the (federally funded) program drops, it will sharply and deeply impact our ability to maintain the highways.”

► And, on top of all of that, WYDOT doesn’t have enough of its own money anyway. Even in the event that Fedzilla’s funds finally arrive, “the agency says it needs $64 million more a year to be able to maintain the highway system in its current state.”

So, do you think state officials are “worried” enough to question the foolishness of relying upon the instability of such “funding streams”? And do you think anyone is stepping up to the plate to suggest that maybe we should just quit relying upon those “free” federal dollars that are the root cause of this entire headache?

But the sound of crickets in that arena is somewhat deafening. To be followed by the thunderous roar of all of our “free” federal chickens coming home to roost.

BUT, we’re going to spend over $300 million to renovate the Capitol, an amount of money much larger than what WYDOT will get from the feds for an entire year, and we’re also sitting on a $2 billion bank account that isn’t even collecting enough interest to make up for Fedzilla’s destruction of our dollar through inflation.

And all of this, we were told in our last legislative session, constitutes “fiscal responsibility.”

Sure it does. And I can hear the squeals of the pigs flying over the Capitol, too.

So: What’s the answer here? First off, we need to cancel the Capitol renovation project and redirect those funds to our much-needed road repairs.

Next, we need to take whatever money is needed out of our $2 billion reserve and finish that job.

Afterwards, we need to permanently rearrange our budgetary alignments and tell Fedzilla to go stomp around somewhere else.

And, finally, we need to seriously consider outsourcing all highway maintenance to private contractors and implementing a system of user fees that are devoid of both force and political control.

Just because roads and road maintenance are essential operations doesn’t mean it’s essential that government do it. Competition and free markets would handle those operations just fine – as compared to our current catastrophe.

But that’s an idea, I’m afraid, that’s good enough to require being rammed down people’s throats.

Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming; he can be reached at brad@bradandbarbie.com.

 

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