Monday, March 27, 2017

Budgeting in the era of Trump: Getting a grasp on the local via the proposed budget. Philosophy, Subsidiarity, Distributism, Socialism, Wisonism, FDRism, . . . oh my! Or, did we really mean that when we said it?

 FDR Handbill.

For decades Republicans, and the majority of Wyomingites are Republicans, have decried the "out of control" Federal budget.  And not without some reason.  The Federal government has grown enormously in the past century.  When this is mentioned the norm is to note the big expansion that came about during the Great Depression, but when we look at all of the 1916 and 1917 newspapers I've been posting for a little over a year now, it's clear that quite a bit of that trend existed even during the Progressive Era.

I've posted on budget matters and the concepts behind them, which are rarely discussed anywhere, here before and indeed I just posted one on the Trump proposed budget.  I have a thread that I may or may not finish started on health care, and oddly enough, that fits into this topic nicely. But I'll address that (probably) elsewhere (probably).

Here I'm going to address something I've noted here quite a bit before, but which people seem to be otherwise noticing for the first time.  And that topic is, so to speak, where the Federal money hits the road, particularly if it threatens to pick up and take the road out.

Starting off, I'll note that a recent issue of the The New Republic, to which I am a subscriber almost, had an article on this topic just recently.  I say subscriber almost as I've let my subscription lapse.  I've been a subscriber since, I think, 1985 when the magazine was given to me as a gift but it's descended into pathetic and I'm bailing out before it actually sinks.  Anyhow, the recent article was written in a snarky almost "don't you love me?" style by some disaffected "blue" stater who was upset by the last election.  His argument was that the "blue" states (which I think should be the "red" states in keeping with the international political color scheme used everywhere else) should just ignore the "red" states, fund themselves, and then sooner or later the blue states would come crying back, after seeing that they are economic freeloaders.

I think perhaps that author overestimates, massively, the degree to which a lot of red staters don't care about things blue staters do. This usually becomes obvious when we read letters to the editor in the local paper that read like "if you don't ban wolf hunting I won't go to Yellowstone".  Don't come. We don't care.

Which doesn't mean that a lot of this budget stuff, if it actually passes, won't be noticed.

Yesterday we read in the paper that Cody might loose air service, for example.

Apparently Cody's air service is subsidized by the Federal government.  I had no idea whatsoever, and I'll bet most Wyomingites don't either.  I didn't know that the Federal government, outside of administering airports and air travel (which is a type of subsidy, but an absolutely necessary one) subsidized any air travel.  But, it turns out, it does.

It does because it was recognized, when the airlines were deregulated, that the air carriers would abandon small towns.  So a Federal program was put in to subsidize it.

British Antarctic Survey Plane at our airport.  Our airport isn't subsidized, so it'll keep on keeping on and maybe even do better if small airports aren't subsidized. 

But, should that have been done?

I don't know.

On one had, I get it.  This is a big state, and air travel is really useful.  Indeed, just recently I looked into trying to fly into Cody as I had a funeral to attend in Powell, and I was in Houston.  I didn't do it, but I could have.

But, on the other hand, it's hard for me to justify the United States paying for subsidized air travel into Cody.

Maybe the state could?

The state does in fact give a little funding to airports, and last year there was some discussion on this in regards to Riverton's airport. But, with a big budget crunch, I doubt that Wyoming has the bucks for subsidized air travel, and maybe philosophically it shouldn't bother.  After all, is it the job of the government to subsidize the quickest means of transportation?

Well, some countries clearly think so, and lots at least build high speed rail.  I don't know that high speed rail doesn't pay for itself, but I do know that I love the conventional speed rail put in by the City of Denver to downtown.  Is it subsidized?  I have no idea.


I do know that for a century the Federal government has been involved in funding highway construction, and this became a huge deal during the Eisenhower Administration.  While dressed up in various ways the truth of the matter is that the Federal government just felt that a national highway system benefited everyone, and in particular commerce.

I've noted here before that this amounts to a subsidy of the trucking industry.  Trucker are amongst the most "red" of "red stateers" (in the goofy American color reversal description, i.e., I don't mean truckers are Communist, far from it), and they would not be capable of accepting that they are subsidized, but they are.  If truckers paid fully for their use of the highways, they'd howl, and of course the railroads, with home they are competing, would laugh all the way to the bank. Railroad are already the most efficient and green mans of hauling anything and they'd no doubt welcome the added business that would necessarily come about if the Federal government told the states "pay for your own darned roads".

I don't know what the Federal budget actually does, this go around, for road construction and maintenance, but I have to think that the states must be worried. Generally, I think, there's a general concept that the states like being able to maintain the roads themselves but its in the common good that the Federal government pay for things.

This, sort of, is also the way, very loosely, that a lot of environmental regulation works.  In Wyoming the State Department of Environmental Quality actually administers most of the laws that the EPA does in states that haven't elected to run things themselves.  Now, DEQ is worried what reduced EPA funding will mean to the DEQ.  The answer isn't really clear.

Cutting back on all sort of Federal regulation, via the budgetary process, has long been a conservative dream and many in the state are gleeful that it appears that will occur.  This gets to be less the case, however, when that money falls outside of the conventional regulatory category and into other areas.  The state is now worrying, for example, about the upcoming fire season as its clear that if the budget goes through there's less money to fight forest fires and we're having a hard time with that already.  

Here the equity of things would seem to demand that the Federal government, as the state's largest landowner, fund fighting fires on its own land.  The irony of this, however, is that this is one of the very things those opposed to transferring the public domain, like me, argued about. There's no earthly way the Western states can pay for fire suppression.  None-whatsoever.   We can't do it.  The Feds should.  We need them to.

Casper Mountain Fire of 2012.  It was bad.  Federal money helped suppress it.  It's not like the county could afford those fire bombers. 


I'll note that at least if you are a sportsmen, budget cuts at the Federal level are really distressing. For well over a century, indeed dating back to at least the Theodore Roosevelt administration, Federal money and Federal programs have been very active in this area.  Moreover, in quite a few of them, but not all of them, taxes on sporting equipment completely fund the programs. There wouldn't be a wild animal bigger than a rabbit left alive in this country, for example, but for sportsmen and the taxes they pay on their equipment.

So cutting this stuff is really distressing.  Its an interesting example of, in many cases, a small segment of the population paying for something that benefits everyone.  Could the states take over in this area?

Well, not in this era, that's certain.  They don't want to.

That may sound cynical but that's the best evidence.  It hasn't always been that way, however.  The State of Wyoming was a real pioneer in game conservation and the ethos that caused that is still there.  If recent evidence means anything, however, a spirit of "sell it" has taken over the minds of various legislatures.  We would have had to really worry about the Wyoming legislature and the Utah legislature seems seized by delusion right now.  The GOP in Montana is trying to disassociate itself with such views right now, realizing that its caused Democratic gains in the state.  Wyoming Democrats didn't seem to gain, but the legislature did get a clue about 2.5 seconds before Cheyenne threatened to start looking, metaphorically, like a scene from a Sergei Eisenstein movie.

Protestors at the Legislature this year. . . oh wait, that's a poster for the Battleship Potemkin.

This is an interesting example how the principal of subsidiarity doesn't always work in the real world.  Wyomingites would rather live in tents than have the public land sold, and they'd like to fund conservation efforts too.  Most of them don't think the BLM is the Gestapo for that matter.  But if you looked at the bad ideas coming out of our legislature last session, you wouldn't know that. For that matter, if you looked at the junk our representation in Washington supports you wouldn't realize that either, at least as to the public lands and their administration.  Of course, they may know that too, which is why, maybe, they've avoided doing much in the way of public appearances while on recess.

Anyhow, what all this brings to mind is the fundamental question.  What do we think we should fund, and should it be funded locally or nationally?  Put another way, is it fair to the residents of New Jersey to tax them for air travel in Wyoming?  What about highway travel?  

As a nation, we've never really figures this out.

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