How would you feel if you and 59 other neighbors were assessed $50 apiece to improve your neighborhood but only someone 2,700 miles away could determine how that money would be spent?
And what if that person determined the money would be spent on a statue in the neighborhood park, ignoring other pressing needs like potholes, broken sewer pipes, and such?
You wouldn’t be happy but the correct answer would be that you’d feel like a federal taxpayer.
The $6.9 million transit station breaking ground this year on Moffat Boulevard at South Main Street is the same thing.
The federal government - as well as the state - collected money from you and then offers to give it back to you only if they determine your need. And if you say no to the money, they simply take your money and give it to another community.
So what’s better: Being stuck with the bill and having nothing to show for it or being stuck with the bill and having something that isn’t exactly high on your list as a pressing need?
The transit station undoubtedly will be nice but there are certainly more effective ways to spend $6.9 million to improve transportation around Manteca. Folks in Washington and Sacramento, though, not only decide what gas taxes and other taxes collected specifically for transit must go to in specific categories such as mass transit but they also give the thumbs up or thumbs down on what federal transit “grants” can be used for on the local level.
Somehow a $6.9 million expenditure of tax dollars to build a 7,000-square-foort structure to serve Manteca Transit and San Joaquin Regional Transit riders along with two meeting rooms and a public plaza seems a bit over the top.
Manteca - just like other jurisdictions - is forced to play by rules made by a handful of people 45 miles away in Sacramento or more than 2,700 miles away in Washington, D.C. If we’re lucky, they at least know where Manteca might be located, although they certainty have no inkling of local economic and transit dynamics.
It would be one thing if it was an expenditure for the common defense for national security or even building a freeway system for vital interstate commerce. But a transit station to serve local bus and train systems?
It represents money that Uncle Sam has taken from us and then is returning pennies on the dollar to “help us.”
While the New Deal and Great Society get low marks for the wanton expansion of the federal government, it was the era of Richard Nixon that made the process perverse. The most liberal Republican president by far of the 20th century gave America the Environmental Protection Agency, the Endangered Species Act, the Earned Income Tax Credit and even price controls through his infamous dud of a program known as Whip Inflation Now or WIN.
In 1972 Nixon outdid himself by helping Federal Revenue Sharing come into play. Simply put, the federal government divided up a big pot of cash it collected from everyone, and then redistributed it on a per capita basis to cities with 20 percent taken off the top for “handling and processing costs.”
And if a city balked at the idea of such a nakedly transparent program of taking money out of taxpayers’ pockets, skimming off the top to feed the ever-expanding federal bureaucracy, and giving it back only after the federal government could decide what cities could spend it on, they would be punished.
The punishment was that the money essentially taken from their city’s taxpayers by Uncle Sam would go to another jurisdiction
Ronald Reagan ended Federal Revenue Sharing but couldn’t muster enough support from his fiscal conservative brethren in Congress to completely kill the concept. Instead, Uncle Sam rolled out block grants. Instead of taking a dollar, skimming off 20 cents and then returning the 80 cents back to a community for projects that were blessed by the federal government Uncle Sam simply gave the 80 cents back with broad guidelines.
The end result has been undermining local control and making cities dependent on hitting up the federal government for money that Uncle Sam really did not need to take in the first place
One can only imagine what members of the Continental Congress would think of cities lobbying the federal government to get their money back and that same government deciding how it could be spent in a local community.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.