The myth of free money

At a meeting I attended earlier this week, I heard someone talk about state funding available as “money on the table to be had.”

In this instance, they were talking about EXCEL (Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning) Aid available to school districts for capital projects through the State Education Department, but I have heard other forms of aid referred to in a similar way.

Is it unbridled optimism or naiveté that causes people to jump for joy when they hear about opportunities for state or federal funding for a project? I, for one, am a little more skeptical.

Sure, I’d like to believe in that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow standing at the ready to build whatever your little heart desires. But in the case of government dollars, I just can’t.

This is not “free money.” It has to come from somewhere.

When local school boards refer to projects as “aidable,” they are talking about state money available to fund programs or facility improvements in the district. They consider this funding “free,” because it doesn’t have to come from tapping deeper into the local tax rolls.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re not paying for it somehow.

Maybe the amount for a new capital project isn’t included in the check you just wrote for your school taxes, but at some point, it is still going to come out of your pocketbook. It’s not like the state or federal government is printing new money just for that project, and we can’t depend on the leprechauns. Like Republicans, they don’t like to share their wealth.

I’ll continue to use the EXCEL program as an example, because so many of our local districts are trying to tap into this fund, whether they truly need it or not. This particular program is funded by bonding, rather than tax dollars, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the taxpayers footing the final bill.

This program, and so many others, are examples of the rampant spending in Albany. The state’s debt has increased to such an extent that, to decrease the shortfalls, they are talking about mid-year takebacks from school and BOCES districts.

Not to mention the massive budget cuts going forward, like cuts to the state highway budget that have reportedly nixed funding for replacing the State Street bridge in Oxford.

Who will have to make up the difference? Local taxpayers, thank you very much.

I am certainly not saying that every request for state or funding for a program or project is unnecessary. Some of them are absolutely essential to the well-being of our local communities.

But let us look at a school district, for example, with rapidly declining enrollment. (And there is more than one that fits the bill.) Why, in this current economic climate, are they persisting to go after this money?

While the rest of us are trying to tighten our belts, they’re in a bit of a feeding frenzy trying to ensure that they get “their share.”

Will they ever learn that state and federal funding is not free money? Unfortunately, it is the taxpayers lined up to learn this lesson the hard way.

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