Friday, November 04, 2005

And we'll bill you later.

We all know about the belief on the part of conservatives that states should 'carry their own weight' without relying on Federal help.

And, we all know about the slow response on the part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Hurricane Katrina. So today, the other shoe dropped: FEMA sent the state of Louisiana a bill for $3.7 billion to cover the state's share of the costs for Hurricane relief.

Now, it is true that Federal law (because of a provision put in at the behest of conservatives) requires that this bill be sent, and that it represents about nine percent of the total federal expenditures in the state after Katrina. However, there was NO INDICATION that any relief from the bill will be forthcoming. And how big a bill is it?

The $3.7 billion represents just under half of the $8 billion the state spends per year and comes as the extensive flooding around New Orleans has severely undercut tax revenue. The state is in the midst of heavy cost-cutting to whittle down a projected $1 billion shortfall.

In other words, it represents nearly half of the state budget. Leaving the lower tax revenue to the state aside, it would certainly force, if paid, the state to shut down schools all over the state, close universities and end state programs to many, many people all over the state (and I am assuming here that they would choose to keep inmates locked up and emergency workers on the job; I suppose an alternative scenario would be to open the prison doors and let the emergency workers go in order to fund schools). The problem here is again, not that the bill came as required by law, but the fact that even with this shocking bill there is NO indication that the state of Louisiana will be forgiven even a part of it.

Of course, this is not out of line with what the Republicans in Congress and the White House have been doing since the immediate coverage of the storm died down. As I blogged on a number of earlier occasions, no-bid contracts for cleanup and rebuilding were initially given to politically well connected companies from out of the area instead of local contractors. Then President Bush began their job by suspending Davis-Bacon, allowing all those out of state contractors to avoid labor laws, which many of them used to hire undocumented aliens instead of any of the many thousands of local residents who badly needed the work. A proposal by Democrats (including me to delay the implementation of the new bankruptcy law for people in the effected zip codes was also stopped cold by Republicans (with a crucial vote against it being cast by Lousiana's junior Senator, David Vitter, who apparently sided with the credit card industry against thousands of people who he supposedly represents). Then pretty much the entire Senate (including a bunch of wrong-headed Democrats, to be honest) followed it up by refusing to divert funds from pork projects in Alaska to rebuild the Lake Pontchartrain causeway between New Orleans and St. Tammany Parish on the north side of the lake.

So, don't expect that the President will be quick to offer relief to the state. He may when he gets back from Argentina, but only because it was the lead story today in USA Today.

Now, as a liberal, I would point out that our founding fathers, who could have easily, and were under pressure to, left a 'balkanized' America consisting of thirteen independent states, all with their own government wrangling with each other, instead formed a more perfect union. Despite the problems between states and regions since then, we are all Americans, and I have no problem conceptually with paying taxes that go to rebuild Louisiana. They need it right now. The spirit of a Federal America is that we all stick together. And ironically, it is the 'blue states' who now subsidize 'red states', with for example, residents of New Jersey getting back on $.57 for every dollar in taxes that they paid to the Federal government, and voters in California getting back only $.80, while blue-turned-red New Mexico gets $1.99 per dollar in federal taxes, for example. However, it seems that the mean spiritedness of 'you're on your own, buddy' that we hear mainly from the right has overwhelmed this generosity and today it was Lousiana that was the victim.

And the state of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans? Well, today, they were forced to divert some police from their duties and put in some overtime so they could provide security when Prince Charles and Camilla came to gawk at the misery.

Glad to know that our leadership has their priorities straight.


doctorj2u said...

I am a native New Orleanean. Thank you for your thoughts and concern. One thing, though, the "you are on your own" mentality is coming equaly from the right and the left. This has been a true civic lesson, a lesson in how government does not work. I never in my wildest dreams thought that after all the destruction we would have to defend that we actually deserve to exist.

Eli Blake said...

Well, as you probably read, I didn't spare Democrats criticism for their votes on the Alaska pork bill.

However, in general, I would point out that the Democratic Party had on its main page (and still has) a link for donating aid and helping with housing for hurricane victims.

And as far as the priorities and reactions of your own two Senators are concerned, well you can see the difference, I don't have to tell you that.

And yes, the government failed. And a lot of it was that the government was set up to fail. We know that the local director of the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to increase protection all the way up to category five, and this was not done. And we know that FEMA should never have been lumped in with the Homeland Security Department.

I do not believe that Government has to fail. In fact, I would posit that in 1933, there were far more homeless and displaced people throughout the country than there are now as a result of Katrina. No single region may have been devastated as badly, but the entire country was stuck in low gear (although the Dust Bowl of 1934-36 did pretty much depopulate large areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle). Yet it was the government by taking swift and decisive action started to reverse this (although it took a decade and a war to finally end the situation). And people recognized it at the time.

The problem is that we haven't had a really effective government in decades. Not since LBJ squandered it in an unwinnable war.