“It does not make sense to send a dollar to Washington and hope that 50 cents returns.” – Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota.
The financial problems of the city of Johnstown and Cambria County are well documented. They are not unique and are shared by many, if not most, areas of the nation. Perhaps a solution can be found by looking at the problem from a different perspective and by a collaborative effort of all concerned Americans.
One thing is for certain, at least in our locale. Those who differ on the solutions to the financial problems have at least one thing in common: They love their city and county.
When problems arise, it is human nature for most of us to point fingers at the closest target. And when those problems are related to taxes, we tend to point our fingers at local school boards, city councils and county commissioners. Arguably, they are deserving of some of the blame, but it is time that the finger-pointing is directed elsewhere.
In 2012, the average person in Pennsylvania paid $1,053 in state and local taxes and $1,305 in property taxes (http://taxfoundation.org). In federal taxes, $8,500 was paid (http://en.wikipedia.org). If the amounts are correct, they reflect a gross imbalance of taxes paid to Washington, especially since most of the services that a community requires are provided locally. Simply stated, we live here and not in the nation’s capital.
Congress spent $37 billion alone for foreign aid – or as some refer to it, foreign welfare – in 2013. Of that amount, $23 billion was for humanitarian aid and $14 billion for military aid (http://nationalpriorities.org).
Suppose that $1 billion of that aid was given to Pennsylvania. Each of our 67 counties could receive $10 million, and $330 million would still remain.
To be clear, money earmarked for foreign aid leaves our nation’s treasury every year. It is money that not only could be spent here but is very much in need here. County commissioners and comptrollers across the commonwealth most likely would agree that the money would be well spent.
Many of the projects that are taking place in our area, whether updates to sewer systems or improvements to our dams, are mandated by the state, but, regrettably, not funded by the state. The
$330 million, money that could be coming to the state every year, could be used in part to fund projects.
Before suggesting a possible solution to the financial problems, there are two matters that should be addressed briefly.
Ventura has maintained for years that it is foolish to send money to Washington with the hope that some of it returns. He contends that less money should be sent and more should be kept in the state. (Simple, yet profound!)
It is not suggested that foreign aid is unimportant. It is suggested that the aid should come from individuals, churches and private humanitarian aid organizations instead of the government. Of interest, there are nearly 2,000 foreign lobbyists in Washington whose only job is to influence members of Congress to keep sending the aid (http://www.newsweek.com/when-lobbyists-work-authoritarian-nations-7481).
Finger-pointing is easy. Finding solutions, on the other hand, is difficult. There are two groups that have the desire, and may have the ability, to solve some of our problems. They have at least some members in common. They are the constitutional conservatives and the tea party.
Constitutional conservatives firmly believe that the Constitution should be followed as written and not be re-interpreted. On the matter of foreign aid, they avow that the Constitution does not make allowances for it. They point to Article I, Section 8, and explain that Congress can only spend money in three areas: paying debts, defense and general welfare of the United States.
Before changes can be made to correct any problem, those who can affect the changes must be informed. It is suggested that the constitutional conservatives undertake a nationwide campaign to inform all Americans that, according to our Founding Fathers, their tax dollars must be spent on Americans.
Since its inception, the tea party has identified the source of our financial problems. It has been suggested that it focus its efforts – redirect its finger-pointing, if you will – at the money that leaves the treasury for foreign countries, specifically foreign aid.
Whether or not you agree with the methods of the tea party, its intentions, for the most part, have been honorable. It is also suggested that it adjust those methods from discourse to putting pen to paper. That is, it should conduct a nationwide campaign that asks Americans to sign a petition that would encourage Congress to end the practice of foreign aid.
It seems reasonable to conclude that if the constitutional conservatives inform the nation about the intentions of the Founding Fathers regarding taxes, and, as a direct consequence, the tea party can elicit 100 million signatures on a petition – the number of voters in the last presidential election – Congress would respect the wishes of the government of the people.
Finally, improving conditions in our country will take a collaborative effort by all concerned Americans – Democrats, Republicans, independents, conservatives and tea party members. No one group can do it alone.
It is not implied that the solution outlined here is the only solution – it is but one of many. Let us hope that it is just the beginning of changes that will improve life in our cities, counties and country.
Stephen J. Verotsky of Johnstown, a retired high school mathematics teacher after 36 years of service, is an occasional contributor to the editorial page.