Friday, October 31, 2008

I'm Concerned That There are More Restrictions on Cheap Block Grants Than on Expensive Bail out Capital

During the last three years I've been involved with a team that discussed and allocated a $589,000 federal block grant for Salemtown that is supposed to be used to make streetscape improvements. I learned during that process that there are tight restrictions on what amounts to a microscopic portion of the federal budget. We could not spend the money on infrastructure or programs that were already planned. We could not spend money on behalf of private causes. The entire neighborhood had to be invited to be involved. Multiple layers of Metro government exercised control and approval power over our small neighborhood committee's recommendations: MDHA, Public Works, Metro Council (which had to give final approval). I believe that our discussions with government overseers were often shepherded away from certain projects and our number of options for spending limited.

Given the news lately that the federal government's bail out capital (hundreds of billions) is being spent on executive junkets, socked away as a hedge against risk, and redistributed to Wall Street shareholders without much regulation or restrictions that would shepherd it toward Main Street, I'm left wonder why government oversight is not proportional to the amount of money leaving federal coffers. It appears to me that the Treasury grants much more freedom to banking insiders to spend its money on private initiatives than it gives neighborhoods to enhance their community. Is the difference just another cautionary tale that might makes right? Or is the moral here that the Treasury bail out team needs a few less bankers and few more community leaders? Or perhaps America's financial priorities are merely spiraling down the crapper?

UPDATE: Regarding that last part on our priorities being all messed up; well, it looks like conservative Christian extremists are not helping us reset the mechanism. Wonkette catches them praying to a golden calf.

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