Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Smell of Wealth Redistribution

HARBESON: In federal money we trust

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — People who are concerned about government spending usually point out problems such as cost overruns and waste in a given government project. However, it’s also important to pay attention to the “add-ons,” which are what I call side projects that increase spending and go beyond the scope of the original government plan.

The city of Jeffersonville just gave an excellent example of how these “add-ons” work. Mayor Mike Moore proudly announced that the city will be receiving a $250,000 Main Street Revitalization Grant which will be used to pay for costs associated with redeveloping a block of roadway next to the proposed Big Four Station, which in itself is an “add-on” to the original Big Four pedestrian bridge plan.

Big Four Station, the park Jeffersonville wants to build at the end of the bridge ramp, is supposed to be funded with TIF funding, which would come from city taxpayers. However, the second “add-on” to redevelop the roadway will be using money coerced from people all across the nation.

Many people don’t realize that Main Street Revitalization Grants actually come from the federal government because there is another layer of government at the state level that is in charge of redistributing the funding. In Indiana, this layer of government bureaucracy is called the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (which I always thought had something to do with marital infidelity).

This state bureaucracy distributes Community Development Block Grant money, which is a part of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a program that was passed under a Republican administration in the supposedly great bipartisan days gone by.

If you read up on the Main Street Revitalization Program, you will see that the eligible national objective of this federal government welfare program is the “prevention and elimination of slums and blight.”

I don’t know how these government redistribution schemes work, but Jeffersonville tried to get at this money before and was turned down.

I also don’t know how bureaucrats make decisions in how they will dole out money to the supposedly needy communities but if eliminating blight is a primary objective I guess it couldn’t have hurt the second time around that several homes in the area which had been purchased by the city have been left sitting there, boarded up and unoccupied, which of course led to various problems that could certainly cause the area to be defined as blighted.

The main reason city officials want to develop this block is so they can push pedestrians and pedal pumpers to their downtown shopping district. I’m not sure why a sign or two purchased by the businesses who would like to market to those people couldn’t suffice to direct potential shoppers a block or two away from where they roll down the ramp.

Will there really be the influx of consumers just panting and sweating in anticipation of what they can purchase in Jeffersonville? Most people who cross are likely just interested in finding their way to the river, where they can continue to walk or bike along the water. The river-crossers won’t even necessarily be needing any refreshments because the Waterfront Development Corp. plans to sell licenses to vendors, giving them special “permission” to sell stuff very close or perhaps even right on the bridge itself.

One other point that is often lost when communities celebrate being “awarded” these types of grants is the part they play in increasing the ongoing costs of maintenance and security of more and more government property.

Oh but maybe that doesn’t matter — if the costs get to be too much and the community gets run down and blighted, the federal government will probably just give them even more money to revitalize the area.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson wonders if there is a federal program that pays for revitalization cream to eliminate the blight of aging skin.

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