Many people believe that the government can give us things for free.
I recently attended a public meeting about proposed new development around five Saint Louis/Illinois Metro stations (Transit-Oriented Development, or TOD). The speaker discussed how we can have anything we want — new grocery stores, Walmarts, restaurants, you name it. One guy raised his hand to ask a wise question. He wondered whether an increase in taxes will pay for these projects.
You could see the minor panic on the speaker’s face when he had to talk about how we would pay for such a thing. He indicated that the funding would come from many sources, and we likely could receive money from above. Oh right, money falling from the sky, I have seen that happen from time to time.
What he meant, of course, is the likelihood of receiving contributions from other levels of government to help pay for these projects. And people at the meeting were nodding their heads as if they were saying, “OK, good, so I am not paying for this.” Wrong! Just because you are not writing a check directly to these projects does not mean that you are not paying for it. Almost all of us (taxpayers) pay for the federally subsidized projects that occur all over the country.
It is a problem to disassociate ourselves with government because it does not help us achieve the best outcomes. If we think that someone else is picking up the tab for these projects, we are more likely to support superfluous developments. It is like someone telling you that you can have a new BMW for free, and they mention something about monthly payments that start a year from now. But the car is just so nice that you tune that part out because you now have a slick new ride.
We need to be more aware of the ways that government spends our money. It can help us make wiser choices about the development of our communities, and it can empower us to realize when we do not want the government to be involved.