Challenge ‘conventional’ policy wisdom in 2019

Challenge ‘conventional’ policy wisdom in 2019

Some things never change in public officials’ prosecution of public policy. Sadly. And just as sad are some additions to a long list of public policy perversions:

The state Auditor General’s Office is hailing “improved accountability for millions of taxpayer dollars invested in job creation” by the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

As Auditor General Eugene DePasquale put it, in a news release from his office:

“Pennsylvania taxpayers want to know if they’re getting a good return on the state’s investment in creating jobs,” he said. “To me, that’s the bottom line: If you receive taxpayer funds, you’d better do what you’ve promised to do.”

But the real bottom line should be if the practice isn’t merely done prudently but if it should be done at all. After all, Article VIII, Section 8, of the Pennsylvania Constitution could not be clearer:

“The credit of the Commonwealth shall not be pledged or loaned to any individual, company, corporation or association nor shall the Commonwealth become a joint owner or stockholder in any company, corporation or association.”

Certainly not directly but neither by any nod-nod, wink-wink proxy subterfuge.

Yet the constitutional prohibition never is mentioned by public officials doling out taxpayer alms. Of course, it is an extremely rare circumstance for those bellying up to the unconstitutional trough of “free money” to say, “Oh, no, no, no; I’m full.”

Coincidentally, the practice raised the ire of a correspondent who said he once worked as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania.

“I always hated lobbying for the economic development goodies,” he wrote in an email. “And I always thought that the (Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, or RACP) was the shadiest of all the economic development programs.”

Continued the correspondent:

“I see the RACP as a slush fund for politically connected developers and their consultants. And I can’t believe that not only does the state give the proceeds of public debt to private entities in violation of the Pa. Constitution, but it also uses such proceeds to pay for consultants to manage RACP grants.”

This, by the way, from a former insider who says he’s now “pursuing a career in accounting and finance.”

As the Post-Gazette reported this month:

“Pennsylvania and eight other northeastern states have agreed to craft a regional plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and use the money from the new carbon market to invest in cleaner transportation infrastructure.”

The program – dubbed the Transportation and Climate Initiative – is designed to “achieve substantial reductions in transportation sector emissions and provide net economic and social benefits for participating states.”

But such “cap and trade” programs, or “cap and invest,” as this specific program is characterized, have myriad fatal flaws.

In a nutshell, per a white paper from the Institute for Energy Research, they are designed to raise the price of more affordable but supposedly socially incorrect fuels – think natural gas, among them – to drive the public to higher-priced (and typically taxpayer-financed but less reliable) energy sources such as wind and solar.

But “cap and trade,” an artificial “market” created by government eco-crats (if not social re-engineers), typically does little to decrease carbon dioxide emissions; has marginal impacts on the climate; disproportionately harm the poor; harms energy security; encourages industry to go abroad; and, in general, lead to pollution abatement plans whose costs exceed their benefits.

The Pennsylvania effort reportedly will focus on low-carbon and “resilient” transportation infrastructure, such as public transit and zero-emission vehicles.”

Never mind that the cost-structure of many public transit systems (think the Port Authority of Allegheny’s bus costs, among others) remains woefully out of whack when it comes to “efficiency.”

And never mind that there’s no such thing as “zero-emission” vehicles. After all, plenty of coal and natural gas is used to generate the electricity used to charge their batteries. And the “carbon footprint” to produce the apparatuses of solar and wind generation hardly is miniscule.

But perpetrators of such charades will continue to play their games in 2019 as they have in 2018. Which makes it incumbent for thinking people to be more ardent in calling out such fakirs preying on a public they take for rubes — supposedly for “the common good” but, actually, to the detriment of all.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).