A New Federal Urban Agenda?

A Pittsburgh newspaper whose op-ed writers are hopelessly enamored of Federal government programs to solve any and all problems now think it would be just grand if the Federal government would launch a new urban agenda. One has to wonder where the writers have been.

Does anyone need a reminder of all the efforts the Federal government has launched over the decades to help cities? Public housing funding, block grants, all sorts of welfare programs, dollars for education programs, major financial assistance for mass transit infrastructure, and so on and so on.

Did all those programs stop Detroit or Philadelphia or Stockton, California and countless other cities from developing very serious or crisis proportion financial problems and massive loss of population? No. The cause of the problems can largely be laid at the feet of horrendously counterproductive policies by the local, state, and national governments. Public sector unions, a breakdown of law and order (in many cities), a collapse in public education quality as a result of educational folly masquerading as reforms (including a refusal to allow publicly funded voucher programs) and political correctness run amok.

The argument that people moved out of cities for greener pastures because they were induced to by Federal policies is getting stale. People left because living in the suburbs was more attractive than staying in the cities. Lower crime, better schools and all the reasons people want to be safe and comfortable.

Perhaps the original exodus was initiated by demographic and social phenomena, but there can be little doubt that the headlong rush toward public sector unionization, the attendant sharp rise in expenditures and tax burdens, runaway crime problems and rapidly decreasing academic performance in public schools encouraged more people to leave. Many cities became increasingly dominated by one party rule-the party being one of statist and government growth inclination and a party with practically no patience with free market capitalism. An almost guaranteed slow downward spiral began in many of the currently worse off cities. The worse they became the more Federal and state financial assistance was forthcoming in some form or other. Economic development, redevelopment, infrastructure, housing, education, social welfare payments, early childhood education, learning programs, jobs programs-the mind boggles.

And still, Detroit bankruptcy happened, Philadelphia is scrambling to open schools this fall because of a lack of money, Pittsburgh is under state oversight and is likely to remain so for a long time, Chicago is closing schools at a breakneck pace because students have abandoned city schools and it has gigantic pension problems looming.

These wounds have been self-inflicted by politicians and policies that can only be described as progressive, liberal, statist, and politically correct. Politically correct is a polite term for trying to force adherence to certain acceptable behaviors and thoughts through intimidation, ostracizing, or attempting to shame or embarrass anyone not subscribing to the latest fad in liberal dogma-dogma that gets more bizarre by the month. Little wonder thinking people want no part in it.

The worst part: calling for a new Urban Agenda is just a dreamed up politically correct scheme to avoid dealing with disasters created by earlier statist schemes.

Federalizing Everything?

Pittsburgh expects and laments that it will receive only a one-third Federal government reimbursement of the cost of snow removal incurred during the recent siege of winter weather.

One must ask. What is the purpose of municipal government? Keeping the streets open and usable for residents would certainly seem to be one of local government’s core functions, whether performed by City employees or contracted out to private service providers. But these days, it appears both the Feds and the local government have come to the belief that this function is partly the responsibility of the Federal government.

Not too surprising in view of the encroachment of the Federal government into every aspect of our existence. One would hope the Federal government would be as concerned about its core functions such as protecting and defending our borders from illegal immigration. But amazingly, that is now controversial. What is not shocking is that local officials are always willing to get in line for "free" money.

And that is the insidious part of the equation. When local and state officials begin to depend on Federal dollars to pay for increasing number of services and for reimbursement of unforeseen expenditures, it induces them to spend more than they otherwise would on items not yet subsidized. So a dangerous unintended consequence of Federal largesse is the diminution of fiscal responsibility in local governments. This, in turn, leads to more dependence and more loss of local responsibility. Not what the Founders envisioned nor a path designed to maintaining the liberty most Americans say they want and expect.