John Livingston

Other People’s Time By Other People’s Money

Last night at The Garden City Council meeting I watched with amazement a process I have also watched several times at the Idaho Legislature last month.

Again, I have the utmost respect for people that give of their time and talents to serve their constituent’s and the citizens that they represent. They almost all come from positions of accomplishment either having run businesses of their own, raised a family, run a farm or ranch, or led a professional life of service in law, medicine, or education. These types of real-life experience should inform them about how to be stewards of the scarce resources (tax revenues—the fruits of their constituents’ labor), but unfortunately this has increasingly not been the case.

At the legislature where almost 50% of the revenues come from the Federal government we have been told especially when it comes to Medicaid and Education that if we don’t use it (spend the Federal Tax Dollars) we will lose it. Medicaid that was supposed to cost $400milion 10 years ago now costs 5 times that amount. One out of 6 people in Idaho are on Medicaid. Paying 60 cents on the dollar compared to private insurance, who do you think gets front of the line privileges from providers? Anyone on Medicare or Medicaid knows the answer to that question. Access-quality-cost hmmmmm.

At Garden City Hall last night, the City Planner presented a recommendation to that body that she had “worked many hours on”. It involved placing a crosswalk with a stop light across Chinden Boulevard adjacent to one of the busiest intersections in the State—Chinden and Veterans Parkway. The Police Chief argued against the crosswalk and pedestrian crossing light. Three of the five Council members acknowledged the hazard created by positioning the crosswalk at that location. But when it came time for a vote the City Planner allowed that if they didn’t use the Federal Grant Money for this site-specific project, it would be lost forever, and even admonished that future Grant’s may be looked at unfavorably by those who issue such grants.

Christ Troupis Book

So, it came down to losing the money and voting against a dangerous crosswalk putting citizens at risk or taking the money and completing the dangerous project.

“Use it or lose it”

Even the Mayor who was a smart businessman, after arguing against the safety of the project ended up equivocating and “couching” his position. Would he make such an investment if it were his own money? Money chasing a bad idea is not how great businesses are made. It is not how great states and cities grow and are made better.

When one is the steward of his/her own scarce resources and suffers the consequences personally from bad “investments”, the opportunity cost lost by allocating resources in the wrong direction becomes real. The allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses is the very definition of economics. The problem with government spending on “use it or lose it” projects is that the ability to more efficaciously direct capital where it could have the most positive impact is lost.

Here is the deal—these “public servants” actually understand in their own hearts that they are playing with “house money”. If they took care of the “fruits of our labor” the way they take care of their families and their business, we would be in a lot better place in our state and in our cities.

There is no reason for investing in a dangerous crosswalk just because you have the money to invest. There is no reason to invest in a public health program that increases costs to all citizens and decreases quality and access—just because the money is there. For employers and individuals, the cost of health care coverage has gone up almost 40%—twice the rate of inflation since its’ inception.

I hope anyone who may be physically harmed by using the dangerous new cross walk and pedestrian light on Chinden isn’t covered by Medicare or Medicaid. The real cost of that project will be paid for by those that it hurts.


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