One aspect of the Democratic Party — among many — that caused me to have to walk away years ago was the overwhelming propensity of the party to believe that the ultimate problem-solver, the ultimate cure-all for everything was simply to throw money at it until it was fixed.
Recent weeks of news have shown me that my assessment may not be that far off and that little has changed since I made that decision. Between budget negotiations and the proposed $4.5 trillion infrastructure plan, the party is clearly convinced that the best way it can spend its current political capital is by making massive investments.
And they’re not wrong in some respects. I love the fact that infrastructure is so high on the list of things they’re undertaking. Having grown up in a region that has suffered for a lack of viable infrastructure for so long, I like many others, welcome the idea of investment in infrastructure.
But, unfortunately, things are often much better in idea form than they area in reality.
“Investing in infrastructure” is a great concept. But the reality on the ground of “investing in infrastructure” will likely get messy.
Call me cynical (in fact, I’d imagine I’m called many things, so that’s ok), but I have grown up in a community where I watched as generations of politicians squandered money thrown at the problem in the form of the coal severance tax.
Originally enacted in 1972, the coal severance tax was intended to help bring additional funding to coal communities, especially to fund economic development projects. The idea was a good one — tax the coal as it’s removed because, after it was out of the ground, it was lost to the coal-producing communities as a means of revenue and would never be returned.
However, I watched as it was redirected by the state to cover other projects and costs in non-coal producing communities. How ‘bout the millions that went to Rupp or the hundreds of millions that was used to help fund the state’s worker’s compensation fund.
And it was always bad watching that money go to help communities which didn’t have to bear the bad effects of the coal industry.
However, that’s not surprising. We’re used to that.
What was perhaps even worse was watching local officials use the coal severance fund as their own personal re-election fund, financing projects which couldn’t support themselves but which made for good ribbon-cutting ceremony fodder.
And all this happened as, for the last several decades, this newspaper and others screamed at the top of our lungs that this had to stop — that we had to be smarter about spending this finite amount of money. Diversification became the battle cry, but never the guiding principle.
So, yes, when you say you want to spend money on infrastructure in rural America, I’m all for it, but I’m also quite skeptical.
The same goes for the current back-and-forth between Gov. Andy Beshear and the Republican supermajority in the state legislature. The Republicans, during the special session recently held, wanted money to be dedicated to helping hospitals and medical centers to close the gap on their staffing shortfalls. Since they didn’t get that done, they’re now aiming to try to get another special session to do that.
That’s awesome. I’m sure both healthcare providers and higher education institutions will be glad to accept all the help they can get in that realm.
That being said, it’s going to be difficult to fix the problem. One of the main things that will have to happen is that new people will have to be trained in these fields. That takes time. So, again, no quick fix. But, hey, let’s just throw some money at it and see if it fixes it. Right? Right?