Like my Patch bunk buddy, Jonathan Geeting, I'd love to see a Bi-County public health department here in the Lehigh Valley. Never mind that Erie County, which has a public health department, ranks 52 out of 67 counties in that ominous "morbidity" rating. Never mind that Northampton County, which has no public health department, actually ranks 10 in health factors like smoking and STD. No, damn the evidence, and spend away. Replace the "pro-morbidity" pols, as Geeting calls them.
What Jonathan and other spenders fail to realize is that, before we have public health or nice choo-choo trains to NYC and Philly, government really needs to go on a diet.
Just two years ago, the Lehigh Valley flushed $250,000 down the toilet to tell us what we already know. Lehigh and Northampton County each kicked in $75,000 for a rail study, which was matched with another $100,000 from the publicly-funded Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.
And what did we learn? That fares would pay for just 22 cents of every dollar in operating expense, to say nothing of the capital outlays that would be required to replace tracks that have been ripped out of Bethlehem for greenways.
Maybe we should have spent $500,000.
The reality is that all government, from local to national, needs to go on a spending diet. Before a county puts a cent in a public health department, isn't it fair to ask public health departments like Allentown and Bethlehem to prove they've made a difference? That's a question that Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning asked last July, and he's still waiting for an answer.
Dean must be pro-morbidity, too.
Nationally, we are in much worse shape. At least our local budgets are balanced. But on a federal level, the printing press is busy as we borrow 40 cents of every dollar we spend. And guess what? That's now almost 100 percent of our gross domestic product.
This huge debt is the greatest national security threat facing our nation, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen. It's also making it tougher to buy a car, borrow money for a home or get a decent job. Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, co-chair of the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, insists this crushing deficit hurts people like you and me the most. "The little guy that everybody is continuing to talk about. That's the guy that gets hammered. The guys with the big bucks never get hurt in this process."
Wisconsin Republican U.S. Representative Paul Ryan has proposed a budget--something Democrats never got around to doing in 2011--that essentially changes Medicare and Medicaid into a voucher system for private insurance. The AARP has already broken out the pitchforks and torches. They'll soon want to replace Ryan with a "pro-senior" congressman.
On a state level, things are bad, too. According to Governor Tom Corbett, the state's $4.2 billion deficit, in $1 bills, would be 285 miles high. He's slashed the education budget, hinting it is high time we start consolidating school districts. Of course, teacher unions want to replace him with a "pro-education" governor.
We've become a nation of fat, selfish special interests, from top-heavy school districts to seniors who want "passive" recreation and even begrudge baseball fields for their own damn grandchildren.
I suspect that one or more of these special interests will succeed. But eventually, whether we like it or not, we're all going on a diet.