Largely Symbolic, Locally Stupid

18 Jan

Many thanks to the Republican congress for finally freeing us from the tyranny-at-gunpoint of $32 million in regional federal investment in pork barrel projects such as:

Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station $9.5 million
Lake Ontario/Niagara River navigation $4.2 million
Cyclotron at UB research center $3.7 million
Statler transportation facility $3 million
Viral research at Hauptman-Woodward Institute $2 million
Darwin Martin House improvements $1 million
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus streetscape improvements $1 million

Although it does sometimes seem as if the Darwin Martin House is the biggest welfare queen in Buffalo, I have a huge problem with losing funding for things like viral research and the Cyclotron.  We’re pretty good here in western New York of maintaining a mediocre economic status quo, so when Washington throws us a bone we should run for it, not from it.   After all, it’s not the federal government at the root of that mediocrity, and New York State is a net federal payor.

Earmarks get a lot of attention because they’re easy for people to understand, and easy for some politicians to heap scorn upon, but they’re real projects that benefit real people and create real private-sector jobs.  In the case of medical or scientific research, they can have scientific and economic benefits that last decades.  After all, a lot is riding on the medical campus, as it represents a huge effort to move our region further away from its long-gone industrial past and into a 21st-century knowledge-based economy.

I challenge anyone to tell me why a C-130 flight operations center at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is mere “pork” – like a bridge to nowhere – with no federal benefit.

While the sole Republican representative from the Buffalo area, Chris Lee (NY-26), says it’s indicative of an effort to stop “reckless spending”, that sort of comment does a disservice to the projects themselves.  There’s nothing “reckless” about an investment in Buffalo’s future, it’s common sense. And given that earmarks make up less than 0.5% of the federal budget, talk of this earmark ban being some sort of return to fiscal sanity is just a lie.  This is macro window dressing, with very poor micro effects.

In the meantime, the United States spends around $700 billion per year for defense alone, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – about $2 thousand million per day out of a $3.5 trillion budget.

I guess things in Washington are not that dissimilar from our own Erie County Legislature – we get all worked up about minutiae, ignoring the bigger picture.

41 Responses to “Largely Symbolic, Locally Stupid”

  1. Leo Wilson January 18, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    OK, I’m up to the challenge. The Niagara Falls AFB is a base without a mission. Its primary purpose has been to fly in-flight refuel missions for B-52’s heading back and forth to Pease AFB in NH, once the world’s largest declared nuclear weapons stockpile.
    Strategic Air Command had those weapons moved and surrendered its claim to that base in 1991. Niagara Falls’ mission has ended, just as Roosevelt Roads mission ended when we stopped bombing Vieques.

    The luxury of keeping bases open because they provide jobs and revenue to the local community is just that – a luxury. IF we are living on credit, we can’t afford the luxury.

  2. Pauldub January 18, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    Obviously not up to the challenge Leo. For over 40 years the mission of the 914th Airlift Wing (Reserves) located at Niagara Falls has been – wait for it – AIRLIFT! The 107th had a very brief stint as a refueling wing.
    Pay better attention and take better notes.

  3. AL January 18, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    WNY already has a PET scanner/cyclotron.  It just has the misfortune of being on the South Campus.  It is extremely costly to run and only used for research.  We hardly need two of them.

  4. Leo Wilson January 18, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    @Paul – I will.

  5. Brian Castner January 18, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    One man’s pork is another man’s critical targeted community investment. Alan, your analogy is sound – this is the EC cultural funding of the federal government.

    Keeping bases open is a complicated political topic. The US military still has a Cold War era network of redundant bases. Could the airlift mission at NF be moved to another base? Sure. Where are you going to get $300M to build the infrastructure for it at that new base? Instead, is it economical to spent $10M a year in construction (and another $30M a year in maintenance) on this base, to just keep these planes here? The US can’t afford the luxury of every base staying open – if the border patrol, customs, and the Army and Marines moved onto the base, to make it a cluster, it would be both geographically useful and a local economic boon. The Army is moving – lets see about the others.

  6. MJC January 18, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    I have no problem closing bases – but let’s start with the ones overseas first. Do we really still really need a massive military presence in Germany and Japan? Let’s eliminate the surplusage overseas, then I agree – let’s analyze what can and should be scaled down in America. We can all agree that, for the most part, domestic military bases are largely jobs programs.

    It’s not like if we close the Niagara Falls base it is going to embolden Canada to invade our country from Ontario.

    The number of bases in this country is analogous to the guy who installs a security system, build a massive fence, buys three pit bulls and keeps several shotguns around, yet lives in Spaulding Lake.

  7. Mike In WNY January 18, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    Pork is bad. Pork for you is OK.

  8. lulu January 18, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Why isn’t the cost of our bases paid for by the $700B Defense budget?

  9. Hank January 18, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Since I lived on Roosevelt Roads for 3 years in the 1980’s, I feel the need to comment on this.
    Roosevelt Roads was a very important base. Excellent natural deep water harbor, huge tank farm for refueling vessels (most of the Royal Navy was in and out en route to and returning from the Falkland Islands in 82, in addition to their own fleet), a place for the Navies of cold weather countries (Canada, Sweden, Norway to name a few) to paint their ships in the wintertime.
    Most importantly, a launching base for unmanned drones to allow carrier pilots to practice shooting their rockets and missles, and the Ranges on Vieques Island where Battleships as well as other ships with gun batteries could practice. A UDT/Seal camp was on the island as well, and provided good training terrain. The farmers on vieques would be paid 5 times the normal price for a beef or milk cow that might be accidentally killed when wandering onto the ranges. The residents of Vieques never had a problem with the Navy. Better yet, the main base provided A THIRTY MILLION DOLLAR a year payroll (in 1982 dollars), and over HALF of that was for Native Puerto Ricans who kept the base running.

    What happens? the regular “liberal assbags” Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, Al Sharpton, etc etc. protest the Naval bombing of Vieques, and the Navy makes their decision. Don’t want us to bomb Vieques, CLOSE THE BASE.

    So what have we now? thousands of PR’s who had good civil service jobs with great benefits (you know—the GOVERNMENT JOBS THAT LIBERALS LOVE), OUT OF WORK. The base is closed, the hospital I worked in there is covered with weeds. The liberal assbags go back to their millions, and the PR’s end up with their asses in their hands and no job—-Good fucking work, eh?

    To all of you liberal minded types up in WNY—–THE COUNTRY IS BROKE. FUCKING BROKE. It’s a huge shit sandwich, and EVERYONE HAS TO TAKE A NICE BIG BITE—-These cuts are part of your bite. Fucking DEAL WITH IT.

  10. Ward January 18, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Hank — way too much “vitriol” in the age of the “new civility”, when conservatives should be mindful of the “consequences of words”, and simply STFU. You’re doubtless inspiring a lunatic (who does not read the papers, watch television or surf the blogosphere) to try to kill a Democrat. The victims’ blood will be on your hands.

  11. MJC January 18, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    So, in other words, “liberal” is now defined as “cutting spending”, whereas “conservative” now means “keeping redundant bases open so as to employ the locals”.

    I have no idea what the hell that post above is trying to convey. Except for “liberals suck and are to blame for everything.”

  12. Leo Wilson January 18, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Liberal actually means, “espousing change” while conservative means “opposing change”. We abuse the language in our usage, allowing the media to create new definitions for words on the fly. It’s more honest to split up the usage – the right is conservative on social issues and liberal on everything else, the left is liberal on social issues and conservative on everything else, insisting that programs that have long outlived their efficacy continue forever.

  13. Leo Wilson January 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    @hank – As I recall, it was GW Bush who finally closed down the ranges on Vieques after several other presidents gave it lip service and did nothing. I’m no leftist, but really, shouldn’t you give laurels to the people that accomplished the task?

  14. Johnnywalker January 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    List of how much each state receives back from the federal govt for every dollar of federal taxes they pay

    The Pain is not equally distributed. North Carolina feels a lot less pain from federal cuts Than New York.

  15. lulu January 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    In an attempt to return to thread topic, can anyone explain to me why the cost to run our military bases is not included in our country’s Defense budget? Thanks in advance for any insight.

  16. Ray Walter January 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    “In 2009, New York taxpayers contributed just over 8.2% of the overall federal tax burden. It would be reasonable to expect a similar percentage of earmarked dollars to flow back to the state. In reality, New York received only about 2.1% of total earmarked funds. As a result, the Empire State has the dubious distinction of being the nation’s biggest “earmark donor” state.”

  17. Bbill January 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    Interesting how so many states that take more than they contribute (aka “welfare states”) are red-state teabagger hotbeds.

  18. Ray Walter January 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    Earmarking is the pig fat that greases the wheels for more and more government spending. Here Congresswoman Slaughter, support this bloated Defense spending bill and we’ll make sure NFAFB get $10 Million. If Congressman Higgins will support this giant HHS appropriation we’ll include $2 Mill for Viral Research. If Congressman Lee will vote yea on this pork filled bill for the Dept. of Ed. we’ll make sure he gets $4 Mill for that Cyclotron for UB. It may be “symbolic” if you only look at the earmarks themselves but they are the fuel for pushing through much larger appropriations. Get rid of the earmarks and hopefully Congress will take a closer look at each bill based on its merits and not on what’s in it for them. Besides – if you look at my previous post, our representatives suck at it anyway.

  19. Leo Wilson January 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    @lulu, this one shouldn’t be. The military has no use for this base and wants to close it. Whether my initial point is right or Pauldub’s is, keeping it open is welfare… as such, it should come out of the general fund.

  20. Hank January 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm #


  21. Starbuck January 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Americans overwhelmingly by an over 8:1 ratio favor federal spending cuts instead of raising taxes.

    Americans strongly prefer cutting spending to raising taxes to reduce the federal deficit. While 77 percent prefer to cut spending, just nine percent call for raising taxes. Another nine percent want to do both.

    That helps explain a 60+ seat gain in the House and a historic shift toward R-control of state legislatures.

    In the same poll, a big majority favors the strategy of “Reduce money for projects in your area” (58% to 35%). In this regard, Republicans (so far) are at least taking a small step that most people say they want.

  22. Brian Castner January 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    @ lulu: I used to do construction and maintenance on military bases, so I will try to answer your question directly. The money to maintain a base is provided in the basic military budget, under a general fund called O&M (Operations and Maintenance). But Congress holds the strings on constructing new buildings, per federal law. For Military Construction (MILCON), Congress must approve all requests for new buildings over $1M (I think – it used to be $750K, but it changed, I may have the threshold wrong). They actually hold the same power for other government agencies, but they receive less attention as the MILCON program is several $B a year. In theory, giving Congress the power to build new buildings, as opposed to the commanders of individual bases, keeps the overall scope of the military under their control, so money is spent wisely and not duplicated (not every air base needs a third runway, or maintenance hangers for F-16’s, or brand new dormitories). In practice, however, each building is another earcmark chip in the game, as Ray Walter described. When I was constructing buildings at Ellsworth AFB, in South Dakota, Tom Daschle’s staff told us to only ask to build buildings that were $10-$12M. That size earmark they could trade with other staffs, and wouldn’t cause much attention. Bigger ones were out, and there was no point in building smaller buildings. So our new Headquarters for a B-1 squadron was $10M, and the Education center was $10M. Best Education Center in the AF – we could have done it for half.

  23. Jafafa Hots January 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Only used for research.

    I can’t imagine what it feels like to be the kind of person who could think that that was a sentence with some sort of merit to it.

  24. Pauldub January 18, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    @Leo. So all those reservists that just deployed (you do read the papers, right?) are basically welfare recipients? My point was you had the mission wrong. If they choose to close, they will move the mission elsewhere. And spend the money in a new location.
    @Brian – I believe those figures are still current..

  25. Hapklein January 18, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Gee I hate to intervene with fact but all the Pork of the Congress currently was at about 1/3 of 1% of the budget.
    That does not even equal the cost of Reagan’s Star Wars Relics that sill are being developed through a hundred ventures in fifty states. It’s all a Smoke an Mirrors Con game.
    At the end you can be sure that Ohio and Kentucky will still be producing substantial parts for the F-22 Fighter!

  26. Leo Wilson January 18, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    @paul, and I gave the nod to your point in referring to it. No, the reservists that just deployed are not welfare recipients. The permanent civilian staff are.

    Interestingly, when I grabbed a hop from Spokane to Pease during the Carter admin, we were refueled by a tanker from NF. It was exciting to watch. When I was supporting Novell networks at NFAB in the late 80’s, I mentioned that to my contact there, I was told that it was still their mission and that nearly all of them were exactly what I said – big bombers en route to Pease. I can’t say why my personal experience conflicts with your (unchallenged!) point, but it does.

    I’ll stand fast in my opinion, no matter how poorly advised it is. The military uses this base today only to continue those jobs. It’s a welfare effort.

  27. Leo Wilson January 18, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Don’t get me wrong… we are concerned about jobs today at all levels, and this welfare effort certainly delivers more bang for the buck than short-term construction jobs to renew roads and bridges or to pay for research into technologies that, at roll-out time, will be manufactured overseas.

  28. Pauldub January 19, 2011 at 4:31 am #

    Okay Leo – you have me baffled. 914th has always been Airlift. 107th was Fighters until the90’s, then they got the tankers. Don’t know who did the refueling. Who was your POC when you did the Novell support out there? I was there back then!

  29. Leo Wilson January 19, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    That’s something I won’t say in a public forum, Paul. Find a more private wat to communicate.

  30. Leo Wilson January 19, 2011 at 7:09 am #

    I could guess at why the crew on the hop would yank my chain – I was a squid taking an AF hop, the reservists manning it were trying to suck me into a pricey game of Euchre that I wouldn’t play, I may have mentioned that I was en route to Buffalo, it might have amused them. Still, they were kind enough to let me watch the refuel instead of just ignoring me when I refused to play.

    I have no idea why my POC would mislead me. Good guy, interesting name that sounded like two last names.

  31. Jesse January 19, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    I wonder if Alan actually wants to know why dropping ANY spending is a good idea no matter what the ‘symbolism’ or if he’s already made up his mind…

    But the simplest answer is easy: They got voted in to reduce spending, and this pork is the politically palatable spending cut they can make right now. QED.

  32. MJC January 19, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    @Starbuck – of course Americans favor a tax cut. I doubt there has ever been a time in history where Americans favored a tax hike. Stating that this is the reason for the GOP’s success in 2010 is about as accurate as saying that Americans were dying for higher taxes in 2006 and 2008.

    Nevertheless, good luck with any real cuts. The minute any of them cuts falls in your backyard, both parties unite to prevent it. Look at the hue and cry last time the NFAFB was considered for closing. Hillary joined forces with the Republicans to save the base and the area overwhelmingly supported it.

  33. lulu January 19, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    Thanks, Brian. I recall a big sigh of relief when it was announced the base would remain active during the BRAC Commission recommendations. I believe Slaughter took much of the credit and I recall thinking it was a bit strange that as we were adding a brand new Federal Department for Homeland Security we were also allowing politicians to make decisions about Military bases (something I thought should be decided by military experts or the Department of Defense and not Congress/Senate on behalf of civilians).

  34. Leo Wilson January 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    @MJC – how do you jump from the spending cuts that the people demand to a tax cut?

    Is it already written in stone that tax increases are required?

  35. MJC January 19, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    No, Leo, my point is that Americans have always – in general – favored tax cuts and the spending cuts they figure will lead to tax cuts. This is nothing new and it certainly didn’t start before the 2010 midterm election.

    Problem is, it is easy to favor spending cuts, much harder to agree on what should get cut. Every budgetary deletion leads to someone losing a job or revenue. When the NFAFB was slated for closure, there wasn’t a “small government” Republican anywhere locally arguing in favor.

    Do Americans want their cake and the ability to eat it too? They sure do. The big problem in this country is that people of all political stripes want something for nothing. They want a massive bloated military, but no tax hikes, They want extended military occupations, but they don’t want to pay for that either. They demand that things they don’t need at the time (like unemployment benefits) be cut, until they lose a job. Then, they want it continued indefinitely.

    Even the cyclical nature of American politics reveals the utter mindlessness of our voters. In 2006 and 2008, the GOP was responsible for all the evil in the world and the Dems won big. Two years later it was exactly the opposite. What?

  36. Leo Wilson January 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    @MJC – thanks for that clarification. I don’t find anything to argue with in it.

    I find no comfort at all in watching the same syndrom in Europe. It seems Western Civilization has reached some sort of cusp in its relationship with government.

    My hope is that we in America have a third option, a forgotten trump card that’s hidden up our sleeves, in our natural resources. Our spending policies (including Europe’s) rely heavily on earnings from an industrial sector that’s largely moved to the east. The people who used to work in that industrial sector are out of work, or working where they earn much less. We can’t tax them into replacing that industrial sector’s revenue stream, and attempting to tax what’s left of the wealthy the way Great Britain did in the 1960’s will only result in a repeat of what happened there: the rich will gather up their riches and leave.

    This could very easily be the moment that we’ve preserved and conserved so much of our resources to offset.

  37. Leo Wilson January 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    Even if that isn’t THE answer, it shows AN answer: Our government needs a new revenue stream as radically different from our traditional streams as our new economic realities are from our tradition, one that doesn’t rely upon the pocketbooks of citizens who are already struggling.

  38. Leo Wilson January 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    I don’t know how much futher from the article’s point I can get.

  39. Starbuck January 19, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    MJC, I don’t quite agree if you’re saying not wanting tax hikes is exactly the same as wanting tax cuts. If CBS had polled about tax cuts, I’d expect that 77% who said they want spending cuts would be split about it.

    As to why the spending issue might matter more some years than others, perhaps in 2010 Republican candidates were able to make a more convincing than usual argument that they’d spend less than Democrats would. The stimulus, Obamacare, and various bailouts might all have added up to make D’s sound like even bigger spendaholics than R’s more so than in ’06 and ’08.

    It remains to be seen if the election results will make a real difference for this. There might be some slowing of spending growth compared to what would have happened otherwise.

  40. Max January 23, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    The base closing issue is often used as a “anti-defense” canard against those who’re seeking to reduce our miltary expenditures. The Pentagon is awash in duplicitous and excess expenditures; Secretary of Defense Bob Gates knows that and Congress sanctions it. As a result, we’ve become a ‘pauper superpower’ providing miltary cover for so-called ‘allies’ who pursue their own economic interests while our own fester.


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