A million dollars here, two million there. Pretty soon we’re talking about real money…
Congress is once again performing the near-annual handwringing ritual over the idea of raising the national debt ceiling – currently about $28.5 trillion dollars – in order to borrow more cash to keep the government solvent. And the leading plan at the moment is to abolish the idea of a debt limit entirely so that nobody in Washington D.C. ever has to feel guilty about wasting trillions of dollars ever again. But down in Palm Beach Gardens, a par 3 municipal golf course, partially built with $2.1 million in “Biden Bucks,” is undercutting the Democrat Party’s argument.
Most city and county officials in Florida are scratching their collective heads trying to cook up ways to spend billions of dollars in cash given to them as a gift from Congress and President Joe Biden, courtesy of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The only catch is they have to spend the money with a straight face.
For most local leaders, spending a few hundred thousand bucks on a new community center or a wheelchair ramp at the local park is all part of the job. But now Congress is asking local officials to become co-conspirators in spending billions of dollars that America doesn’t actually have.
Florida’s share of all that manufactured money was around $8 billion, give or take, with local governments receiving anywhere from $1.6 million for the City of Destin, to over $527 million flowing into Miami-Dade County. The funds represent a substantial increase to local government coffers. The City of Miami received a staggering $137.6 million, a boost of about 10 percent to the city’s $1.35 billion proposed operating budget for 2021-2022. The full list of money allocated for each city is here and counties can be viewed here.
The bottom line is that the American Rescue Plan is handing out a stupid amount of cash. Literally stupid.
So stupid, in fact, that thinking up serious and credible ways to spend that much money on local projects is harder than it sounds. And even though the federal government has asked cities and counties to file reports on how they plan to spend all that free cash, the overwhelming majority missed an August 30th interim filing deadline because many of them simply don’t know what to spend the money on.
Many of Florida’s local leaders say they’re just not going to commit to spending plans until the federal government commits to a final rule on how the money is supposed to be spent. As of this month, only “interim rules” have been published, making elected officials hesitant to finalize their plans.
“Each of Florida’s counties are proceeding cautiously and judiciously with funding under the American Rescue Plan,” says Cragin Mosteller, Director of Communications for the Florida Association of Counties. “All counties want to make sure any dollars are invested in accordance with federal guidelines and in a way that is most efficient and effective within their communities.”
If caution is the order of the day for Florida’s counties, the same can be said for most Florida cities, too. A report published last month by the Brookings Institution found that a week after the deadline, only 18 percent of cities nationwide had filed interim spending or allocation reports with the federal government outlining their plans.
While some officials might take the task seriously, brainstorming ways to get the most “bang for the buck,” some elected officials, like those in Palm Beach Gardens, have already thrown in the towel, knowing there’s just no way to spend that much money with a straight face on any serious “program” they weren’t already spending their own money on.
So rather than pretend, Palm Beach Gardens decided instead to blow $2.1 million of their $5.8 million in free federal cash on a par-3 municipal golf course. After all, there’s only 160 golf courses in the area already, another one isn’t going to hurt anything.
I, for one, think we should commend the officials of Palm Beach Gardens for helping to expose Congress’s charade when it comes to the need to raise the federal debt ceiling. Already, there are stories circulating in the national media that say we have no choice but to raise the debt ceiling, because if we don’t, the financial bottom will fall out of the U.S. economy. But the truth of the matter is that without the American Rescue Plan, the United States would be nearly $2 trillion below current debt levels.
Sure, we’d also be short one par 3 municipal golf course in Palm Beach County, but I think I can speak for my fellow American citizens that such a sacrifice might have been worth it for the sake of fiscal solvency.