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Expanding Medicaid: Don't Get Hooked on Manna from Liberal Heaven

May 24, 2015 - 6:00pm

Whatever the merits of Medicaid expansion and other low-income health-care programs in Florida, the recent kurfuffel illustrates one downside of getting free money from the federal government.

Gov. Rick Scott is fighting the government in court for using one government program to bludgeon the state into using another government program.

Money from a different level of government almost always comes with strings attached. States and cities are forced to do things they might not want to do in order to get or continue getting funds.

The same is true to some extent on state revenue sharing to local governments. About $4 billion was being parceled out from Tallahassee several years ago from sales taxes, gas taxes and other revenue, and it must be even higher today.

Politicians like this pea-under-the-walnut routine because the recipients can claim credit for the money's use without having to exact the taxes to raise the funds. The dispensers can claim credit for their generosity in spending other people's money.

But there is nothing magical about revenue sharing. If $50 million of money from Florida taxpayers goes to California and $50 million from California comes to Florida, no one is better off especially after half of it is eaten up by the bloated Washington bureaucracy in the course of the transfer.

Jacksonville probably is typical of other Florida cities. Several years ago it got free money to hire new cops. After the federal money dried up, the city was left to pay the salaries and pensions, and it is no small sum.

Before that, Jacksonville was lucky enough to be chosen for a demonstration project. The federal government would pay for a people mover, an elevated train that goes a short distance from nowhere to nowhere. As many expected, it never attained the ridership that giddy liberals predicted.

Even worse, the feds paid for the capital cost but left the operating costs for local taxpayers to bear. That's about $10 million a year.

Hopes that it would be paid by fares quickly faded and eventually the city gave up charging. Today anyone can ride it free.

Naturally, liberals want to expand the system.

One other experience the city had with federal funding also is instructive.

When the environmental hysteria began in the early 1970s, Jacksonville's newly formed consolidated government acted responsibly and spent $150 million to cut off sewer outfalls and build water and sewer plants.

Other cities did nothing, and were rewarded with huge grants from the federal government. It took years of begging and pleading for the city to get some federal funds to replace what it had spent.

Liberals always use the deplorably selfish argument that if local governments don't grab the money, it will just be rerouted elsewhere. There are two arguments to counter that. One is let it go and you won't have to spend the additional cost it always entails, and the other is quit sending the money to Washington and you probably will be able to raise and spend the money more effectively at home.

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as a policy analyst for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

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