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Thanks, But No Thanks: Tea Party Mayor Rejects Fed Grant


"I want to leave a legacy for our children of managing our responsibilities — not crushing them with debt money."

Mayor Janice L. Daniels

Not everyone is addicted to the idea of “free” government money. Believe it or not, there are still some people out there who think there is no such thing as “free” when it comes to government handouts.

At least, that's the message that was sent when City Council members in Troy, MI, voted to reject a federal grant worth millions of dollars.

“Troy -- a northern suburb of Detroit -- was in line to receive an $8.5 million grant from the federal government in order to finance a transportation center that would be part of the Detroit to Chicago Amtrak network [emphasis added],” The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Brownfield reports.

“The trouble is, though the money would have helped finance a brand new development, officials say it would create an ongoing financial liability for the cash-strapped city. In other words, it might have gotten the cow for free, but it would be stuck paying the cost of upkeep years down the road,” adds.

And although the New York Times believes the vote was motivated by “anti-Washington sentiment,” others think the vote was driven by sound fiscal policy.

True, the annual maintenance cost would have only been $31,000 – not that big of a problem for a city operating on a $50 million budget.

“But for taxpayers who are being nickled-and-dimed to death, even pocket change can add up to real money — especially when government projects see their costs keep going up and up,” Brownfield writes.

Therefore, at the urging of the mayor, who also helped found Troy’s Tea Party chapter, the City Council voted 4-to-3 against granting a "crucial contract."

“There’s nothing free about government money,” Mayor Janice Daniels said in an interview. “It’s never free, and it’s crippling our way of life.”

She’s not the first person to turn down federal funds that would have gone towards transportation; Governors Scott Walker (R-WI) and Chris Christie (R-NJ) have done the exact same thing.

“In 2010, Governor Chris Christie canceled a rail tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey to New York,” Brownfield writes. “His concern? The cost of the project was feared to be $14 billion, and there were no guarantees that New Jersey taxpayers would not pay more than $2.7 billion for the completed project.”

Similarly, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin turned down an $810 million federal grant that would have extended passenger rail from Milwaukee to Madison.

Taking it one step further than both Christie and Walker, Mayor Daniels turned down the grant because she believes it's fiscally unsound and because she doesn't think the feds are in any position to be handing out money.

“The federal government’s largess is no reason to build the transit center when the national debt stands at $15 trillion,” Mayor Daniels said.

However, the New York Times points out that if the grant doesn't go to Troy, it will just go to another project, making her gesture rather useless.

But perhaps the Times misses the point. Much like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) returning $500,000 to the Treasury, it’s not about making a one-time dent in the national debt. It’s about creating a culture where taxpayer money isn't handed out and consumed like Halloween candy.

Unsurprisingly, and without missing a beat, the city’s 4-3 vote has been met with fierce and vocal criticism. Michele Hodges, the president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, which supports the transit project, said that her organization “will be a pit bull for what’s best for this community.”

David A. Kotwicki, a local lawyer the Times managed to dig up, pointed at Republicans who “might talk tough on spending,” but that they “still bring projects home to their districts.” The city’s vote, he says, looks like “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Troy train stop (Photo Courtesy: Stephen McGee for The New York Times)

Michigan governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, said that he was “disappointed” by the city’s decision and would be “reviewing our options for utilizing the grant, including the potential transfer of the grant to another applicant.”

Prior to the vote, Gov. Snyder sent a letter to Mayor Daniels saying that the federally financed project would have “significant, positive economic development on your community and the state,” according to the Times.

Mayor Daniels disregarded Gov. Snyder’s advice and said the vote was about setting an example concerning the national debt.

“I want to leave a legacy for our children of managing our responsibilities — not crushing them with debt money,” Daniels said.

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