Firetrucks and Federalism

By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist

(Published in Current Newspapers of Atlantic County on 28 June, 2006)

Last January, Ventnor bought a new firetruck for $389,000.?? Federal?dollars paid 90% of the cost? through the “Homeland Security Assistance to Fire Fighters Grant Program”.?? Ventnor delayed the dedication ceremony until June 10, so Congressman Frank LoBiondo could?be publicly thanked.

The following week, the Somers Point bought a new fire truck for $439,992.??? Somers Point got? no federal funds; property taxes paid the full cost.?? Why are federal taxes from 300 million Americans around the country paying for a fire truck in Ventnor, but not in Somers Point??? Why did Ventnor officials publicly thank Congressman LoBiondo? ? The answers are disturbing. ? They show how far we have strayed from our Constitution.

The writers of our Constitution lived in wooden houses with open hearth fires.?? House fires were common in those days, and properly equipped? fire departments were? important.? But local towns paid for their own fire departments.?? Nobody dreamed that national? taxes would be taken from the whole nation, and then given out to a handful of towns and cities each year.

Our Constitution is short and simple.? It is very easy to read and understand.???Article I Section 8 gives the job description of? the Federal Government.?? Our national?Congress is to “regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states. . . coin money, establish post offices and post roads.”?? It was to “define and punish piracies. . . and offenses against the law of nations. . .? declare war. . . raise and support armies. . . and maintain a navy.”

But Article I, Section 8 does NOT allow Congress to buy fire trucks for small towns.?? The writers of our Constitution had seen first hand how royalty in England, France, and Spain kept their power by burdening their known enemies and unknown taxpayers in distant provinces with high taxes, and using the money to reward their small circle of supporters.?? Our founders knew they could never eliminate corruption in the federal government, but tried to minimize it.

Our Constitution was designed so that our new NATIONAL government could only spend money on NATIONAL purposes.?? What NATIONAL purpose does the Ventnor fire truck serve??? Does the Ventnor fire truck paid with NATIONAL tax dollars serve more of a NATIONAL purpose than the one in Somers Point paid with local property taxes?

The more you learn about the Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program, the more you see how it, like so many similar programs, destroys the carefully designed plan of our Constitution.?? Its web site at like a sweepstakes lottery promotion. ? Fire Departments around the country are invited to submit “Applications” for grant “Awards” of up to $500,000 each.?? More than $100 million is available each year.? A panel of?judges decides which of the 18,160 applicants in 2006 wins the “Awards” and how much each gets.

?? How much is spent writing 18,160 applications??? Many departments send people to training seminars, while others hire full time staff?just to prepare these forms!?? How many federal employees are paid to review and compare 18,160 applications EACH YEAR!?? Think of the temptation to reward the Congressmen who vote for this insane program year after year?and to punish the districts with “unfriendly” Congressmen.

And?think of this Press of Atlantic City headline from last December.?? “Market awash in used firetrucks”.?? Egg Harbor City could not sell its used fire truck in mint condition, that it had previously bought for $400,000, even after the price was slashed to just $7,000.

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  • Seth Grossman

    Seth Grossman is executive director of Liberty And Prosperity, which he co-founded in 2003. It promotes American liberty and limited constitutional government through weekly radio and in-person discussions, its website, email newsletters and various events. Seth Grossman is also a general practice lawyer.

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