Bring Home the Bacon

There was a time when it was a badge of honor for our state and federal representatives to “ bring home the bacon ” and get money for worthwhile projects in our district.  Indeed, members of Congress as well as those in the Florida Legislature boasted about what they could do for their constituents back home.

Roads and bridges were built, parks were established and new government buildings were constructed with the double purpose of providing jobs as well as improving the quality of life for Treasure Coast residents. But those days seem to be over.

The toxic algae which is spreading throughout the Indian River lagoon this summer is a prime example of what happens when politicians abandon that mission to “bring home the bacon.” Several weeks ago U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney wrote an opinion column for Treasure Coast newspapers which explained why he and other members of Congress are now prohibited getting money for much needed Treasure Coast projects—such as protecting the river.

The Republican faction of the House of Representatives in 2010 passed an earmark ban that prohibits Congress from funding local projects in conjunction with the federal government. Rooney said it was one of his first votes when he took office.

That is his explanation on why the feds can’t help pay for a long term solution to what is now a dire situation in the Indian River lagoon. Even if the money was available, Rooney pretty much dismissed the idea of buying Big Sugar property so Lake Okeechobee water can be diverted south through the Everglades. He refers to the project as a “costly federal land grab that disrupts my constituents ability to enter contracts to sell or lease their land.”

Never mind that the latest University of Florida report recommends what he refers to as a “costly federal land grab” is the only real viable fix for the river. He also fails to say that Gov. Charlie Crist had already negotiated a deal with Big Sugar (his “constituents”) to buy the land at a reasonable price.

And Rooney didn’t bother to address the negative economic impact the filthy river now has on real estate, businesses, recreation and tourism. Instead Rooney wants to look at a “less flashy option.”

Rooney admitted in the article that when  he and other Republicans voted for the bill “what we didn’t fully consider was the impact of the earmark ban on Congress’s ability to exert oversight and control over funding for inherently local programs  in conjunction with the federal government, like those funded by the Army Corps.” In other words, he won’t be bringing home any of the bacon.

And don’t count on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio either.  Even though he is now traveling to Stuart to look at the algae firsthand, he never showed much interest in the lagoon, even when he wasn’t running for president.  In a recent article published in Treasure Coast newspaper Rubio said now is not the time to consider such a comprehensive project. Now that he has flip flopped and decided to run for his U.S. Senate seat again, one can’t help but think Rubio’s trip is politically motivated.

So what about Gov. Rick Scott or our state legislature? Scott now declares the conditions in the river amount to a “state emergency.” But up until this point he and the Republican legislators didn’t to seem to care much about the billions of gallons of polluted Lake O water flowing into the river. Yes, there have been incremental steps to establish reservoirs and water farms to divert a small amount of the polluted water from the Indian River, but Charlie Crist’s deal with Big Sugar is history.

The state had also refused to spend Amendment 1 money—which voters approved for environmental projects– to help clean up the river. However, this being an election year, there is now a move by State Senator Joe Negron and State Rep. Gayle Harrell to set up a fund for Everglades restoration. But again, one wonders if this is too little too late.

I am betting that there are a fair number of residents—and businesses—along the Treasure Coast who send considerable amount money to Washington every year. Sunrise Ford’s federal tax bill was one of the highest in recent years. Of course I am happy that the car business is lucrative again and don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes. But I want a return on my investment. Some of that money needs to come back to clean up the river.

The same with the money we send to Tallahassee. Sunrise Ford paid about $2.5 million in state taxes last year. That money actually came from you, our customers. Six percent of every vehicle sale, repair bill or parts purchase was sent to the state. Multiply that amount by every other car dealer, grocery store, retail shop, hotel and restaurant along the Treasure Coast and, as the saying goes, you are talking about some real money. But apparently not enough to pay to fix our river.

The Indian River isn’t the only loser is this picture. Our Republican state legislature turned down federal money to help expand health insurance for the poor. And Scott’s administration recently rejected $250 million in federal money that would have helped struggling homeowners to pay their mortgages.

Of course, none of us wants to see federal or state money wasted on boondoggles and fraudulent projects. But we’d like to see a little bacon thrown our way.

In the not too distant past, a governor—or a member of congress or state legislator—wanted to establish a legacy—perhaps get his or her name on a bridge or a building or a park for a job well done. I can’t imagine a better legacy than returning our river to its pristine state.  It’s too bad that Scott, Rooney and the rest of the anti-earmark crowd don’t get that. To them, bringing home the bacon is a saying that just doesn’t mean much anymore.