- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In Hammond, Ind., a city of about 81,000 people near violence-plagued Chicago, police are concerned they may lose federal money to purchase laptop computers and radar guns.

In Iowa, milk and meat producers don’t anticipate an immediate impact on their farming income, but they are nervous about threats to health and jobs if food inspectors lose their jobs, which the Obama administration said are on the line because the White House and Congress failed to reach a deal to avoid the sequesters.

Since these and other fears have us all wedged between a man-made rock and an uncomfortable hard place, perhaps now is the time to focus on the real problem. It’s the spending, stupid.

Automatically taking effect March 1 because of Washington’s inaction, the across-the-board spending cuts present an opportunity to begin rethinking the role of our ever-expanding federal government in general, as well as public schooling and public safety.

According to federal estimates, Virginia, a state whose northern and middle regions heavily depend on Defense Department spending, stands to lose an estimated $14 million from the federal government for primary and secondary schooling and nearly $13.9 million for educating children with disabilities.

Those “lost” federal revenues would be on top of cuts to programs that give youngsters a so-called head start.

Considering that federal education spending has grown by leaps and bounds since the Carter administration in the 1970s while math, science and reading scores have remained virtually stagnant since then, fewer federal dollars could be a blessing in disguise.

True, it’s certainly challenging that Virginia might have to adjust its state budget — and localities reconsider theirs, too — to keep nearly 350 teachers inside classrooms. Those teaching posts never should have been tethered to federal purse strings anyway — purse strings that are manipulated not by local parents or state leaders answerable to voters but in the tight grasp of inside-the-Beltway bureaucrats.

The same is true regarding critical public-safety policies.

During the George W. Bush administration, the federal government began subsidizing local firefighter salaries and firefighting equipment. Now look.

In the nation’s capital, by way of example, Congress and the White House usually agree on public-safety appropriations for the city, and that’s usually a good thing.

But instead of officials in city hall optimizing that money, they are putting on a poor imitation of Smokey Bear, who ultimately needs firefighters to keep him safe, too.

And police?

Suffice it to say, the Metropolitan Police Department is undermanned and underpaid because officers and city officials remain at an impasse over a contract. The officers have been working without a contract since 2007 — when Mr. Bush was in office.

But don’t blame steadfast fiscal conservatives, who asked liberals to not bust open the piggybank and then urged them to stem the bleeding; and don’t blame liberals, who believe Chicago has a crime problem that can be solved only with federal intervention. And, oh, remember, these are the same liberals who think a single mom hasn’t a clue about carrying, birthing or raising a child unless government strings are attached.

The looming spending cuts, which largely leave entitlements untouched, kicked in because Washington’s leaders failed to, well, lead and compromise. So both sides have what they want: pending cuts to crucial government services.

Well, the hard work now falls to state and local governments.

Perhaps localities like Hammond will think about working more closely with its neighbors and the state when it comes to purchasing dollars.

Or maybe, just maybe, farmers in Iowa will partner with their agricultural counterparts and explain to Washington the public-health risk of severely downsizing safety inspections at the nation’s food facilities.

Perhaps now we can return to those days when taxpayers in the states and localities really and truly have their say, telling their elected leaders to be responsible caretakers of their wallets or else.

Washington has opened wide the door.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.