Finley: Biden's profligate COVID spending created 'fantasy land' for local pols

 April 16, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed a whirlwind of federal spending the likes of which the country has rarely seen, and according to Detroit News opinion writer Nolan Finley, the Biden administration “threw a brick through the window of the U.S. Treasury” in order to provide a politically advantageous – yet utterly unnecessary – boon to local governments.

According to Finley, the federal largesse distributed over the past few years has allowed politicians in cities across the country to engage in all sorts of projects and initiatives their own coffers could never have sustained, but it will be the American taxpayers who suffer the consequences.

Boondoggles abound

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) has, in Finley's estimation, “created a fantasy land where local politicians can spend as much as they want on whatever they want without having to worry about waking up with a fiscal hangover.”

Finley goes on to detail recent revelations from Wayne County, Michigan – a jurisdiction that includes the City of Detroit – about how officials are going about spending some of the $300 billion received in ARPA money.

Canton Township, for instance, is poised to develop a downtown district it has long coveted but could not afford. The City of Taylor is set to receive an action park. Melvindale will soon feature a boat launch, and development of trails along the Joe Louis Greenway will get a jump start that would otherwise be impossible, Finley notes.

Wayne County Commission chair Alisha Bell expressed her enthusiasm over the spending, saying, “This is transformational. If it were not for this one-time opportunity of funds, these municipalities would take years and y ears to get the money” to undertake such endeavors.

As Finley points out, however, the almost completely party-line vote that resulted in the availability of these funds was, in fact, not needed, given that many states and cities were already awash in excess resources due to a post-lockdown rise in tax revenue.

Paying the piper

Finley goes on to lament that while residents of Lincoln Park, for example, may be thrilled to have a new fitness park, the consequences that result from the spending spree will be felt deeply and for an extended period of time.

“And what do taxpayers get?” Finley asks. “The worst inflation in 40 years, and interest rate hikes that have been slow in turning it around largely because the furious federal spending continues.”

Perhaps most frustration, according to Finley, is the purported rationale for the profligate expenditures, namely that COVID-19 necessitated the influx of funds to state and local units. “Tying any of this spending directly to mitigating COVID is a stretch,” he declared.

Redford Township Supervisor Pat McRae – whose community is receiving new pickleball courts and other goodies – attempted to do just that, however, saying, “COVID was terrible. So many residents really wanted more spaces to improve their health. Everyone in Redford should be happy about this.”

Nationwide waste

As the Detroit News columnist points out, the “Festival of Spending” is not unique to Wayne County, Michigan and is something that is taking place in localities all across the country, and that fact has brought taxpayers' shares of the national debt to a whopping $92,528 apiece.

As Fox Business reported late last year, the same type of waste and abuse cited by Finley was also raised by Republican Reps. Kevin Brady (TX) and Jason Smith (MO), who mentioned $140 million in COVID relief funds going to the construction of a luxury hotel in Florida, $5 million for a “moonshine walking trail” in North Carolina, and $2 million for an Iowa ski mountain as specific examples.

The lawmakers wrote at the time, “As a result of the spending in the [American Rescue Plan], consumer prices have increased at the fastest rate in 40 years,” and as Finley asserts, though there may be a short-term rush of excitement over a new skate park or pickleball court, “[a] family of four could build a mighty nice COVID relief space of their very own” with the money they are indirectly paying because of the ARPA.

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