Role of government remains a complex issue

November 26, 2013

In Washington, D.C., and across the country, we are fighting a great political battle about the size and role of government.

Or are we?

You’d be excused for thinking so.

From listening to cable news and reading the pundits, you’d likely conclude that Republicans want only to limit government, while Democrats continually seek its expansion.

But that’s not the whole story.

Case in point: Delaware recently received a total of about $40 million from the federal government to restore the marshes and fill in the breaches along the Delaware Bay coast.

This is great news for the bay front communities, and I am personally happy for the homeowners who have been watching helplessly as their property washed away.

I can’t help wondering though, where are the howls of protest from conservatives? Driving around the bay front area before last year’s election, I saw many houses with Mitt Romney signs.

Since moderate Republicans are more rare than coyotes in these parts - actually, I’m pretty sure they’ve been added to the Endangered Species list - it’s a good bet that many of those expressing their preference for Romney were proud members of the Tea Party.

Tea Party conservatives hate the federal government intervening in state and local affairs. They hate wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. Many will repeat President Reagan’s old line about government not being the solution, but the problem.

Except, of course, when it benefits them.

This is not some big knock against Tea Partiers. This is human nature.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie - I’m tempted to say “our own Gov. Chris Christie” since he’s a UD grad - often talks about small government and I’m sure he means what he says. But in photos following Superstorm Sandy he looked pretty shell-shocked. He seemed more than happy to accept help from the federal government.

That’s the problem. People say they want smaller government, but they’re not talking about their government, they’re talking about someone else’s government.

The New York Times had a story last week saying that a so-called “Grand Bargain” between Democrats and Republicans - one involving revenue increases and Social Security/Medicaid cuts - was likely a non-starter.

The reason: Democrats talk about raising taxes and closing loopholes but they don’t want to upset their wealthy donors; conservative Republicans make a lot of noise about trimming Social Security/Medicare benefits, but they fear angering members of the Tea Party, many of them older Americans receiving monthly checks from the government.

And, despite demands for smaller government, I doubt many residents of the bay front communities - and Delawareans in general - are going to object to this latest federal handout.

Not that I don’t sympathize with these people, many of whom believe they had an implicit agreement with the government that, when making their purchase, they were buying a viable - and valuable - piece of property.

But even this latest effort to stabilize the shoreline will eventually fail. For proof, look no farther than Fowler Beach. In 2006 - less than 10 years ago - an observation stand was built behind the dune line. Now, the waves of Delaware Bay lap around the remains of that platform.

As Gov. Jack Markell said during a recent webcast sponsored by, among others, the Aspen Institute, “At what point do you say we’re not going to continue to nourish some of the beaches in some of these areas, because Mother Nature is just too powerful?”

Some argue that the bay beaches should be nourished just like the ocean beaches: Look at all that money that only benefits the tourists.

But, upon even cursory examination, this argument dissolves faster than a sand dune during a nasty nor’easter. The Delaware beaches, according to a recent report from the Delaware Sea Grant College Program, contribute nearly $7 billion annually to the state’s economy.

The report also said that the beach communities and surrounding areas “support 59,000 jobs and $711 million in tax revenues,” adding up to a whopping “10 percent of the state’s total employment, taxes and business production.”

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Atlantic beaches to the state’s economy as a whole and especially to the Cape Region. Virtually everybody here benefits from those beaches, whether by property values, job opportunities or whatever.

That is not the case with the bay front communities, whose economic impact is limited. The recent announcement about the $40 million restoration plan is welcome news, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves. This latest project only delays the inevitable.

When it comes to the beaches - and yes, even the Atlantic beaches - we’ll still need to have some very difficult discussions about the role of government.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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