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Here’s a big fracking deal

September 9, 2012
The Herald-Star

To the editor:

In Walter Williams' column in the Aug. 31 Herald-Star, he wrote, "After all, if you have no income tax liability, what do you care about raising or lowering taxes?" Williams might have added, " or raising or lowering expenditures?" ("Are you still convinced the rich don't pay enough taxes?") No matter which, it's all OPM, other people's money.

Case in point: a front-page article in the same edition, headlined "County gets state grant for well study." Eyes start glazing over at words like "grant" and "study," so here's a summary: an Ohio government agency gave a committee of Jefferson county commissioners $49,900 to study whether it is feasible to create a Web site about oil and gas wells in the county. A county commissioner explained that the grant "is designed to make local governments work more efficiently" and the study will determine whether the web site "will decrease government costs and increase efficiencies." A third government agency will administer the grant.

Too, it's likely that among the reasons the state government ponied up the grant was that it is awash in money from federal grants that just has to be spent or else be returned.

First, all these grants are not manna from heaven - they are taxes somebody had to pay. Taxes also pay the administrative costs associated with grants that are doled out and for the government bodies that do the doling - three agencies, at the very least. There were more administrative costs associated with collecting these taxes. Since governments depend on borrowing and bonds, there is also interest to be paid, and interest on the interest.

So far, taxpayers are likely out at least $100,000, not a mere $50,000, and after the dust and small change settle, we will still not have a Web site to show for it, only a "feasibility study."

Second, a "feasibility study" about something always finds that something to be feasible. Such studies are intended to provide a cover if, or when, the project does a Solyndra. ("It's not my fault; the expert made me do it.")

Third, the site as described in the article is to be a simple, plain-vanilla listing of names and phone numbers, the sort anyone can create on, say, WordPress for $30 a year or that junior high school kids slap together on a smartphone, in the cafeteria, on their lunch hour, for free. Or, if you just can't wait for the names and phone numbers until the eighth-grader finishes his or her mystery meat sandwich, go to the mall and pick up a free copy of Shale Play.

Remember, the $50,000 to $100,000-plus is only for a feasibility study - the Web site itself will require another, presumably much higher pile of OPM. So about now you're probably feeling a warm glow from all those increased efficiencies.

A suggestion - rather than fracking with some nasty fluid, let's skip these expensive preliminaries and just pump tax money into some hole in the ground. It at least sounds environmentally friendly, and apparently we enjoy doing it.

Terry Graves


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