Why Cities Are Broke or, There is Something Tragic About a Train…


… or a light rail system or a streetcar boondoggle that just makes people (well, pols and their civilian enablers) wet their pants over the prospect of tossing 19th-century technology and 21st century debt obligations at cities and states and countries that are already dead broke.

And so witness the spectacle of Cincinnati, a city that is down on its luck and its population, faces a $50 million deficit next year, and is home to the worst mascot in the history of professional sports (see right), anxiously awaiting signs that the feds will shovel some money their way in a ridiculous plot to build a streetcar system in the Queen City:

Cincinnati awaits word on federal streetcar funds

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is scheduled to announce nearly $300 million in federal funding for streetcar, trolley and bus proposals nationwide, with Cincinnati being one of dozens of cities in competition for the grants.

Cincinnati, which still needs about $42 million in additional state or federal dollars to fund the streetcar plan's $128 million first phase, has applied for a $25 million "urban circulator" grant from the U.S. Transportation Department that would significantly close the project's funding gap….

The city has identified about $86 million for the project, including $64 million in city bonds that Mayor Mark Mallory has pledged will not be issued unless the city receives roughly the same amount in state and federal funds….

Let's leave aside the obvious point that there is absolutely nothing that a streetcar system could possibly do to make Cincinnati a better place to live.

What a bold bid at fiscal restraint: promising not to spend up to $86 million unless they find an equally big idiot to match them in foolishness. Unless of course, they want to go ahead and start building it anyway:

Even if the full $128 million budget is not in place, city officials have said preliminary construction could begin this fall with relocation of utilities to clear the way for track installation for a streetcar system that will extend from Downtown's riverfront to the Uptown communities around the University of Cincinnati.

This sort of absolute and utter foolishness is being played out in every hamlet, village, town, and city in the United States and such incredible and indefensible spending decisions are exactly the reason why local governments (not to mention state and federal units) are flat-busted. As noted in passing yesterday (and virtually everyday here at Hit & Run), when it comes to government (and, to be fair, many relatives of mine), spending decisions are virtually completely divorced from any vague concept of reality or revenue. They spend when times are good and when times are bad; they do not plan for the future or learn from the past.

And those of us lucky to live to be 100 pick up the tab. But at least we'll have the memory of streetcars.

Here's a short vid outlining President Obama's misguided enthusiasm for national high-speed streetcars, er, high-speed trains: