As Hurricane Sandy and last week’s snowstorm reminded us so bluntly, and President Obama’s State of the Union speech reminded us so eloquently, government matters.
Residents of South Queens have been relying on the flood insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency grants received from Washington since the hurricane. That’s government spending. FEMA has disbursed more than $61 million in Howard Beach alone, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone there who thinks it’s enough. Just imagine if it were less.
The city performed admirably during the snowstorm, and we all remember what it was like the last week of 2010 when it didn’t. This time the streets were kept clear and residents were even able to utilize a new plow-tracking website the city created that let them see when every block in town had been cleared. That’s government spending. Yes, the Christmas Blizzard two years ago was much worse for Queens and the rest of the city than last weekend’s storm, but there seems little doubt the administration also did a much better job this time around. Just imagine if it hadn’t.
Providing insurance in flood zones, giving grants to repair storm damage, plowing snow — these are all necessary governmental functions. And they’re fine examples of why the taxes no one likes to pay must be paid. Look at how our neighbors out east, especially in Suffolk County, where municipal taxes are low (though school taxes are high), suffered in the storm. That’s what happens when governments are not well-enough prepared for emergencies because, at least in part, they haven’t been raising the revenue that is necessary for the equipment and staff that are necessary.
The president knows the same principles apply nationally, noting in the State of the Union that “we can’t just cut our way to prosperity” and lamenting the devastating spending reductions that will kick in March 1 absent congressional action. His right-wing opponents differ, but they’re wrong. It’s Obama’s approach, which recognizes that government can’t solve all problems but is the only institution that can solve many, that’s the right one. We should all remember that when complaining about taxes and spending, before the next disaster reminds us the hard way.