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Make ARP spending thoughtful, transparent

An open cookie jar is a tempting thing.

And nearly every local government official in Michigan is situated face-to-face with just such a perceived bounty. Thanks to a gush of federal cash from a number of past and upcoming stimulus bills, tens of millions in aid payments are destined for local coffers.

That’s where the temptation comes in.

The now-arriving budgetary sugar rush has a few strings attached — it can cover public health-related costs, addressing negative economic impacts, replacing lost public sector revenue, premium pay for essential workers, and for water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Those are somewhat loose categories, and some government leaders already are struggling to interpret the few strings attached to the first payments — half of American Recovery Plan Act money was dispatched in May.

Most are taking it slow, and many have made promises of vigorous public processes to seek input before spending the windfall. Leelanau County officials received more than 100 suggestions from the community on how to spend the millions they will receive. All things considered it seems like common sense to seek guidance from the folks who pay the bills, instead of spending money on consultants and vendors to tell us where to send checks.

Some of the worst, most ethically corrupt plans for spending those cash infusions have been hatched through processes that seem devoid of taxpayer consultation.

Take, for instance, Green Lake Township elected officials’ now-interrupted plan to pay themselves tens of thousands in pandemic “hazard” pay. That plan now is on hold, but called for absurd payments to elected township board members — under the scheme they voted to approve, some board members would’ve received payments 10 times larger than their firefighters and EMTs would’ve received.

The township office and board room probably presented some new hazards and obstacles during the pandemic (frequent hand sanitizer use can cause some pretty chapped hands). But we can’t imagine elected officials faced hardships that eclipse the ones their frontline workers experienced.

We simply can’t overstate the temptation that arrives with those mountains of federal money. Some likely will subscribe to spending that will pad their own pockets. Others will see the money as easy-come, easy-go and write frivolous checks.

If our elected representatives struggle for targets for those cash missiles, we suggest the first place they begin is with the massive, unpaid infrastructure debt situated beneath our feet in every municipality.

That’s why discussions of how to spend the bounty must be both transparent and thoughtful.

People writing checks today, elected officials who face that tempting, wide-open cookie jar, are accruing debt our children will pay.

Those checks had better count.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle

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