Tampa’s Unspent Stimulus Money

Tampa has a problem. According to a recent St. Petersburg Times report, it still has to spend nearly half of $13.6 million in federal stimulus funds it received 18 months ago. The deadline is in two months. If the money isn’t spent, it will go back to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The plan was to use part of the money to buy up foreclosed homes and sell them to preferred buyers (low-income and first-time). Renovating rental units was also on the list.

The argument is, naturally, that such activity will ‘stimulate’ the economy. The Times report paraphrased the head of a non-profit who would benefit from the funds:

[Sara Romeo] says the project will create 237 construction jobs, two permanent full-time jobs, and take advantage of the latest green building techniques to save residents energy and transportation costs.

The obvious questions rarely asked in these type of well-intentioned government spending plans are where did the money come from and what would it have been spent on without government direction? Given that the federal government is in debt, that means the money adds to our debt. The only way to pay for it is to borrow or print more money.

That money is money that will eventually come from taxpayers, through future taxes to pay it off, or from anyone who uses the American dollar, through eventual inflation. That represents money taken from the private sector and directed by government toward ends it believes are worthy. But that means it is money no longer available for people to spend as they see fit.

Here’s an idea for what Tampa can do with the money: Give it back. It may not be politically popular or guarantee that it will be spent wiser (using it to pay down the federal debt or pay back taxpayers), but at least the city’s collective conscience would be clear.

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