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LA Sea Grant cut illustrates undue alarmism to come

Look no further than Louisiana’s Sea Grant program for a microcosm of issues involved in the battle to restrain government spending growth.

Based in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 33 universities allied with states and territories oversee these programs that award funding meeting various criteria and provide other support services. The program’s mission is to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources in order to create a sustainable economy and environment. Louisiana State University runs Louisiana’s version.

The Pres. Donald Trump Administration’s initial budget zeroes out federal funding for these, as it seeks to curtail spending and to shift monies from domestic to defense concerns. By the beginning of the federal fiscal year’s midterm U.S. debt will exceed $20 trillion.

It notes that the kinds of things done by Sea Grant awardees primarily benefit industry and state and local stakeholders, which are a lower priority than core functions maintained in the NOAA budget such as surveys, charting, and fisheries management. For example, industry could have performed the research for or funded a series of grants given last year to study acidic changes in northeastern states’ oceans. Additionally, individual states affected also could have chipped in. While helpful information, the federal government would benefit least from whatever results manifest, so why should taxpayers nationally have to pony up to pay for it?

And that’s an example of something with obvious practical benefit. A number of activities, judging by the specific things Louisiana’s version seeks to do, seem very low priority. For example, tomorrow Sea Grant resources will go to courtesy checks of commercial fishermen’s turtle excluder devices, while a couple of weeks ago Sea Grant LSU experts discussed with fishermen, chefs and culinary students methods to provide premium seafood products. Then there are outreach efforts such as distributing a handbook for homeowners to deal with disasters and teaching people to fish commercially. Also, it has prepared various lesson plans for schooling.

No doubt useful information comes from these events and products, but are these really things federal taxpayers ought to foot the bill for? Why don’t the industries that, for example, try to avoid fines for improper equipment to avoid catching turtles or who find and prepare seafood do these on their own, passing any costs on to specific consumers rather than to everybody through increased federal spending? Does the public really need disaster handbooks, and why can’t its interested members use their own resources to learn about commercial fishing? Shouldn’t state and local governments compile for teaching purposes curricula on oysters, manatees, and native fish?

Understanding that makes hollow complaints that the federal budget cuts would make the program inoperative. Only about a third of its dollars come from the federal level, with the rest comes from donations from business, nonprofits, and communities equally matched by the state. It spends about half of its money on research and two-fifths on extension and education, so excising all of the low-priority functions – those that interests who benefit directly from these should pay for instead of taxpayers across America – still might leave some matters of more importance unfunded, but surely a small paring of research opportunities, for example, would bring things into balance.

In short, the draconian assertion that Louisiana’s Sea Grant program would cease to function stems from budgetary gamesmanship that perpetuates the untrue notion of the indispensability of all federal spending. Further, note that if such functions truly are so important, then there’s no reason that state and local residents would not pay more in taxes and/or policy-makers would not find higher levels of appropriation to keep these going.

Nevertheless, be prepared for false alarmism like this replicated across many entities that find funding reduced or eliminated in the Trump budget, but do not buy it. If serious about deficit reduction, not only do federal policy-makers have the capacity to make wise choices related to the genuine functions of government, but bureaucrats running the affected agencies have the knowledge and ability to do the same to keep essential operations going. A real commitment to begin the process of right-sizing the federal government will overcome such scare tactics and cause no interruption of important services for the nation.

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