There was a very good article yesterday in the Los Angeles Times that previews some of the debates we are sure to be having in the near future. The thrust of the article is that big city mayors are complaining that rural areas are getting a disproportionate share of the stimulus money. Their complaint is backed up by a report that the Conference of Mayors commissioned. From the article:

The mayors commissioned a report looking at a pot of $18 billion set aside for transportation. When the report was released this month, the 85 most populous metropolitan areas had received $8.8 billion -- or 48% of the total. Yet those same areas account for 63% of the U.S. population and 73% of the gross domestic product, the report said.

For those of you that skip past numbers, the report is saying that big cities have more people and produce more of the nation's wealth but are getting less of the government handout. These are facts that can't be disputed. An example:

In Ohio, Cleveland and Cincinnati account for 40% of the total economy yet received less than 5% of the transportation stimulus funds earmarked for the state.

Knowing that most of our readership comes from Rural America, there might be some disbelief there, or at least some may be wondering how something like this really happens. The mayors are bold in explaining it, and they have it figured out.

Mayors contend the stimulus relies too heavily on long-standing government formulas that make states the primary conduit for the cash. Once the money is funneled to states, governors and legislatures dole it out disproportionately to rural areas that have amassed political clout, mayors say.

"Funding went directly to states," said Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. "And many, many states have a bias toward funding rural projects. That has to do with the political makeup of state legislatures and governors."

We all understand political patronage; those with political power use their influence to send money to those that support them, typically their own districts. We really don't need to debate that. It is the way of the world.

Back in the days of Thomas Jefferson, we were a nation of rural farmers. Politically, our rural areas held the most sway. The shift of the industrial revolution started to change that, with suburbanization following World War II impacting it even more. As we head into the 2010 census, more people live in urban and suburban areas nationwide than our small towns and rural communities.

So consider this line of reasoning:

  1. Political patronage directs where the money goes.
  2. In the United States, the distribution of population equates to the distribution of power. More population equals more political power.
  3. The 2010 census is scheduled to redistribute power based on the 2010 demographics.
  4. Due to demographic shifts, rural areas are losing population relative to urban and suburban areas.
  5. Rural areas are anticipated to lose even more power and influence following the 2010 census.

With our Federal Government massively indebted and our big cities struggling as well, can our small towns reasonably expect a future that includes large federal handouts for infrastructure? The economics say no. The demographics say that what little money might be available will go to big cities, especially if these mayors get their way (and the trends give them more influence). 

Rural areas used to hold political sway and, with government subsidies, built an inefficient, suburban-style development pattern across much of Rural America. Now we are on our own, or soon will be. How many small towns are prepared for that? How many small towns have the tax base and the capital to maintain their current infrastructure? None that I know of. 

Our national elections have been Red States versus Blue States, but a close look at the maps reveals that Red=Rural and Blue=Urban, despite the color of the state. Politics aside, Red is losing that numbers game. Towns that want to survive, let along grow and prosper, need to start adopting strategies to become a Strong Town, and quickly. Everything tells me the last of the handouts is upon us.


Note: My apologies to those of you that tuned in today for the continuation on the "Why do they exist" discussion from last week and this past Monday. I have not forgotten about you or this line of thought. I've actually been doing some additional research and hope to finish up that entry some time this weekend for a Monday posting. Thank you for your patience.