RALEIGH – The N.C. General Assembly passed a bill Thursday to allocate $300 million for disaster relief. Earlier this fall state lawmakers approved an appropriation of nearly $1 billion for disaster relief related to the historic damages Hurricane Florence inflicted upon residents, businesses, and school across the central and eastern portions of the state. Not all of the earmarked money was actually allocated toward specific items, however, and so during this special session lawmakers directed the bulk of remaining funds toward specific ends.
So where is the money going and how will it be spent? Well, many of the allocations go to state agencies, such as the Department of Public Instruction (school repairs) or Department of Transportation (road repairs) for reasons that are fairly obvious. Other allocations are less obviously tied to relief that the State (taxpayers) has a constitutional role in providing.
It’s completely understandable that taxpayer funds (in the form of reserve funds) would be used for schools and roads. It also makes sense that lawmaker and layman feel horribly for the people that lost so much due to the storm.
That being said, what role should the state government have in redistributing income from some taxpayers to others based on their having suffered a natural disaster?
The bill allocates five million dollars to give taxpayer funded loans to businesses; ten million dollars to assist commercial fisherman.
The bulk of this allocation is made up of $240,000,000 of taxpayer funds being allocated here to the Department of Agriculture. Farmers lost a TON of their harvest and equipment when Florence’s winds and rain, and subsequent floods, ravaged Eastern North Carolina. Still, should the tax dollars of John Doe in Burlington be used to make Farmer Joe in Goldsboro whole again?
Compassion is easy when using other people’s money, and politicians will never shy away from the good press they receive by spending other people’s money on helping those affected by natural disasters, but it is not a moral role of government.
That’s a hard position to take given how much people are still hurting, financially and otherwise, from this storm. It is consistent, however, with the premise that one person’s need should not place a (financial or other) claim on someone else. After all, that is one of the core premises that capitalism is built upon; individual responsibility, individual risk, private property rights.
It doesn’t take much to extend the logic of disaster relief funds to any number of other needs that citizens of this state have. If John Smith and his family face a personal financial disaster that threatens their livelihood, does he have a claim on the funds appropriated from taxpayers across the state? If a person’s car engine craps out unexpectedly, at the worst possible time, are the justified in having taxpayers mitigate that financial hardship?
The hypothetical examples go on, and on, but, of course, we don’t need hypothetical situations when there is an entire welfare/entitlement system in existence to hold up as an example. Those wealth redistribution programs are roundly condemned for what they are – socialism, theft – by conservative voters and Republican politicians. Why is that moral compass completely ignored when it comes to disaster relief?
Maybe it’s because the disasters are acts of God that engender universal sympathy. Maybe because politicians feel obligated to get whatever they can to help their constituents, and thus win reelection. Whatever the reasons, disasters, whether natural or personal, still do not give government the moral authority to take one person’s money and give to another. That is what charity, community, and hardiness is for.
I say this as a person with family and friends on the coast that suffered major damages to their homes; as a person that grew up in a small coastal community which was hit harder by Hurricane Florence than by any other storm at anytime in anyone’s memory; but especially as person that understands that moral absolutes are indeed absolute. Just as it is wrong to steal from the rich to give to the poor, it is wrong for government to take from the spared, to give to those unfortunate enough to be in the storm’s path.