Massive cash handouts like the current "stimulus" funds flowing out of Washington invite several problems, but the obvious risk is that such one-time funds will be used to create new jobs, programs and constituencies who can be relied upon to squawk like starving nestlings when the funds run out.
Will politicians in 2010 or 2012 have the intestinal fortitude to say, "You were warned; the spigot is now closed"? Or will it be more of the familiar, "Budget cuts will destroy the state, starve the elderly, leave children to die in the streets! New taxes must be raised to fill the gap!"?
Fortunately, a few grown-ups remain in Carson City to ask such questions.
Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, asked Wednesday how Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford's "green jobs" initiative would keep running once federal stimulus dollars are gone, and then what would happen to workers hired for projects created by the initiative.
Senate Bill 152 would use federal stimulus funds to train an estimated 3,200 workers at about $3,500 each, and cover costs of weatherizing about 6,500 homes and making government buildings and schools more energy efficient.
"Does the state have to pick up the balance or do you just stop?" Sen. Cegavske asked. "So you have new employees. What happens to those people when their job ends? They're hired and we have to tell them when they come in it's only for this amount of time?"
Sen. Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the purpose of the program is job creation and economic recovery, and that the initiative is not meant to be ongoing.
Sure. OK. Just like NASA closed down after we landed a man on the moon in 1969. Just like the Department of Agriculture was phased out after it helped farmers through the 1921 crop price crash. And then there's the temporary measure known as daylight saving time -- only needed to save coal for the war effort, till we defeat Kaiser Bill, you understand.
Meantime, Democratic Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus have chided Gov. Jim Gibbons for refusing to change state law in order to qualify for extra one-time federal unemployment handouts.
The stimulus bill aims to increase the scope of benefits for the unemployed through 2011. But Gibbons and other Republican governors have expressed concern that -- once the federal money runs out -- the states could find it hard to reduce benefits to their "pre-stimulus" level.
The federal unemployment carrot "doesn't have federal strings attached; it has federal chains attached," the governor said. "I will not sell out our state's sovereignty."
Given how much federal money -- most of it with strings attached -- Carson City already channels, this sounds a bit like a Cherry Patch lady protesting that the gentleman has threatened her virtue. Nonetheless, even a lady of the evening does retain the right to say, "No."
Our American states were never intended to be mere administrative departments of the central state, as under the centralized tyranny of Napoleonic France. A wise leader will indeed look down the road, asking what price in freedom and sovereignty will eventually be exacted in return for our accepting "free stuff" today.
Gov. Jim Gibbons and Sen. Barbara Cegavske are attempting to take that longer view. They will probably be ignored.
Then, two or three years from now, who is it who will be shouting "You can't cut the budget! ..."?