Thursday, October 31, 2013

Government disappearances

A little personal tale from the government shutdown - I came back yesterday from vacation at Baxter State Park visiting three moose, two beaver, one insolent racoon, and a million colored leaves, with the plan of leaving next week for our water district's fall trip to Washington DC. We go to lobby the Feds on funding for our various flood control projects and San Francisco Bay restoration program. So much for that trip - our staff tell us that government officials we'd been planning to meet are basically disappearing - they're not even legally allowed to answer calls we make to them on their government-issue phones. The story's that it will get even worse after Friday - the Office of Management and Budget has allowed a few agencies to teeter forward on rollover funding, but that's done with after this week. So we'll be going in November on the hope that things will work out then.

Here's my thought experiment:  why shouldn't the Democrats demand that the Republican House pass climate change legislation or a fiscal stimulus as a condition of funding the government and raising the debt limit? If the tactic of taking the national and global economy hostage is legitimate, why shouldn't Democrats use it?

This isn't even a case where Republicans can argue the ends justify the means, a utilitarian argument they usually avoid. The ends they seek are the opposite of the ends that Democrats would seek so there's no utility-maximizing outcome, just a government shutdown and potential default. The only way to win the game is not to play - except of course for trying to win elections, a legitimate way to change the law.

One good thing about the strange fact of the Army Corps of Engineers running America's domestic flood control program is they're more likely to operate during a government shutdown, so we were able to do a little negotiation at yesterday's district board meeting. Not sure if it'll be interesting, but I'm attaching below a clip where I tried unsuccessfully to pin down one of their experts on an environmental issue. For decades we've allowed trees and bushy vegetation to grow on our levees along streams, incorporating them into our riparian system and providing important benefits to endangered fish. Recently the Corps has been changing that.

I think he's truly trying to be helpful, but I'm not sure if I failed to ask the right question or if it's just that it's not possible to be more specific.

(Video here, October 8, Item 2.1)

In a good news item, a request I made over the summer to increase the rebate we give people to tear out their lawns and put in low-water use landscaping is being supported by staff. Some of our local cities match our rebate and will increase their matching, so in some places we're rebating $2 per square foot of removed lawn, which will pick up a significant fraction of the cost.