SUBSIDY STORM ON THE HORIZON This week, Congress is likely to introduce a new disaster relief bill to help repair the wrath of Hurricane Isabel. We all sympathize with the families and communities that have experienced losses, but the federal government can't continue to subsidize redevelopment in high-risk coastal areas.
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In the aftermath of the storm, the ravaged communities will be cleaning up over the next several weeks. During past hurricanes, taxpayers from across the nation have spent billions of dollars to help victims get back up and running.
In the half-century since the federal government got into the disaster aid business, the subsidies have grown like weeds. Taxpayers have paid a whopping $140 billion for disaster assistance, and our annual disaster relief bill has ballooned from about $5 million in 1950 to nearly $5 billion today. Some predict that a coastal population boom and increased occurrences of bad weather could drive this cost to $50 billion a year.
The American dream of a house on the beach has become a major financial nightmare for taxpayers, most of whom do not own beach houses. Billions of federal taxpayer dollars have subsidized the repeated repair of luxurious beachfront property in the aftermath of natural disasters and more is spent to protect beachfront estates from future storms. In addition to all these subsidies, beachfront property owners also benefit from lucrative tax breaks. Property tax and other mortgage-related deductions are just the tip of the iceberg -- owners of rental properties can also deduct up to $100,000 in business expenses for upkeep on the houses.
Herein lies the financial quagmire for Congress: Is it possible to provide aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster without encouraging Americans to build and rebuild in harm's way?
Nearly 25 percent of the nation's population now lives within 50 miles of the coast and the demand for ocean views and access to beaches has been encouraging increased development in these risky areas. For example, in 1980 only about a hundred people lived on the barrier islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks -- one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Isabel.
Even before Isabel headed our way, Congress had wanted to spend close to $1.8 billion to restore and replenish a 12-mile portion of Outer Banks beaches. It's inevitable that lawmakers will now want to spend tens of millions to subsidize the rebuilding of homes.
We need to be sympathetic, but lawmakers need to practice tough love. Victims that come to Congress with their hands open need to start making personal choices that will save future taxpayer dollars, or they should not receive any aid.
If developers and others want to gamble against Mother Nature by building in risky areas, taxpayers shouldn't have to cover their bets if they lose. As damaging as Hurricane Isabel was, it is still not the "big one" that weather experts are predicting. A major hurricane striking a bigger city on the east coast could cost more than $100 billion and would expose the U.S. Treasury to massive long-term liabilities.
The solution to this financial fracas is simple. Stop the cycle of subsidies to coastal area development. Development will continue, but Congress shouldn't leave taxpayers exposed to a hurricane of waste.
For more information, contact Keith Ashdown at (202)-546-8500 ext. 110
or by email at email@example.com
TCS is at www.taxpayer.net
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