This isn’t really surprising

This story made a brief trip through the blogosphere, hitting several conservative websites. This one’s from Karen:

Feds Fined Utah High School $15K for Selling Soda During Lunch

May 18, 2012 | By

A Utah high school will have to take money from its budget to pay a $15,000 fine to the federal government for leaving a soda vending machine turned on during lunch. Davis High routinely turned off the lunchroom machine during the lunch hour, but forgot to turn off a machine in the library. Somehow the food police got wind of it and the school was punished. What’s ridiculous is that the kids are free to buy soda before lunch, and drink it with lunch, they just can’t buy it during lunch. Thanks to the feds school has lost every cent raised through vending machine sales this year.

More at the link, including Karen’s sources. Hot Air had the story, too.

Here’s the news story:

Davis High School pays big fine for vending machine violations

Reported by: Barbara Smith

Salt Lake City, ABC 4 News) – The vending machines are unplugged at a Utah high school after a violation of federal lunch rules. Davis High School was fined $15-thousand dollars for selling carbonated beverages during the lunch hour.

Vending machines in the hallways at Davis High School normally sell carbonated beverages and candy, but to receive federal nutrition funding, they can’t sell it during lunch. Students say it doesn’t make sense.

“Everyone goes out to lunch anyways and drinks them so it’s pretty dumb.”

District officials say the policy can be confusing too. Chris Williams, the Davis School District Spokesperson, says there are definite rules about how, and when carbonated beverages can be sold. “It is challenging when you can buy a Coke before lunch, and consume it during lunch, but you can’t buy a coke during lunch.”

It’s not just soda sales that are a problem; candy can be too, depending on what kind it is. Davis High School’s Principal, Dee Burton, says Snicker Bars are considered nutritional and legal, but other candy is not. “We are not allowed to sell anything that is carbonated or any candy that sticks to your teeth”

More at the link. But because the students overflow the cafeteria, and eat out in the halls, federal inspectors have determined that the entire school is to be classified as a cafeteria.

Your Editor sees this problem somewhat differently. Note that the story indicated that Davis High School was subjected to federal regulation because it “receive(s) federal nutrition funding.” This is the kind of thing that happens when local schools take federal dollars.

But, let’s be honest about things and ask why states and localities and schools take federal dollars. Most of these government units have balanced budget requirements, while the federal government does not, and they need federal grant money to be able to spend more than they take in in taxes. Schools, states and cities are actually passing on their budget deficits to Uncle Sam, and will continue to do so as long as the federal government lets them. On the other hand, schools, states and cities have a real problem raising their taxes high enough to cover all of their expenses because the federal tax bite is so large; they don’t have room to tax the citizens more.

The entire situation is ridiculous. Money is fungible, and the various employees and contractors and vendors don’t particularly care from where the dollars they are paid come; it all spends the same. But because Davis High — as just one example — can’t tax enough to pay for all of its expenses, and Uncle Sam gives the school grants for things, that creates the role of a federal inspector to see to it that the federal dollars are spent in compliance with the regulations attached to federal funds. While money is fungible, the regulations are not free; they come with a cost. It isn’t just the cost of the fine that Davis High received, but the cost of having a federal inspector in the first place. The federal money spent on grants to local school districts is less than 100% efficiently spent because some of it must be set aside to pay for the inspectors. Additional funds are lost to overhead at both the federal and local levels, because the schools have to have personnel filling out grant requests and federal compliance documentation, while the feds have personnel reviewing the documentation to make sure that the paperwork is all in line.

If federal taxes were not so high, and the local taxing authorities were expected to raise all of the revenues for their schools — as was the case just a couple of generations ago — Davis High, and thousands of other school districts, there would be no money wasted on federal compliance paperwork, and there would be no federal inspectors, and the school districts would be setting their own regulations, as approved by local, elected school boards. At least in theory, the money spent by the local school districts would be more efficiently spent; the shuffling of compliance paperwork does not contribute to educating students.

For conservatives, this is a battle which should be fought, but which has been almost completely ignored. Every politician promises to combat “waste, fraud and abuse,” but since waste, fraud and abuse aren’t separate line items, they get hard to find. Well, this is waste! Even if the federal budget were balanced, the idea that we send federal dollars to state and local governments for their use means an additional layer of government must be paid for, additional overhead must be supported, additional Gaia-killing paperwork must be filled out, and none of that contributes in any way to achieving whatever goal a particular government program is attempting to achieve.

And this is a top-down problem. No city or school board can afford to not try to get federal grants, and to support their budgets entirely on their own, because that puts them and their citizens at a taxing disadvantage. Their citizens are still being taxed by the federal government, to pay for things like school nutrition programs, so if their local school board decides to do things properly, without federal grants, their citizens would be paying for federal grants to other schools without getting any benefit for their own schools. Reform would have to come from the federal level, where a libertarian or TEA Party leadership would have to tell cities and states and school districts, “OK, we will be ending all of these things in two fiscal years; you have that long to prepare to do all of these things on your own. We will be cutting federal taxes to enable you to have the room to raise local taxes if that is what you need to do.”

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