A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned; A Federal Dollar Saved Is A Fiscal Disaster For Someone

The Government Services Agency, recently in the news for its expensive and lavish conferences which sometimes mocked the thought of fiscal restraint, has cut a conference from its docket. St. Louis businesses who would have benefited from the largesse this time around are unhappy:

That was the case this week, when a scandal-plagued federal agency, still reeling from revelations about a lavish conference in Sin City, pulled the plug on an upcoming gathering here in the Gateway City.

Now 10 downtown hotels are left with a bunch of empty rooms and wondering if they will ever get paid.

The General Services Agency, which manages nuts-and-bolts federal purchasing, told St. Louis convention officials this week that they are canceling a big energy trade show scheduled for America’s Center next month. It would have filled nearly 2,500 hotel rooms downtown for four nights, generating an estimated $6 million in hotel and convention spending, plus cab rides, meals and more. Now? Nothing.

“It’s impossible to fill almost 2,500 hotel rooms for four or five nights in a month,” said Kathleen “Kitty” Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. “Those hotels are going to sit empty. Cab drivers won’t be working. Restaurants won’t be as busy.”

As we have seen in Missouri, we get an article from this template when the legislature performs any sort of spending restraint that caps spending increases, reallocates fiscal resources according to some sense of priorities, or even eliminates some programs. Open your local paper today, and I’ll bet you’ll find a story about people who won’t receive money from the state or nonprofits who will not receive some sort of state funding. I even had a full schtick going during the Blunt governorship pointing out all the people Matt Blunt hated by cutting their funding.

It’s easy to report on the people who lose the federal dollars because that impact is focused, and journalists can find people to quote and photograph. It’s easy to mobilize these people to call their legislators to get that funding restored.

The savings impact, though, is diffused throughout the budget. That $6,000,000, not all of it government funds, will get spent on something else. But, still, savings are savings. Cancel a couple of these conferences, and you can buy an Apache. Which is more important to the country? Ask the GSA or some energy company, and they’ll say the conference. Ask any number of soldiers, if they think about it, and they’ll say air support. That’s optimistic, of course; the six million dollars will remain in the GSA budget for something like a fleet of Chevy Volts or something, but still, that’s at least not quite as ephemeral as a conference.

It’s unfortunate that the city of St. Louis’s publicly funded convention facilities have lost publicly funded conferences to trickle some money into the hands of actual citizens and torrents of amenities into the pockets, maws, and alcohol-fueled sleep of government employees and government hangers on. But it’s a step in the right direction, and further steps, if they’re taken, will lead to news stories much like this one, rending garments and wailing.