An alarming story made news a few weeks ago. It said that last summer's political squabbling over raising the federal debt limit cost our government more than a billion bucks. Specifically, delays in raising the debt limit forced the Treasury Department to pay an extra $1.3 billion in borrowing cost, and the final sum is expected to climb. This report came from the Government Accountability Office.
I think we in West Virginia are generally practical people. I certainly try to be. My first thought was probably the same as others who read that report: I'll bet there a lot of people and organizations and projects that could have put $1.3 billion to good use. And since I live and work and grew up in West Virginia, I can almost guarantee you that our state could have used $1.3 billion.
Let me offer you the first example that came to mind. For the past several years, I have been fortunate to be among a group of people that is aggressively trying to promote the completion of Corridor H, the West Virginia highway that will eventually link I-79 from Weston to the Inland Port at Front Royal, Va.
This is an important highway to North-Central West Virginia and the Potomac Highlands. But it is also important for the rest of the state as well. By extension, the highway (via U.S. 50 and I-79) connects the Ohio Valley with this incredible shipping port, which is a gateway to the global economy.
If you can get the goods to Front Royal, then you can double-stack your products on rail cars that go directly to the port of Norfolk, one of the largest shipping ports in the world.
Corridor H is 75 percent done, but the wheels of government aren't moving fast enough on the remaining miles. And the sad truth is that the $1.3 billion that evaporated in the squabble over raising the debt limit could have paid for completion of Corridor H.
Obviously, the scenario is not that simple. There are inborn costs of doing business, whether that business is a mom-and-pop store or a multi-million-dollar industry. And even a multi-million-dollar corporation pales in comparison to the federal government, which operates an annual budget that takes in $2.47 trillion in revenue and deals with a staggering $3.8 trillion in expenditures.
But the point is that every successful business survives by careful management of its day-to-day finances. What is your overhead? What is your income? What is your cash outlay for personnel and services? All these questions, and many more, must be tediously scrutinized in order for any business to be successful.
As complex and enormous as the business of running the federal government is, it must answer those basic operational questions and still serve the people of our country.
But the point is that the federal government sometimes fails its investors (us), and mismanaging $1.3 billion is a failure. Not surprisingly, no one person is at fault. The infighting over the debt ceiling was not partisan wastefulness. It was callous management of public resources at all levels.
Unfortunately, many projects could have been completed with $1.3 billion. Corridor H is just one. But it is a good example. West Virginia has a highway - Corridor H - that has been on the books for four decades, and it's still only 75 percent complete. We need to build it to help our businesses and our tourism destinations in West Virginia.
We could use Washington's help, but Washington is $1.3 billion lighter.
Foster is chairman of the Robert C. Byrd Corridor H Highway Authority.