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The Think Tank

We can't have it both ways

An honorary flagpole is shown at the site where 19 firefighters died battling an Arizona wildfire on June 30th is shown Tuesday, July 23, 2013 in Yarnell, Ariz. As the fire grew out of control, the firefighters quickly worked to clear the area of scrub and brush hoping to endure the intense heat in their emergency shelters. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The State of Arizona is appealing FEMA's decision not to classify the Yarnell fire as a federal disaster.


Late last year, many in Arizona were applauding the Federal government sequester, which mandated an across-the-board cut in federal spending. Every agency of government, without exception, had to absorb a fixed percentage cut in spending.

Fast forward to this year. There is a fire in Yarnell Arizona. Nineteen firefighters died. Emotional stuff.

FEMA is charged with providing assistance in instances of major national disasters. Think hurricanes like Sandy in the northeast or Katrina in the gulf coast.

Does Yarnell rise to this level?

Arguable; the line between "major" and "locally significant" is blurry and subjective. The Yarnell case is probably somewhere in the margins; a decision about declaring it a federal disaster could have gone either way. But when an agency like FEMA has to absorb a significant cut in funding, something somewhere has to give.

While the Governor is doing her job arguing for Arizona's interests by appealing this decision, it is not hard to imagine that a decision on the Yarnell case could have been deemed a federal disaster in normal times but have to be denied that status given reduced funding mandated by the sequester. You can't cut government spending without cutting something. (And, remember, the terms of the sequester cuts mandated across-the-board cuts in EVERY line item in the federal budget; the President had no discretion to move required cuts around.)

No free lunch. You can't gut "government" in the abstract without cutting some real person's benefits somewhere. Of course, it seems everyone's idea is to handle this by cutting the other guy's (unnecessary) benefits, never our own (essential) ones. Arizona, often seen as a center of the "less government" sentiment, may have been its ironic victim this time.

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About the Author

Mike O'Neil hosts The Think Tank every Saturday on News/Talk 92.3 KTAR from 5-6 p.m.


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