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9 a.m.--1 p.m.: Subsidized transport, shelter, exercise and jobs
Reasonable people can disagree about most government aid. I enjoy NPR, even though I don't really see why it needs about $3 million a year of our tax dollars to produce good journalism; public-radio stations receive only about 15% of their revenue from the government anyway. On the other hand, I think my $500 Florida tax rebate for the energy-efficient water heater that warms my shower made great sense, promoting economic, environmental and national security by reducing fossil-fuel use.
Unless you're a hardcore libertarian, it probably doesn't bother you that the city of Miami Beach spends $500 million a year building roads, fixing potholes, picking up trash, putting out fires and creating bike lanes that make my cycling somewhat less life-threatening. The city also owns my local tennis courts, which are receiving a somewhat controversial $5 million upgrade, as well as the playground my 2-year-old visits frequently and the track where Cristina and I work out much less frequently. My mayor, Matti Herrera Bower, told me tennis players are the city's most aggressive and obnoxious special interest. We're the farmers of Miami Beach.
When I spoke to Bower, a former dental assistant and PTA mom who got into politics after years of community activism, the FBI had just busted a bunch of city code inspectors for shaking down a nightclub owner, and the city manager had just quit. MIAMI BEACH SINKING IN A VAST SWAMP OF DISHONESTY, a Miami Herald column declared. Citizens notice the bad news, Bower said with a sigh, but they don't appreciate that government keeps them safe and cleans their streets. They're not too interested in learning more, either; Bower holds regular Mayor on the Move forums to bring City Hall to Miami Beach's neighborhoods, but only two residents showed up to the last one. "There's this perception that government is all dirty, and perception is 99% of what matters," Bower says. "People are busy living their lives. They don't understand where their taxes go and what they get."
One thing my family gets from government is Cristina's paycheck from an advocacy group called Americans for Immigrant Justice, which is nearly 30% funded by the feds. Cristina is paid less than she would make at a private law firm, though more than most Americans, to represent undocumented minors in detention centers--in other words, kids in jail, some as young as 6, many victims of gang rape, gang terror or horrific family abuse. Cristina helps save the time of judges and immigration officials by advising these kids about their rights, and she probably saves taxpayers money overall by advising her clients when they have no legal case for staying. That said, it's unlikely that her job would exist without Uncle Sam's help.