Silly us. We thought we could trust the federal government.
More than two decades ago, the City of Madison and nineteen other communities and rural water systems began working to bring high-quality drinking water to their cities from the Missouri River.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a bill specifying funding for the project: 80 percent federal, 10 percent state and 10 percent local, except for Sioux Falls, which was to pay an extra 5 percent.
So the three states involved -- South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa -- put in their entire share. The cities and rural water systems put in their entire share. Construction began.
The federal government didn't put in its share. It stiffed us, putting in only a portion of the money it committed to.
The signed law states that if the federal government doesn't keep up, then the amount it owes would rise with inflation. So these years of delays has increased the amount the federal government owes the project has increased by more than $100 million.
On the surface, that clause looked like protection for the states, cities and rural water systems who put up their own money. But if the federal government isn't going to pay its share, what difference does it make if the amount owed keeps climbing?
The Madison City Commission will discuss tonight (Monday) some of its options, including borrowing even more money to finish the system and deliver water. Any money the federal government would pay in the future could pay off this new debt, but not the interest on the borrowing.
We don't even need to mention the money Congress and the president have decided to spend on other things. We'd rather focus on one issue: The federal government signed an agreement with us. We lived up to our part. The feds didn't. We should be skeptical to trust them ever again.