Stop herding public dollars toward teaching kids to raise sheep

Youngsters learning about raising livestock, wind energy and leadership is valuable, but why is it more valuable than other civic organizations to the point that it needs taxpayer support?

St. Clair County just eliminated its $20,100 annual support of the University of Illinois Extension program, which in turn means 4-H is getting a cut and the Master Gardener program is getting a cut. Both have worthy missions to train rural youth and create produce for the hungry. They are worthy of support.

But that support should be private, not a $233,100 public burden. Even after St. Clair County makes its cut, Madison County taxpayers will still involuntarily contribute $50,000 and Monroe County’s taxpayers donate $163,000.

It is not too much to expect families to come up with $20 a year for their child’s extracurricular activity. It isn’t too much to expect even $200 a year for books. Most kids involved in sports or academic competitions or scouting will cost far more a year for fees, uniforms, robotics kits and travel. For the needy families, that’s what bake sales, coupon books and appeals to the local church or civic organization are for.

Certain charities get public support because someone at some point was in a position of power to push their pet cause. If government is going to support causes with public dollars, the process should be open and competitive — not just automatic.

So it is not disappointing to see St. Clair County tighten its belt and stop supporting 4-H. What is disappointing is the reason why.

“We’re disappointed we were unable to fund them,” said county Director of Administration Debra Moore. “But revenues have declined so drastically, we’re not in a position to fund outside programs.”

And what programs do they still fund?

It’s hard to miss that giant sucking sound next to Scott Air Force Base, to which county taxpayers donated $8.29 million just in 2016. Apparently drastic revenue declines have not removed us from a position to fund that.