Everybody likes free money … it is free, isn’t it?

The two newspaper items landed with superb timing.

And it must follow, as the night the day, as the dullard the wise.

On Christmas Day, James L. Buckley, a retired federal judge and former U.S. senator, writes an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about the wasteful growth in unconstitutional federal grants-in-aid programs, followed two days later by a banner story in the Las Vegas newspaper about a bid to obtain federal grant funds through a White House urban planning program to turn Cashman Field into some sort of drone aircraft center. The story contains an alphabet soup of acronyms for various doling agencies and supplicant groups.

The newspaper uncritically and matter-of-factly recounts various efforts to capture federal grants of as little as $10,000 — an amount that probably absorbed a matching amount of cost in man-hours by overpaid bureaucrats at various levels.

Buckley notes that such grant programs have grown from about $24 billion in 1970 to an estimated $640 billion in 2015, a sixth of federal spending, and that is just the direct cost and does not take into account the paper shuffling involved.

Buckley describes the problem with these grant programs:

“Because the grants come with detailed federal directives, they deprive state and local officials of the flexibility to meet their own responsibilities in the most effective ways, and undermine their citizens’ ability to ensure that their taxes will be used to meet their priorities rather than those of distant federal regulators. The irony is that the money the states and local governments receive from Washington is derived either from federal taxes paid by residents of the states or from the sale of bonds that their children will have to redeem.”

Never mind that nowhere in the Constitution are such programs enumerated or vaguely contemplated. But the courts have shrugged and allowed Congress to “induce the States to adopt policies that the Federal Government itself could not impose.” Carrot, OK. Stick, nay.

Congress and the administration can bribe state and local governments to build drone centers that should be the purview of private enterprise and which those state and local governments would never build without the free money from Washington.

In still another sign that federalism is dead, federal transfer payments now make up 30 percent of the states’ revenues, Buckley relates. It will be hard to wean the states from this teat.

But almost nobody in local government or the media ever thinks to stop and ask: Is it worth it?

Cashman Field targeted for federal grant money. (R-J photo)