Over the last century, “bringing home the bacon” has been the bailiwick of Southern federal legislators — especially those from Alabama — who promote the idea that the federal funding will help the local economies. 

Policies like the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority, highway spending and federal defense spending are all part and parcel of this mindset to bring home those federal dollars.

With federal dollars, however, come federal dictates. Consider this month’s controversy, which finds the Obama administration sniffing around Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base near Montgomery, proposing to use it as a facility to house unaccompanied minors apprehended illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The proposal has the entire Alabama congressional delegation registering their protests and Gov. Robert Bentley filing a lawsuit against the feds for “noncompliance of the Refugee Act of 1980.” 

The noncompliance, according to Bentley’s office, is a failure of the federal government to consult with state officials about placement of refugees, in this case unaccompanied minors, if done so within a state’s borders.

Given that the proposed action is set to take place on a U.S. military base, critics of Bentley’s lawsuit don’t expect it will succeed in nullifying the Obama administration’s effort to house those illegal immigrant minors.

This raises a number of issues regarding the role of the federal government as a landowner, whether of military bases or national parks and forests.

For starters, Alabama’s legislators have put a lot of effort into keeping military installations open in this state. Certainly, military bases offer some economic benefits to the area. But it comes with the cost of ceding ground when protesting executive branch actions — for example, using those bases to house illegal immigrant minors.

Going back over the last few years, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Alabama) has worked to prevent sequestration from impacting military installations in her congressional district and keep in place the 908th Airlift Wing at Maxwell-Gunter and the Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker. 

It would stand to reason that if our state’s elected officials have no problem accepting millions in federal taxpayer dollars, then when it’s time to for them to do something the federal government requests they probably should be a little more agreeable.

That’s not to say it’s the right thing to house illegal immigrant minors at a military base in Alabama. But if you’re going to live by the federal government, you risk dying by the federal government.

But that raises a larger point: How is it that the federal government owns such an abundance of land that it can just house refugees whenever and wherever it sees fit? It’s as if Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base was just sitting there for the taking with unused resources and available for such a humanitarian effort.

If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be in the better interest of the taxpayers of this state to let Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base take its efforts elsewhere so that Alabama isn’t on the hook for having to house illegal immigrants within its borders?

But more broadly, it calls into question the amount of land the federal government owns, which — according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report — is roughly 635 million acres of the 2.27 billion acres in the U.S., nearly a third of all the land.

Granted, the biggest portion of that land is from the Rocky Mountains westward, and mostly uninhabited. And according to that same report, a very small portion of federally owned land is located in Alabama: 844,000 acres, still a sizable amount of land. 

Back to the Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base question: Rather than put up a tooth-and-nail fight for federal funding to preserve military activities at Alabama’s military installation, why not make a fight to let those activities go where they may and lobby the federal government to auction off the air force base land and allow the efficient private sector to do something economically beneficial for the region? 

If that were the case, the public wouldn’t have to worry about housing illegal immigrant minors within its borders and our elected officials could do something better with their time than fight federal government overreaches.

Closer to home, from just off the coast of Pass Christian, Mississippi, all the way to Port St. Joe, Florida, the federal government owns large chunks of the Gulf Coast. Going from west to east, the feds own the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the numerous U.S. Navy installations in and around Pensacola, Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base just to the west of Panama City.

Some of that land would fetch a pretty penny if sold to the private sector. That’s not to suggest the federal government shouldn’t maintain ownership of some of it for conservation or national defense purposes. However, if those national defense exercises could be conducted elsewhere at the same or a lower cost to the taxpayer and those lands sold off to the private sector, it could be a huge benefit to the region.

This has been proven time and time again. The private sector is much more efficient than the public sector when it comes to generating economic activity. This is prized coastal real estate.

There are other numerous examples throughout the country. However, it goes back to the original statement: Is it really worth it to live off the federal government’s teat, especially given the alternatives?