Our nation was founded on a couple of overriding principles: we don’t want to be taxed unless the rich white boys say so (democracy for property owners); and we don’t trust anyone, or any institution (especially someone not like me). Over the last couple of hundred years, these founding principles have become distorted and gotten complicated by silly little things, such as: human rights; education; and people realizing that there are serious amounts of easy money to be made on selling stuff to the government, or getting the government to tax anyone, but you.
Unlike popular sentiment, I do not advocate going back to our founding principles. I suggest, we need a new, narrow, and less complicated purpose for government – so we can screw it all up again during the next couple of hundred years.
Adopt one standard for our selected leaders, the laws they pass and the professional public servants who implement them. Neither progressive nor conservative, right or left, statist, or libertarian. Something that is fairly pro-business and pro-people. Colorblind, classless and just. A lofty purpose, yet, easily debated, spun, judged and satirized.
Make us the best taxpayers possible.
OK, make that: the safest, smartest, healthiest, happiest, most productive, richest taxpayers the world has ever known.
Sounds un-American, doesn’t it? I’m not suggesting that we should want to pay higher taxes. This is really a scheme to lower taxes. The problem right now is that our governments, federal, state and municipal, are all taking in less than they spend. If more people made more money, tax revenues would increase – and, if our leaders could control by prioritizing spending, taxes should come down for everyone. Now that is an all-American goal.
I don’t know about you, but the trick for me to feel good about paying taxes is: 1) having enough money to pay them with a fair amount left over to waste on vices; 2) pretending that everyone really does have to pay them and no one’s getting some special deal because they helped someone I don’t like get elected; and 3) feeling, as if, I’m getting my personal money’s worth for what I pay. OK, that’s unrealistic. Only #1 is needed, but the others are pretty to think so.
The “does this bill help make us the best taxpayers possible?” test seems pretty straightforward on many things. For instance, does cutting teachers help us become better taxpayers or hurt? Does a continued war in Afghanistan after 10 years and almost $400 billion make us better taxpayers or worse? Does affordable access to healthcare help us become better taxpayers or worse? Does cutting taxes for the wealthy make us better taxpayers or just poorer taxpayers? It is a simple test to help get our priorities in order.
Here’s a real life test of how to apply the “Does this bill help make us the best taxpayers possible?” on the budget cuts proposed in the House by the party totally focused on jobs*. Admittedly, this is complicated stuff – my examples mostly test the merit of idea of the programs. The decisions to fund or defund should also be based on such things: as effectiveness; cost; accountability; job impact; etc.
- Corporation for Public Broadcasting Subsidy. $445 million annual savings. A functioning free press is a requirement of a democracy, plus, too much celebrity news and autopsy shows will make taxpayers stupid. Fund it.
- Save America’s Treasures Program. $25 million annual savings. This is a wonderful private-public partnership that has accomplished the preservation of many great things that would have otherwise been buried by greed real estate developers and then abandoned when the economy crashed. Plus, they put up those signs that remind you that something happened on that spot once. It is a quality of life thing and impacts taxpayer happiness and pays some salaries, which generate taxes. However, it doesn’t pass the test. Defund it.
- International Fund for Ireland. $17 million annual savings. This program set lofty goals 25 years ago and achieved much, but it doesn’t pass the test today. Defund it.
- Legal Services Corporation. $420 million annual savings. This is an easy one: faith in justice is a critical element of happy, productive taxpayers. This is a truly wonderful program and the Legal Services Corporation impact is broad and important. Fund it. No, increase it.
- National Endowment for the Arts. $167.5 million annual savings. Another easy one: art and beauty are critical to an imaginative, thinking culture, which directly impacts our economy as a whole and taxpayers individually. Fund it.
- National Endowment for the Humanities. $167.5 million annual savings. Ditto above, but also impacts education. Fund it.
- Hope VI Program. $250 million annual savings. Impacts quality of life, live-work programs impact productivity, grants are catalysts for jobs. Important. Fix the problems at HUD, but fund it.
- Amtrak Subsidies. $1.565 billion annual savings. One of the keys to helping us live longer and have many more hours of productive labor generating taxes, is to solve our need to commute in cars that waste money and time, while harming our environment. Don’t just fund it. Fund it more and add an educational and volunteerism component.
- Eliminate duplicative education programs. H.R. 2274 (in last Congress), authored by Rep. McKeon, eliminates 68 programs at a savings of $1.3 billion annually. This is a one page bill that impacts a great number of initiatives with targeted impact on disadvantaged students and those with disabilities – it is very important that we address these needs to positively impact the ability of the disadvantaged to become productive taxpayers. This is not the way to do it. This bill should be reviewed by educators and administrators for an opinion and should continue to be funded until that is done and more of a consensus is created.
- U.S. Trade Development Agency. $55 million annual savings. While this agency helps a bunch of bankers and international business – and, to some extent, has some positive impact in the third world, it does little to make us healthier or safer or better taxpayers. Convince me it does, or defund it.
- Woodrow Wilson Center Subsidy. $20 million annual savings. Important impact for education, global business information and good government. Hard to determine the merits of such a small contribution, but passes my test. Fund it.
- Cut funding in half for congressional printing and binding. $47 million annual savings. Suits me. Printing is so old school (plus, their budget is three times that of NPR). Defund it.
- John C. Stennis Center Subsidy. $430,000 annual savings. While any endeavor to attract young people to public service in Mississippi might seem worthwhile, this one is so bad that hard to believe I have to waste my time to fail it. Defund it.
- Community Development Fund. $4.5 billion annual savings. Critically important program that greatly impacts the quality of life of taxpayers through redevelopment and access to affordable credit. Fund it and keep trying to fix it.
- Heritage Area Grants and Statutory Aid. $24 million annual savings. A tiny price that impacts education, health and quality of life – all, which make us better taxpayers. Fund it.
- Cut Federal Travel Budget in Half. $7.5 billion annual savings. Suits me. I resent the hell out of it and can’t see how it could close to passing the test. Defund it.
- Trim Federal Vehicle Budget by 20%. $600 million annual savings. Ditto. Use it for greener vehicles or defund it.
- Essential Air Service. $150 million annual savings. It is an absurd waste of money benefitting only a small number of people and communities. It rates a zero on the test. Defund it.
- Technology Innovation Program. $70 million annual savings. One of those programs that sounds good, but details don’t play well in the press and seem to benefit connected businesses in pursuing advancement of esoterica. The idea passes this test, so if it works – and they say it does – fund it. If it is doesn’t, don’t.
- Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program. $125 million annual savings. Ditto.
- Department of Energy Grants to States for Weatherization. $530 million annual savings. This is part of the original stimulus bill. It creates jobs, which generates taxes and underwrites green energy competitiveness, which will improve our environment. It will lower taxpayer long-term cost for building maintenance and energy cost. It is a drop in the budget bucket. It passes the test. Fund it.
- Beach Replenishment. $95 million annual savings. Ridiculous. Fails. Defund.
- New Starts Transit. $2 billion annual savings. See Amtrak (above). Fund it.
- Exchange Programs for Alaska, Native Hawaiians, and Their Historical Trading Partners in Massachusetts. $9 million annual savings. Ridiculous. Fails. Defund.
- Intercity and High Speed Rail Grants. $2.5 billion annual savings. See Amtrak (above). Fund it.
- Title X Family Planning. $318 million annual savings. Goes to health and happiness. Meets a crucial need (women may not be corporations, but they are people, too). Fund it.
- Appalachian Regional Commission. $76 million annual savings. Their goals are totally consistent with the test. Fund it.
- Economic Development Administration. $293 million annual savings. Ditto.
- Programs under the National and Community Services Act. $1.15 billion annual savings. Great program and easily passes the test. Fund it.
- Applied Research at Department of Energy. $1.27 billion annual savings. Investing and promoting alternatives to carbon fuels has direct impact on our environment, personal income/taxes, security and happiness. Fund it.
- FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership. $200 million annual savings. Ditto.
- Energy Star Program. $52 million annual savings. Ditto.
- Economic Assistance to Egypt. $250 million annually. There are other ways to do this. Fails the test. Defund.
- U.S. Agency for International Development. $1.39 billion annual savings. I’d say it passes based on security alone, but it would be a great debate and likely goes toward purpose and happiness. It would be unconscionable not to fund it.
- General Assistance to District of Columbia. $210 million annual savings. Fails. Defund and if Maryland or Virginia won’t take them, make them a state and then provide the subsidy in another budget.
- Subsidy for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. $150 million annual savings. Ditto.
- Presidential Campaign Fund. $775 million savings over ten years. If, and when real campaign finance law changes are enacted and deemed legal by SCOTUS, I’d be fine with defunding it. Until then, elimination threatens our system and is seriously anti-taxpayer. Fix it or fund it.
- No funding for federal office space acquisition. $864 million annual savings. Seems a little short sighted, don’t you think? It doesn’t pass the test, but smart acquisition seems appropriate and no acquisition seems to be a move toward privatization of the real estate, which I assume would be a payoff to someone for something.
- End prohibitions on competitive sourcing of government services. Passes. Fund it.
- Repeal the Davis-Bacon Act. More than $1 billion annually. Ridiculous. Passes. Fund it.
- IRS Direct Deposit: Require the IRS to deposit fees for some services it offers (such as processing payment plans for taxpayers) to the Treasury, instead of allowing it to remain as part of its budget. $1.8 billion savings over ten years. This isn’t a real issue, just make believe accounting. As far as I can tell, they want to defund it one place and fund it somewhere else. Fund it.
- Require collection of unpaid taxes by federal employees. $1 billion total savings. This is just mean and not a real issue. They just want to fire people.
- Prohibit taxpayer funded union activities by federal employees. $1.2 billion savings over ten years. Another red herring intended to bust unions, which, of course, help make really good taxpayers.
- Sell excess federal properties the government does not make use of. $15 billion total savings. Sounds good to me, just as long as we don’t lease them back or sell them to anyone connected in Congress.
- Eliminate death gratuity for Members of Congress. You have to be kidding – a year of salary? Please defund this.
- Eliminate Mohair Subsidies. $1 million annual savings. Fails. Defund.
- Eliminate taxpayer subsidies to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. $12.5 million annual savings. Ridiculous. Another red herring. Speaks directly to environmental, quality of life, security, etc. issues. Passes. Fund it.
- Eliminate Market Access Program. $200 million annual savings. Long considered a boondoggle, elimination of this program is really designed to favor large industrial growers and producers. I say we need it to protect the diversity of our agriculture, which impacts quality of life, happiness, health, etc. Passes. Fund it.
- USDA Sugar Program. $14 million annual savings. Fails on many levels. Defund.
- Subsidy to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). $93 million annual savings. Didn’t I already answer this one? We have a lot of different programs that assist in global trade. Those that help businesses and do not directly favor our Congressionally connected monopolies, generally, pass the test of helping us to become better taxpayers.
- Eliminate the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. $56.2 million annual savings. Another red herring from the anti-all regulation, or anything healthy or does not favor mega-farmers. It is a good program for taxpayers/consumers and should be funded.
- Eliminate fund for Obamacare administrative costs. $900 million savings. Healthcare, well administered, is a crucial aspect of helping people be the best taxpayer possible. Fund it.
- Ready to Learn TV Program. $27 million savings. Developing educational television that can be used for years seems on paper to be a sensible investment in future taxpayers. Passes.
So, what did we just learn? You might be able to agree on priorities with this new and improved test, but you’ll never be able to take the partisanship out of the details.
*List from proposal by the Republican Study Committee, a conservative House GOP caucus via HuffPo