Politics & Policy

A U-Turn on the Road to Serfdom

How to celebrate Cost of Government Day.

Every year, Americans for Tax Reform calculates Cost of Government Day — exactly how many days of the year Americans work to pay the total cost of government. This includes all government spending by federal, state, and local government. It also includes the costs forced into every product and service we buy in the private sector by state and federal regulations. Some regulations are silly and destructive. Others are important and useful. But none are free.

In 2008, Americans worked 197 days, until July 16 — in other words, more than half the year — to pay for the total cost of government. As a result of the bailouts, stimulus, and increased discretionary spending in the federal budget and new taxes for health care, Americans this year have worked until August 19, fully 231 days.

#ad#In two years, the American people have lost over a month of wages to the higher cost of government. Of the total, approximately 104 days are for federal spending, 52 days for state and local spending, 48 days for federal regulations, and 26 days for state and local regulations.

We know the problem. How do we do a U-turn on the road to serfdom?

Step one is to stop digging the hole deeper. The TARP bailout should be ended, all unspent funds used to pay down debt. Any money not yet spent on the stimulus should be left unspent. And the trillion-dollar spending hike over the next decade that Congress passed in 2009 should be repealed. Two years of that trillion have been spent. The rest can be saved now by refusing to spend it.

At the federal level, recent studies have shown that federal workers are paid — in wages, benefits, and salary — an average of $123,000. Private-sector workers are paid $61,000. That means taxpayers in the real economy are paying $62,000 more than they earn themselves to each of their “civil servants.” Pay fairness would save taxpayers $175 billion each year and $2 trillion over the next decade. State and local government workers earn an average of $80,000 compared with $61,000 for the private sector — this includes pay, benefits, and pensions. Since there are 19 million state and local employees, we simply multiply the $19,000 per worker overpayment times 19 million and find that state and local taxpayers are overpaying by $361 billion every year, or $4 trillion over a decade. Pay equity for taxpayers would save 33 percent of all state and local taxes.

Three good ideas have bubbled up about changing the way Washington spends money that would result in large, if difficult-to-quantify, savings for taxpayers.

First, every piece of legislation that spends money should be required to be put online so every American can read it for five working days before either the House or the Senate can vote on the bill. And if a single word is changed by amendments, the five-day waiting period begins again so that the final product stands naked to the world for five full days. No more surprises. No more thousand-page bills hiding untold corruptions and payoffs for lobbyists.

Second, Congress should bring back the Joint Committee on Reduction of Nonessential Federal Expenditures, formerly known as the “Byrd Committee.” This committee, created in 1942, actually proposed and won $38 billion in spending cuts measured in today’s dollars. It is the committee that proposed ending the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Work Projects Administration. Imagine the power of an Anti-Appropriations Committee that would send out subpoenas demanding accountability from the federal bureaucracy as it spends our money and the power to write laws that defund failed programs.

Third, the Appropriations Committee itself, the source of bridges to nowhere and tens of thousands of earmarks, needs to be reformed. Membership on the powerful and tempting-to-corruption committee should be limited to six years for any member. Then no member of Congress would spend his or her career in Washington as a professional spender of other people’s money.

And last, transparency of all government spending and contracts should be the law of the land at the federal, state, and local levels. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry got the ball rolling by putting every check written by the state, and every contract, online so every American can see it. Missouri followed, as did 29 other states. Utah and Florida went further and mandated that all local-government spending and contracts be put online. When Americans can see how their money is spent, they will become more informed and competent defenders of their rights.

Federal, state, and local spending is growing too fast. It has gotten much worse in the past two years. But we can change the future. We can make a U-turn on the road to serfdom.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. The Cost of Government Day study can be viewed at CostOfGovernment.com.

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