In 2009, we told many of our friends and allies that we would write a report called “The 2010 Idaho Pork Report.” We won’t lie about it; many laughed. “This is Idaho,” we heard time and time again. “You won’t find government waste in Idaho!” Sixty-eight pages later, few people are laughing. There is waste throughout state and local government. By some measures, there is waste that can be classified as small. Still, there are a number of categories of waste that can be defined as huge blights on the face of government — extraordinary burdens borne by taxpayers throughout the state. In fact, despite all the cuts to government, this year’s report is bigger than last year’s. That means there’s a lot of work yet to be done to cut the size of government in Idaho.
Legislators listened in 2010:
Our 2010 report was an overwhelming success, for many public policy decisions by elected officials came from our pork report. Lawmakers and other officials:
- Repealed the law that caused taxpayers to subsidize political parties in Idaho
- Delayed funding for a $10 million livestock research center
- Eliminated state funding for the non-profit Idaho Council on Economic Education
- Eliminated funding for the Boise Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
- Debated the future of government-funded television
- Banned state employees from being given generous parting bonuses
There is still more to do. In 2010, despite reform efforts of the past year and intensified work to expose government waste, we continue to see defiance of the proper role of government and officials (elected and appointed) resorting to expensive government funding tactics when cheaper, more reasonable approaches exist. And then there’s just the blatantly absurd spending that we see all the time — as if there isn’t a recession, as if taxpayer dollars weren’t scarce, as if those luxuries in the government sector are necessary and needed. We call it as we see it, and too often what we see makes little sense to us or other taxpayers.
In short, there is still much more work to do when it comes to eliminating government waste in Idaho. There is still major need for reform, and those reforms have to become the priority of the 2011 legislative session and beyond. The waste of a single dollar is nothing less than a crime against the taxpayer who had to forgo that dollar because the government made him surrender it.
A new kind of dollar: ‘Taxpayer’
Before you jump ahead to the 2011 Idaho Report on Government Waste, a quick word about the spending addressed here: Remember the story of that old hillbilly, Jed Clampett, who sold his land to the oil company on the promise that he’d receive up to 100 of “some new kind of dollar.” This new kind of dollar, of course, was called “million,” which Jed had never heard of, but it was enough to allow him to move his fictional backwoods family to Beverly Hills.
For many years, state lawmakers have also been treated to a new kind of dollar — “federal” dollars, which have a mystical quality all their own. They’re different, somehow, from state dollars. As a result of that thinking, much of the operation of state government includes federal money and lots of it. The state’s general fund spending is almost $2.4 billion; federal funding is right at about $2.2 billion.
In short, the federal government’s footprint on state government is sizable. That has caused state lawmakers to make decisions based on the assurance that we’ll receive federal money.
But to receive two or three or four federal dollars, it often requires a state like Idaho to put up one or more state dollars. A good deal? If you understand the Coupon Theory of economics, not so much. The Coupon Theory works like this: In your household, you don’t eat name brand cereals because they’re too expensive, say, $6 a box. You’d rather spend $2 a box on a generic brand. One day, you get a coupon in the mail for brand name cereal for $4 a box, and you’re off to the store to get yours. After all, you’re saving $2, right? No. You’re spending $2 that you otherwise would not have spent. The state is no different.
By accepting the federal government’s gifts of money, the state is spending money we don’t have on programs we don’t need. Indeed, lawmakers are spending money the federal government doesn’t have.
Throughout this report, we highlight what we believe to be wasteful or reckless spending of taxpayer dollars. This includes money passed through the federal government. Some policymakers will insist that federal dollars are different, unimportant — that they are of no consequence to the state budget process. We say that’s nonsense.
Too many bad decisions from state legislators and bureaucrats start with the words, “The money comes from the federal government.” The statement is designed to be a conversation killer, akin to “don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” Not so much. The money comes from taxpayers, and legislators have the ability and a responsibility to help return to fiscal sobriety – especially from the federal government.