Ear to the Sidewalk: Issue 5

Jennifer Biddison

4/18/2006 12:06:00 AM - Jennifer Biddison

Taxes are due this week, and that means conservatives are champing at the bit to reform both the tax system and the onerous congressional pork. Along those lines, I’ll tell you below about Tax Freedom Day and the Pig Book.  In addition, I’ll tell you about an unbelievable scandal involving a House appropriator, and two annual ratings that have just been released.

Tax Day Galvanizes the Right

Once a year, Americans are reminded how much of their paychecks are usurped by the federal bureaucracy, and the shock can be enough to convert the most hardcore liberal into a fiscal conservative. I’ve seen it happen.

Taxpayer groups take advantage of this conversion opportunity every April, and this year is no different. Americans for Tax Reform held a rally yesterday to call for lower taxes. An upcoming book demonstrates how women in particular have reason to complain. And a new National Taxpayers Union study outlines how complex we’ve allowed our tax laws to become.

Most interesting to me, however, is Tax Freedom Day®. Every year, the Tax Foundation calculates how many days it takes the average American to pay off the government before he can start working for himself. This year the date is April 26. In other words, nearly one-third of our salaries will go toward running the government instead of running our families! 

"Despite all the tax cuts that the federal government has passed recently,” says Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge, "Americans will still spend more on taxes than they spend on food, clothing and housing combined."

This year the average American will spend 77 days working for the federal government, and 39 more for his state and local governments.

Now if only we could move Election Day to April 16 to keep our spendaholic congressional leaders in the front of voters’ minds.

Pig Book Exposes $29 Billion in Pork

Even if we can’t change Election Day, Citizens Against Government Waste has another way to shame congressional porkers: its annual Pig Book.

This year’s publication, released April 5, compiles and calculates all of the projects in the federal budget that CAGW considers to be "pork-barrel." This year’s Book identified 9,963 such projects, which is 29% lower than the number CAGW found last year. But before you start to congratulate your legislators, note that the total cost of the pork has increased by 6.2 percent.

The Pig Book delivers more than just numbers. It also presents the Oinker Awards to some of the worst porkers, including Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and the most questionable pork projects, such as the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative.

CAGW President Tom Schatz doesn’t mince words. "Instead of averting an impending fiscal crisis," he says, "members of Congress are grabbing the spoils to support their own re-election."

Appropriator Gets Caught

One House of Representatives appropriator probably wishes that all he had to worry about was an Oinker dishonor. 

Over the past several years, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) has driven $250 million in earmarks to five nonprofit organizations that he himself set up, and he did so undetected until the National Legal and Policy Center did some digging.

After nine months of research, NLPC announced earlier this month that it has filed a 500-page complaint with the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia detailing hundreds of ethics law violations by Mollohan. 

Many of the employees of Mollohan’s nonprofits are associates and former aides of the congressman – and they’re getting rich off of it. Three of the top executives in these nonprofits made a total of $777,000 in 2004. Several of these employees have also made generous contributions - totaling nearly $400,000 - to Mollohan’s campaign committees and family foundations.

In the complaint, NLPC also questions Mollohan’s own sudden rise in wealth over the last few years. In 2000, the congressman’s portfolio showed less than $500,000 in assets – but now it shows at least $6.3 million.

Ironically, Mollohan is the ranking member on the House Ethics Committee.

Even traditionally liberal media outlets can’t turn away. The New York Times was one of the first major newspapers to report the story, and a Washington Post editorial this weekend called for Mollohan to resign from the Ethics Committee until the allegations have been fully investigated.

ACU Recognizes "Best" and "Worst" Legislators

While an apparently unethical appropriator is getting raked over the coals, fifty conservative heroes in Congress have been rewarded with a 100% ACU rating this month.

Every year, the American Conservative Union rates senators and House members on key votes in three categories: economic and budget, social and cultural, and defense and foreign policy.

In 2003, no senators and only three House members received ratings of 100%. This year there are twelve senators and thirty-eight House members on the "Best of the Best" list.

On the other hand, there are 73 legislators described as the "Worst of the Worst" because they received a 0% ACU rating. 

You can find out where your legislator stands on the conservative spectrum by visiting the ACU website.

Environment Trending Upwards in the U.S.

From all the Green hype we’ve heard after recent natural disasters, you’d think the nations of the world are all about to burn up or fall into the ocean. Not so, says the just-released Index of Leading Environmental Indicatorsreleased last week by the Pacific Research Institute. In fact, the 2006 edition of the Index demonstrates several reasons for optimism, including falling ozone levels and an increase in the grizzly bear population.

"With over a decade of compiled research in the Index, the facts speak for themselves," says Index author Steven Hayward. "[I]t’s impossible to deny the environmental improvements we’ve made and the certain progress we’ll continue to make over time."

While the Index typically focuses on environmental indicators in the U.S., this year’s edition also takes a close look at China, which has experienced numerous environmental setbacks recently. "Environmental review [in China] may not meet the standards of either the U.S. EPA or the Sierra Club, but the Chinese have moved a quantum leap forward by embracing Western reforms which recognize that economic growth and markets are the prerequisites to environmental improvement," said Dr. Hayward. "If China responds to its environmental challenges with administrative decentralization and greater use of market mechanisms and property rights, who knows where that might lead?"

Author's Note: The Heritage Foundation is preparing to release Issues 2006, its election-year publication to educate political candidates about conservative ideas. I’ll tell you about it in future weeks. Stay tuned!