Don't Hold Your Breath

Posted: Jan 02, 2009 2:36 PM
Don't Hold Your Breath

Before we put the holidays behind us for another year, it’s time for one final resolution: Let’s vow that, in 2009, we won’t misuse our holiday icons.

In a late December, the political cartoonist for Florida Today brazenly violated this proposal. The artwork shows “the Grinch” holding a list whilst the stereotypical white guys in suits (standing in for the cigar-chomping lobbyists of old) chat nearby. “Legislative leaders brought this guy in to help us determine which budget items to cut when the special session begins,” one of the men says. Meanwhile, Grinch crosses off spending for “the needy,” “schools,” “the disabled” and “public health,” among other critical programs.

Oh, please.

As soon as there’s a shortfall in any government, we’re warned that any spending cuts would immediately endanger “the children,” “the unemployed,” “the disabled,” and so forth. Yet it’s impossible to believe there’s anyone out there -- liberal, conservative or undecided -- who thinks government (at any level) is completely efficient.

Undoubtedly Florida’s state government, (and its county governments and local governments and, come to that, our federal government) could afford to cut spending by, say, 15 percent in these lean economic times.

As a micro example, just look directly below the “Grinch” cartoon, where a letter writer encourages Florida’s Lee County to save money by “reducing garbage pickup to once a week.” Seems like a decent idea to someone who lives in a county where trash is, indeed, picked up just once a week. Besides, think how much money that would save for the truly needy.

It’s only reasonable to expect our governments to slash their budgets. After all, everyone else is reducing spending.

“The fact that sales at Starbucks are going down, while sales at McDonald's are going up, shows that people are adjusting to economic adversity by cutting back their spending,” columnist and economist Thomas Sowell wrote recently. “Only in Congress do people adjust to economic adversity and growing deficits by spending more money.” Exactly.

As an example, our federal government ended 2008 with its $700 billion plan (or lack thereof) to bail out banks, automakers and insurance companies. The new year is expected to bring a massive “stimulus plan” that could cost $775 billion more.

Why do we need all this spending? “The big fear people have is loss of jobs. That’s haunting the whole economy,” an adviser to President-elect Barack Obama told the Chicago Tribune. “People are holding back from buying because of fear of job loss. So, presumably, if people hear the goal is to create or preserve 3 million jobs, layoffs aren’t quite as scary.”

In other words, if the government can spend enough, it can convince the rest of us to spend, too. Good luck with that math.

Maybe, instead of “investing” in road building and so forth, Washington should just hire 3 million or so people. That would protect those jobs since, once on the government payroll, these millions of people will have virtually guaranteed jobs for life.

Consider Florida again. The state legislature will meet in special session starting Jan. 5 and attempt to close a $2.3 billion deficit. But the state’s governor has already announced he won’t be eliminating jobs.

“I would like to draw to your attention that none of these recommendations involve furloughs or layoffs,” Gov. Charlie Crist told lawmakers as he sketched his plans for the controversial special session. “Our state employees provide an invaluable resource to all Floridians and should be commended for their continued service.” So all Florida bureaucrats will remain on the job, apparently helping all those troubled widows, orphans, etc. Bet the Grinch is ticked off about that.

As columnist Mark Steyn likes to say, a government big enough to give you everything you want still isn’t big enough to convince you to give any of it back when times get bad. The media abounds with bad economic news these days. It would be a perfect time for governments to set a good example by slashing spending across the board.

Don’t hold your breath.