Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“You don't pay taxes - they take taxes.”     Chris Rock

August 8, 2007

It’s the Spending Stupid!

by Stephen Littau

In the immediate wake of the bridge collapse in Minnesota, politicians (mostly Democrats) have advocated raising taxes to repair or replace other structurally deficient bridges throughout the country. Apparently, there just isn’t enough money in the treasury at this time to repair these bridges. Why am I skeptical that this is not the case?

Assuming for a moment that constructing and maintaining bridges and highways is a legitimate role of the federal government, it’s hard for me to believe that the treasury department cannot find the funds to repair highways, bridges, and infrastructure. Yet this same government can still find enough of our money to fund such things as the arts, public radio, public television, museums, midnight basketball, Amtrak, Americorps, subsidies, the war on (some) drugs* and a seemingly endless laundry list of other government programs and initiatives which go well beyond the scope of the federal government as defined in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.

I have found Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) an invaluable resource when it comes to determining whether or not the government can demand more of our tax dollars. The CAGW website did not disappoint. As it turns out, my suspicions were correct: the treasury does have enough funds to repair the bridges and highways without raising taxes and still have plenty left over. What I found in this article was especially interesting:

The Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) was created by the Bush administration in order to help federal agencies manage and dispose of their surfeit property. So far, the FRPP shows that the government owns and leases 3.87 billion square feet of property, and 55.7 million acres of land. Real property asset value for all these holdings is estimated to be $1.2 trillion.

One startling example of the government’s wasteful holdings is Chicago’s Old Main Post Office. This 2.5 million-square-foot unused structure has been vacant since 1997 and costs $2 million to maintain annually, yet the government continues to hold on to it at taxpayers’ expense.

That’s $1.2 trillion that could be put towards repairing the bridges or other priorities such as improving the VA hospitals, paying down the national debt, or Constitutional functions the government is actually supposed to fund. While $20 million over 10 years to keep this post office is small potatoes to our government, it’s not an insignificant amount to the taxpayer. How many families could have put their children in private schools, purchased their own health insurance, made a down payment on a home, or invested in their futures had their share not been taken at gunpoint to fund this wasteful spending?

And this is only one of many examples of wasteful spending of our money folks. Maybe when our elected officials decide to eliminate the pork, the waste, fraud, and the abuse, and if the government still needs more money to support the Constitutional functions of government, I’ll be receptive to the idea of them taking more of our money. Until that day comes, the idea of raising taxes is a complete non-starter.

*CAGW estimates that by cutting the White House’s National Youth Anti-drug Media Campaign out of the budget would save the taxpayer $512 million over the next 5 years. This is only a small portion of what is allocated to continue to fight this losing war on (some) drugs.

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10 Comments

  1. Looked at on its face, each piece of wasteful spending isn’t much compared to the federal budget. But when you start adding up the nickels and dimes, it adds up to a lot.

    I did a little checking on the Old Chicago Post Office, though, and it appears that the problem has been finding a buyer who would do something with the property…apparently that’s been an issue for a long time. Fortunately it looks like that may be coming to an end:

    http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=24666&seenIt=1

    I imagine the reasons the feds were holding onto the property was because the city and state didn’t want to accept the costs for maintenance and liability (such as asbestos) of an abandoned historical building so the federal government got stuck with it.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 8, 2007 @ 2:22 pm
  2. On the plus side, the lack of development over the last ten years did allow the post office to be used for shooting on the two newest Batman movies :)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_post_office

    Comment by UCrawford — August 8, 2007 @ 2:26 pm
  3. I wonder if the federal government couldn’t find a buyer because the red tape involved would strangle even the most determined of buyers. Plus, with this being Chicago, who knows how many city regulations might have prevented the sale as well. I remember a few years ago when New York and Pennsylvania lost power how more taxes were needed to upgrade the electric system. Needless to say, no one paid attention to the many electric companies jumping at the chance that just couldn’t make it a worthwhile investment once the EPA got involved. Government failure upon government failure? Definately time for more government intervention.

    Comment by trumpetbob15 — August 8, 2007 @ 2:29 pm
  4. Trumpetbob,

    I’ll bet you’re right…the city planning commission also had to hack off on whatever improvements were made and who knows how much hassle that eventually became. Plus, consider just how much it’s going to cost to remove and properly dispose of asbestos from a 2.5 million square foot facility, reconstruct the inside so as not to violate the historical status of the building, and still turn a profit. I can see why it took ten years to get rid of the place. The mock up that the company did on the new structure looked pretty sweet though, and it’s not like downtown Chicago (or most metropolitan areas) couldn’t use more housing.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 8, 2007 @ 2:38 pm
  5. Although it looks like the city’s going to chip in about 17% of the budget for rehabilitating the place (roughly $60 million). So that’s basically 30 years worth of maintenance costs. Of course, there would probably be a bit of tax revenue generated by the property since it will have over a million square feet of residential and commercial properties. Oh well, at least it gets the property off the federal government’s books so it’s Chicago’s problem now.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 8, 2007 @ 2:52 pm
  6. Therefore what happens in Illinois is true for Minnesota? Did you actually look up the expenditures of the Minnesota’s government or any article regarding it?

    Comment by VRB — August 8, 2007 @ 4:29 pm
  7. VRB,

    I think Stephen was referring to the politicians in the federal government saying they should raise taxes, not Minnesota’s government.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 8, 2007 @ 4:38 pm
  8. VRB,

    The money was spent by the federal government in Illinois rather than in Minnesota. The post illustrated how the federal government has money, but spends it unwisely. It would be interesting to know how Minnesota has spent its gas tax money and also how the federal funds given to the state were spent. Without any evidence, my gut is telling me that like in everywhere else, Minnesota has gotten a few new buildings or roads or bridges named after some politician. I would be pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong, but knowing government, not very likely to happen.

    Comment by trumpetbob15 — August 8, 2007 @ 4:39 pm
  9. In response to VRB’s inquiry, here is a link to CAGW’s “Piglet Book” for Minnesota. I haven’t had a chance to read through it yet but I bet there’s some choice cuts of pork to be found.

    http://www.taxpayersleague.org/pdf/2006PigletBook.pdf

    Comment by Stephen Littau — August 8, 2007 @ 5:54 pm
  10. Bush just shot down the Democrats’ attempt to get a gas tax hike by saying it’s their fault for misspending highway dollars:

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/08/09/bush.newser.ap/index.html

    If I’d known that it would take a Democratic Congress to turn Bush into a fiscal conservative, I’d have voted Democratic in 2002 :)

    Comment by UCrawford — August 9, 2007 @ 12:36 pm

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