Just as some of us are resolving to lose weight in the New Year, so, too, should the Bush administration and the states concentrate on putting bloated government on a diet.
According to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), the 107th Congress promiscuously spent $20.1 billion on pork-barrel projects.
"Fiscally conservative" Republicans joined in the spending spree.
In cities like New York, where Republican (in name only) Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to raise property taxes by double digits to cover "budget shortfalls," and in states like Connecticut, where Republican Gov. John Rowland proposed raising taxes to cover a $500 million budget deficit, the pressure is on to pry more money from already overtaxed workers to pay for more government.
What is needed is a counteroffensive that will resonate with everyone who pays the bills for inefficiency, waste, fraud and abuse in and by government.
Democrats in the new Congress will battle to preserve outmoded and unneeded government programs because the more people depend on government, the more power the Democrats have. Republicans, with their new majority status, have a unique opportunity not only to slay the big-government beast, but to make sure it isn't resurrected.
To fulfill this resolution, taxes will have to be cut further, and wasteful spending must be controlled, and the belt-tightening must start with Republicans. One can't mount a temperance campaign when the leaders are on the spending equivalent of a drinking binge. President Bush is making a good first step by calling on Congress not only to make the current tax cuts permanent but also to reduce taxes on corporate dividends for shareholders, which would boost the stock market and free up more capital for businesses and individuals.
But it is in spotlighting waste, fraud and abuse that the administration can make the most headway in reducing the size and cost of government. President Bush should reach back 20 years to the days of the Grace Commission -- appointed by Ronald Reagan to "root out government inefficiency and waste of tax dollars" -- and create a new panel to locate, with the help of citizens, areas where government misspends our money. Individual states should be urged to establish state commissions that would watch how state taxes are being misused.
As Robert Morganthau noted last week in a New York Times op-ed column an estimated $30 million is lost to New York City every year due to evasion of tax-stamp laws and unreported cigarette sales. Before the city bills overburdened New Yorkers even more, why doesn't it properly enforce tax laws already on the books? Why is it always assumed that we taxpayers can afford to give government more of our money, but that government can never afford to spend less and shouldn't be expected to put its own house in order?
At the federal level, CAGW, which was co-founded by the same J. Peter Grace who chaired Reagan's 1982 commission, has compiled a database of 32,443 projects costing taxpayers $140 billion. They range from building a canoe in Hawaii to a parking garage in Maine. The 2002 CAGW "Congressional Pig Book Summary" lists a record $20.1 billion in pork and 8,341 projects funded with dollars taken from federal taxpayers. CAGW also identifies $159 billion in potential one-year savings and $1.2 trillion that could be saved over five years if the federal government would get serious about eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, and determine not to repeat its mistakes. Increasingly, state organizations are being formed to do at the state level what CAGW and other organizations, like the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, are attempting to do at the federal level. The Bush administration should encourage them all.
Reducing the size and cost of government will be difficult because of the many entrenched interests that keep it big and ravenous for ever more tax revenue. But a campaign based on the rights of citizens to have their money honestly and properly spent on things that promote the general welfare, not the personal welfare of politicians (like members of Congress who boosted their own pay while the deficit soared to $159 billion and the unemployed faced a cut-off of their unemployment benefits), would resonate with most Americans of whatever party or persuasion.
It is a resolution worth making and worth keeping.
-- Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.