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Cal Thomas: Resolve in 2012 to put government on a diet

  • Tribune Media Services
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011, at 5:47 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, at 6:39 a.m.

According to the Mayan “long count” calendar, the final day on Earth is less than a year away, on Dec. 21, 2012.

While we wait to see if that apocalypse occurs, a more reliable prediction includes an end of a different sort. The economic stimulus pipeline from Washington, D.C., to the states is about to run dry. This means many governors can be expected to ask their legislatures, or voters, to raise taxes for “essential” programs. To government, all programs are “essential.”

According to the National Taxpayers Union, Washington state is planning to put a tax-increase proposal on its ballot in March, while California voters are likely to vote in November on raising taxes. California is a certifiably insolvent state. It is in deep debt because Democratic politicians won’t stop spending, not because taxpayers aren’t paying their “fair share.”

We are hearing – or will soon hear – that state governments have cut spending to the bone and disaster will occur if more is cut. It’s never true, but fear has always worked to squeeze more money out of the people who earn it.

True, Medicaid continues to be the main driver behind state spending, but that’s a reason for fixing what ails Medicaid, not pouring more money into it.

Consider construction projects, which are snarling traffic around the country. According to a study by 22 Gannett newspapers, published earlier this month in USA Today, “The federal government spends $40 billion a year on highway construction but does not track how many projects are over budget, how much goes toward overruns or whether the record is getting better or worse. The result is a patchwork pattern of planning lapses and design errors that sends some states back for more money again and again.”

In many states, politicians spend federal money on wasteful and unnecessary projects and, when the money runs out, claim that Granny will be thrown off a cliff if state taxpayers don’t pony up for “essential” programs.

Last week, the local news in Washington, D.C., showed pictures of a major water-main break in suburban Maryland. It seems to happen a lot, not only in the Washington area but, according to the National Taxpayers Union, hundreds of times each year around the country. NTU estimates the breaks cost taxpayers $3 billion annually, not counting costs associated with traffic tie-ups, emergency equipment, lost time and depleted water supplies.

What could be done to save money when it comes to broken water mains? Corrosion is the main cause of the breaks, because of old metallic pipes. NTU estimates the broken pipes are a $50.7 billion drain on the economy, not including the cost from lost water due to leaking or broken pipes.

Utilities have generally replaced old corroded pipes with new ones made of the same or similar materials, which also corrode. Other noncorrosive options are available, and NTU estimates they could save between 30 and 70 percent on capital improvement plans.

All governments should be regularly audited by outside auditors. Their sole interest should be saving taxpayers’ money. Any program or agency that wastes money ought to be updated or eliminated. If taxpayers don’t force big government at the state and federal levels to go on a diet, the bloating will only continue to the detriment of our economic health.

Cal Thomas, a columnist with Tribune Media Services, appears in Opinion on Wednesdays.

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