Sunday, March 27, 2011

Revenue or Spending

In the ever-going state budget discussion here in Colorado, conservative columnist John Andrews argues in the Denver Post that Colorado doesn't have a revenue problem and should, surprisingly, emulate states like Wisconsin and Texas. My thoughts:

In a column addressing the budgetary challenges facing Colorado, the recommendation that we adopt our tax system from Texas is quite baffling, especially for someone who's generally pretty well informed about issues of politics and government. Texas is currently facing a projected $27 billion shortfall in 2012, which aligns it squarely with the budgetary disasters in states like California and Illinois. This fiscal tsunami is in spite of increased job growth and business relocation to Texas in the past decade. Thus, Texas - which has no "out-of-control spending" and an austere, Colorado-like budget, is clearly inhibited by a revenue problem.

The revenue problem is no different than in Colorado. Certainly, as he notes, spending in Colorado has increased over the years. Yet, his criticism is ignoring a myriad of factors that lead state spending to expand - increased population, increased wear and tear on infrastructure, natural disasters from epic storms to massive fires to uncontrolled pine beetle devastation, greater demands on education for expanded testing and security and special education, rising demands of Medicaid and public health as private sector workers face increasing premiums or lose benefits while wages remain stagnant, etc. Simply put, as the years go on, costs go up. They always have - that's why I used to pay less for everything, and now, even with wages increases, costs have gone up. The economy is so much more complex than Andrews' knowledge of it, and his inability to look beyond a basic prejudice toward taxes is the foundation of the state's revenue problem.

And then we turn to Andrews' mythologized "Reagan" reference as "visionary" in terms of deficits? That's the same Reagan who cut revenue and ballooned not only the deficit but the national debt. That's the same Reagan who sought to repair the budget with eleven subsequent revenue increases between 1983 and 1987, and still left a debt and deficit that cost his successor a second term.

As an educator who urges to my students to be "people on whom nothing is lost," I am worried by voters like Andrews who take an ideological, rather than pragmatic, real-world approach to the budget. His naive recommendations simply validate one of Winston Churchill's greatest insights:

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

Coloradan's votes on Ref C & D, their rejection of 60, 61, & and 101, and their election of John Hickenlooper over a notoriously inept and rather clueless GOP field seem to indicate they're not as naive as his friends at CUT (Colorado Union of Taxpayers) and the Independence Institute.

But I still worry.


Anonymous said...

The states are in a bad way.

Cutting wasteful spending (where wasteful spending amounts to sending your money out of the state) might help, but how much of that is there, really?

Raising taxes on the wealthy is a short/medium term answer and should probably happen regardless. Having the economy pick up is the real answer. This can only happen in one of the following ways:

1) The masses have more money through some sort of wealth redistribution.

2) The federal government starts deficit spending in sufficient quantity.

3) The US becomes a net exporter.

I don't see #1 happening unless something big-time changes in D.C., and #3 can only happen if things continue to deteriorate, which leaves #2, and perhaps that's really in the same category as #1.


steven said...

It sounds like you're worried that people don't want to hand their money over to the state so that the state can "take care of things" for everyone. Of course, Michael, you live off the activities of the state, so your judgement shouldn't be trusted in these matters.

To be naive it to think that a sovereign institution such as the state, from which no one is allowed to withdraw their consent, will look after the best interests of their citizens and be accountable to them. An institution you are required to submit to will be accountable to you? That's laughable.

mmazenko said...

Sigh, indeed, Abellia.

Even if the economy picks up, the growth can not dig us out of the hole. A Denver University study crunched the numbers to prove that in Colorado.

The entire tax structure is inadequate, and the average citizen does not stay informed enough to make it work.

Steven, your rejection of the entire American Revolution, Constitution, and subsequent civilization is almost nonsensical at times. I'm going to trust Locke, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Jay, Hamilton, and the boys on this one.

But, as always, good luck finding your island paradise. Didn't Thomas Moore write about it?

Anonymous said...


I'd love a reference to the study.


Throughout civilization, freedom and equality tend to be uncomfortable bedfellows. Total freedom allows the able or lucky, over time, to accumulate the wealth of the world to the detriment of all others. Are you so sure that you and your family will end up in the "able or lucky" camp as the consolidation continues? Statistics aren't on your side.

Moderation is where it is at.

steven said...

abellia, the existence of the coercive monopoly institution which is the state benefits the wealthy far more than it benefits the poor. The wealthy can buy political influence to game the rules in their favor. You've heard about lobbying, haven't you? It goes on all the time. It requires resources that most poor people don't have, but most wealthy people do. The poor would be much better off in a free society.

mmazenko said...

Abellia, here's the news story:

Steven, given your knowledge of history - on a macro, not village or kibbutz, scale - consider living in the Gilded Age or the Progressive Era that followed.

I mean, seriously, respond to the history outside of your utopian ideology.

steven said...

Michael, during the 20th century governments murdered approximately 270 million innocent people (per Jeffrey Rogers Hummel). And that doesn't even include those who were killed in wars. That's quite some history regarding how coercive monopolies operate.

But, the government pays your salary. So I understand where you're coming from.

mmazenko said...

And how many of those murders were committed by people? Hmmmm. Would that be .... all of them?

Such a random statistic.

How many individuals were killed by other individuals during that time? How many innocent civilians were protected from harm by governments acting on the behalf of individuals? How many lives were saved by governmental efforts to provide immunizations? How about clean water? Fire codes? Food safety? Workplace safety rules? How about guaranteed health care and insurance to people who are marginalized by the free market?

Really. Try to answer each - or even one - of those specific acts of governments acting on the behalf of the safety and welfare of their citizens.

Honesty, Steven, your arguments are moving further and further from reality. Is everything OK?

steven said...

Those murders were committed by people who claimed the right to rule over other people. People who, unlike common criminals, were hiding behind a cloak of supposed legitimacy.

I'm giving you actual murders, not hypothetical ones. Why don't you provide us with answers to those hypothetical questions you pose, Michael. Otherwise you're just blowing smoke.

mmazenko said...

Just dispute public health and safety from history. Just refute the Gilded Age and the Progressive policies that improved citizens' lives?

Blowing smoke? Me?

Never mind. This has become tiresome.