The legacy of several past presidential and gubernatorial administrations is on display today.
Today is Cost of Government Day in Wisconsin, the day on which we finally stop paying for federal, state and local spending for the year.
The Americans for Tax Reform Foundation describes Cost of Government Day “by adding the cost of government spending at all levels to a conservative estimate of all regulatory burdens—and then counting how many days of the year Americans work to pay the costs of government.”
You’ll notice that Cost of Government Day is four months and two days later than Tax Freedom Day, the day on which all federal, state and local taxes are finally paid for the year. That puts the spotlight on the federal budget deficit, doesn’t it? (And as far as I know the Tax Foundation doesn’t measure state finances correctly, by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; if it did, the gap between taxes and spending would be even larger.)
But, says Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist:
Focusing national attention on the deficit rather than on the total cost of government—federal, state and local spending plus the cost of the federal and state regulatory burden—causes several problems. First, it deliberately understates the true cost of government. It also allows advocates of ever-larger government to misdirect our attention away from the bigger picture to just “the deficit.” And there are ways to dramatically increase the cost of government without adding to the deficit: new regulations and new spending programs matched with higher taxes. (Think ObamaCare and cap-and-trade rules from the Environmental Protection Agency.) …
Looking at the total cost of government rather than merely the annual deficit gives a more complete picture—and a more frightening understanding—of how much government costs each one of us. It also suggests how clever politicians can hide the cost of government, disguising increased spending by urging us to focus on the deficit and then “paying for” higher spending with higher taxes. Government grows but the deficit is unchanged.
The result of cumulative deficits, of course, is debt. The Tax Foundation reports that in 2009 4.96 percent of Wisconsin’s state government spending was interest on debt, sixth highest among the states.
Wisconsin has the sixth latest Cost of Government Day among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Americans for Tax Reform’s Center for Fiscal Accountability points out:
The calculation of the Cost of Government Day for each state is based on the varying government burdens suffered in each state. Federal tax and spending burdens are large contributing factors. These federal burdens vary because relatively higher burdens are borne by states with relatively higher incomes. State and local tax and spending burdens vary as well.
Here’s the thing: Wisconsin doesn’t have “relatively higher incomes.” In fact, Wisconsin’s per capita personal income growth has trailed the nation’s since Jimmy Carter was president. Which demonstrates the grotesque size of the “varying government burdens suffered” in Wisconsin, particularly the regulatory burden.
In Wisconsin’s case, to turn around the cliché, failure has a thousand fathers and mothers in Wisconsin. We have, for instance, 3,120 units of government in this state, a situation that occurred far before the Doyle Administration, and yet no one in Madison seems to think that isn’t a ridiculously high number.
Many of those units of government employ government employees of the mindset in this comment from my Monday blog:
My second issue with you is the whole figure of $71,000 that teachers make after benefits. Well that sounds just great on paper, but being the healthy individual that I am, I wasn’t in the hospital at all this year. The fact is this – my $33,000 salary is basically just that. … My marginally small home and used car are not flashy. I cut my cable bill, cell phone, stopped funding my 403b and the college fund set aside for my children just to offset the cost of my pay freeze and higher rates into pension and health insurance.
It would be talking to a wall to tell this WEAC member that the correct purpose of government is to perform government services, not to employ people with benefits far better than those taxpayers paying for those government-employee benefits. (Or to redistribute income or to effect trendy social change, but those are subjects for other blogs.) And those unemployed people who have neither cable nor cellphones nor retirement accounts nor college funds — or, for that matter, any kind of insurance — may not be impressed with this WEAC member’s personal sacrifices. And this state’s unemployment rates have a lot to do with this state’s poor business climate, which is, among other things, the result of giving employee benefits that taxpayers can’t afford, a major part of out-of-control government spending that taxpayers can’t afford.