The $219.7 billion gap

When legitimate complaints are made this time of year about how we pay too much in taxes, someone inevitably trots out Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ oration that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

Curiously, those who use that Holmes quote don’t use another Holmes quote, “Any tax is a discouragement and therefore a regulation so far as it goes,” which is the subject of today’s blog.

As far as Holmes’ first quote, given not only crime rates but the juvenile lawless behavior of the Occupy ________ set, to call our society “civilized” is accurate only in the most relative terms. And government wastes our tax dollars as often as we breathe.

I prefer the views of Winston Churchill, found on Facebook Monday afternoon, preferable on this subject …

… or the Beatles:

The Wisconsin Constitution includes these words in article I, section 22 …

The blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

… that the writers failed to enforce by including any controls on spending or taxation. Every Legislature in the history of the state has failed to control spending and failed to enact constitutional limits on spending or taxes.

Proof of the latter comes from the Tax Foundation and its Taxpayer Bill of Rights Calculator. Going back  to 1977, which is approximately the last time state per-capita personal income growth exceeded the national average, the blue line shows where state and local government spending would have been had growth been limited to inflation plus population growth. The yellowish line shows actual state and government spending.

The gap between the blue and yellowish lines by the end of the graph totals $219.7 billion, between 1978 and 2009, that state and local governments  have instead of you. That demonstrates too many government employees getting paid too much, too many units of government, too many laws and regulations, and not nearly enough controls on government. And, as we read yesterday, overtaxation gives us an underperforming economy in good and bad times. I think anyone in this state could have found a better use for their share of that $219.7 billion than any governor or state legislator, including the governors and legislators I voted for, over the past 35 years.

Had TABOR controls been in effect in the late 1970s, instead of state and local governments spending $49.3 billion in 2008, state and local spending would have totaled $29.4 billion. Gov. James Doyle wouldn’t have had the opportunity to create a $2.9 billion GAAP deficit, and Gov. Tommy Thompson wouldn’t have had the chance to invent the term “structural deficit.”

The next state budget should have a provision that establishes spending controls on every level of government tied to inflation and population growth, to be effective until the passage of a constitutional amendment that establishes spending controls on every level of government tied to inflation and population growth. Enough is enough.

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