Memo to spendaholics

Scott A. Hodge

October 29, 1991|By Scott A. Hodge

ANTI-TAX fervor is percolating nationwide. Thousands of angry taxpayers staged protests in nearly 200 cities recently, demanding that Congress cut taxes and stop wasting money. The message is getting through even to Congress: Both conservative and liberal lawmakers finally are offering tax relief programs to ease the burden on American families.

Here's a simple formula for Washington's spendaholics: Every $1 million reduction in federal spending would provide $3,000 in tax relief to 333 households. Thus, before spending a single dollar on any government program, Congress should ask: "Is this program so important that the money spent on it cannot be given as tax relief for thousands of families?"

To help your congressman evaluate whether programs are genuinely needed, ask him some other questions, such as:

Does the program serve localized or special interests rather than the nation as a whole?

At a cost of more than $100 million in taxpayer money, members of Congress each year approve dozens of "highway demonstration projects" that show how well they can bring home the bacon. But why should all Americans help pay for an off-ramp and access road to a private sports stadium in Milwaukee, as they did last year, to the tune of $10.2 million?

This year, for example, Congress will force the National Park Service to spend $150,000 to study the century-old Hatfield-McCoy feud in Matewan, W.Va., and $320,000 to purchase the home of President McKinley's in-laws and donate it to the state of Ohio. Eliminating these and other park service projects would provide $3,000 in tax relief to each of 3,300 households.

Has the program failed, completed its mission, outlived its usefulness or simply become irrelevant?

The Small Business Administration is a classic example of a failed program. The SBA loses about 12 percent each year on the $3 billion of loan guarantees it issues. Only two-tenths of 1 percent of all small businesses in the nation receive SBA loans, yet all American taxpayers -- including other small business owners -- must pay for them. The annual cost: $318 million. If the SBA were abolished, checks of $3,000 could be mailed to 106,000 households.

Does the program duplicate, contradict or nullify the mission of other programs?

Since the Appalachian Regional Commission's inception, the federal government has spent nearly $7 billion in this economically distressed region. At a cost to taxpayers of about $130 million per year, the ARC duplicates 14 federal rural aid programs provided by the departments of transportation, labor and agriculture. That could be a $3,000 tax relief check to 43,300 households. The ARC should be abolished.

At an annual cost of more than $1.6 billion, the Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program has paid farmers to remove 35 million acres of land (equivalent to the size of the state of Illinois) from production. Most of this land was highly marginal cropland to begin with. If this program were canceled, 533,000 households could each receive $3,000 in tax relief.

Does the program benefit businesses or income groups with more than sufficient means to help themselves?

Three federal child nutrition programs provide benefits to families with incomes of more than $25,000 per year, or 185 percent of the poverty level. Eliminating the $1 billion in annual subsidies to families in the middle- and upper-income groups would ensure that scarce federal resources would be targeted to those in need. The number of households that could get $3,000 in tax relief: 333,000.

The government spends roughly $3 million annually to support a catfish research farm in Stuttgart, Ark. The findings of this research are intended to benefit the thriving $200-million-per-year catfish industry. Just down the road is the Arkansas "Poultry Center of Excellence," which receives $3.8 million annually from the federal government -- which benefits the $14.9-billion-per-year poultry industry. Industry should not force taxpayers to pay for its research. If these programs were cut, about 2,260 households could receive $3,000 in tax refunds.

Implementing the few recommended cuts cited here and cutting less than $2 billion in other wasteful spending programs could give $3,000 in tax relief to nearly every household in Austin, Texas; Buffalo, N.Y.; Des Moines, Iowa; Fresno, Calif.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Rockford, Ill. If your congressional representative voted for these programs, he should be prepared to explain why they are so important that hundreds of thousands of Americans would be denied needed tax relief.

Scott A. Hodge studies the budget for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

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