The Taxman cometh

April 09, 1999|By Cal Thomas

PERHAPS you think that as you settle up with the federal, state and local governments in a few days you are done with the taxman for another year. You've only just begun.

Up to 40 percent of our hard-earned income goes to government, and government spends it so inefficiently that there reportedly isn't enough left to buy the missiles we need to carry out our misguided policies in Kosovo.

That's why Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is again proposing the Tax Limitation Amendment, which would amend the Constitution to require a two-thirds (or super) majority of both houses of Congress before any tax increase or a new tax could be approved. The amendment could be voted on soon. It's time to begin starving the big government beast.

Diet for government

Voters at the state level love the idea of putting big government on a diet. Whenever voters at the state level get a chance to express themselves on limiting taxes, they approve by a 2-to-1 majority. Currently, 14 states have some form of tax-limitation measures. According to ATR President Grover Norquist, 15 states are considering adopting the two-thirds Tax Limitation Amendment in 1999.

"Tax reform" over the last 10 years has not only cost us more money but more time as we struggle with rules so complex that even the IRS gets them wrong. It is a system that just about everyone hates and no one respects. The only way to begin reform is to deprive government of additional money. The two-thirds majority would give government's greedy hand less access to our pockets.

Government is costing us more than the taxes we see. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), federal regulations cost taxpayers $737 billion in 1998. That's 44 percent of the size of all federal spending.

The typical family pays an average $7,239 of the regulatory bill, up from $6,800 in 1997. "That's 20 percent of the after-tax budget," notes Wayne Crews, author of the CEI report. "More is spent on regulation than on medical expenses, food, transportation, recreation, clothing or savings," he says.

Cost of rules

Contributing to the cost are the federal agencies that have added 21,000 rules in the last five years. Currently, Congress is not held responsible for the cost of new regulations, but it should be. The CEI report suggests all members of Congress be required to vote on agencies' final rules before they become binding on the public.

Consider this: the costs of regulation by the U.S. government is nearly as large as the combined GNPs of Canada and Mexico. The 1998 Federal Register contained 68,571 pages, the highest level since 1980 and a 6 percent jump over the previous year. And an estimated 4,560 new ones are in the pipeline. The top five federal rule-producing agencies last year were the Department of Transportation (518), Environmental Protection Agency (462), Department of the Treasury (438), Department of Agriculture (384) and Department of Health and Human Services (350).

Worse, we rarely know what benefits come from these regulations because many are not accompanied by benefit estimates. At EPA, fewer than half of its $100 million rules have known benefit estimates.

What was that about the era of big government being over?

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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