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Archive for February 25th, 2013

The number one goal for fiscal policy is to reduce the burden of government spending.

The simple way to achieve this goal is to adhere to Mitchell’s Golden Rule and and make sure the private sector grows faster than the public sector.

But when politicians fail to exercise that modest amount of fiscal restraint, bad things happen.

Consider my state of Virginia, which is largely controlled by Republicans. Except party labels apparently don’t mean much because state spending has been growing at twice the rate of inflation.

Virginia State Spending

And when politicians engage in profligacy on the spending side of the fiscal ledger, it’s just a matter of time before they engage in greed on the other side of the fiscal ledger.

That’s certainly happened in Virginia, where the interest groups, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and politicians just achieved a major victory over taxpayers.

The Wall Street Journal is appropriately disappointed.

"I hope you're not upset that I'm copying your fiscal policy, Mr. President"

“I hope you’re not upset that I’m copying your fiscal policy, Mr. President”

There’s one thing uglier than a Democratic tax-and-spend spree. A Republican one. On Friday Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and a GOP-run legislature approved a five-year, $6 billion transportation bill financed almost entirely with higher sales and car taxes.

Here are some of the grim details.

The sales tax rises to 6% from 5% in Hampton Roads and populous Northern Virginia and to 5.3% everywhere else. The hated car tax (which Republicans once vowed to eliminate) rises to 4.3% from 3%, meaning a new $30,000 car or truck will come with a $1,290 tax bill. Then there’s a new 0.25% sales tax on homes in Northern Virginia, plus a new hotel tax.

More taxes, not surprisingly, will mean more spending.

Mr. McDonnell even cut an 11th-hour deal with Democrats over the expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare. …Mr. McDonnell says the commission means Virginia won’t expand Medicaid as long as Republicans control the legislature, but wait until the hospital lobby gets done working the same Republicans who raised taxes.

The governor doubtlessly has made lots of friends with the interest groups that dominate Richmond, so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to cash in when he leaves office.

The state’s taxpayers, by contrast, won’t be so lucky. And now the GOP is now divided and dispirited and will face an uphill battle in this November’s elections.

This fiasco will haunt Republicans in a state that holds elections in November. Probable Democratic nominee for Governor Terry McAuliffe endorsed the bill knowing it erases any GOP advantage on taxes and spending. Mr. Cuccinelli, the likely Republican nominee, opposed the bill but must now find a way to rally a splintered GOP and demoralized conservatives. At least Republicans can erase Mr. McDonnell’s name as a national candidate or VP choice in 2016.

I don’t lose a lot of sleep worrying about Republican political prospects, but I am irked that politicians are taking more of my money for their vote-buying schemes.

To add insult to injury, I’m not rich, so I don’t have the ability to directly benefit from tax competition by moving to a zero-income-tax state such as Florida or Texas.

And moving to Maryland or DC would be jumping out of the fiscal frying pan and into the tax fire, so that’s also not an option.

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Sigh. I feel like a modern-day Sisyphus. Except I’m not pushing a rock up a hill, only to then watch it roll back down.

Compared to educating journalists about fiscal policy, this is an easy task

I have a far more frustrating job. I have to read the same nonsense day after day about “deep spending cuts” even though I keep explaining to journalists that a sequester merely means that spending climbs by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion.

The latest example comes from the New York Times, which just reported about “deep automatic spending cuts that will strike hard” without bothering to provide a single concrete number about spending levels in any fiscal year.

Yes, you read correctly. A story about budget cuts did not have any numbers for spending in FY2013, FY2014, or any other fiscal year.

So, for the umpteenth time, here are the actual numbers from the Congressional Budget Office showing what will happen to spending over the next 10 years if we have a sequester.

Sequester 2013

I don’t mean to pick on the New York Times. Yes, the self-styled paper of record has been guilty in the past of turning budget increases into spending cuts, but the Washington Post is guilty of the same sin, having actually written in 2011 that reducing a $3.8 trillion budget by $6 billion would “slash spending.”

And the NYT story actually has some decent reporting on how Republicans so far have (fingers crossed) avoided the tax-increase trap that Obama thought the sequester would create.

But one would still like to think that Journalism 101 teaches reporters to include a few hard facts when writing stories. Particularly if they’re going to use dramatic adjectives to describe what supposedly will happen.

Anyhow, this is just part of a larger problem. As I explained in these John Stossel and Judge Napolitano interviews, the politicians and interest groups have given us a budget process that assumes ever-increasing spending levels, which then allows them to make hysterical claims about “savage” and “draconian” cuts whenever spending doesn’t rise as fast as some hypothetical baseline.

This is why almost nobody understands that it’s actually relatively simple to balance the budget with a modest bit of spending restraint. My goal is reducing the burden of government spending, not fiscal balance, but it’s worth noting that we’d have a balanced budget in just 10 years if spending grew by “only” 3.4 percent annually.

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