Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to fix the budget mess…

As with most folks, I’ve been struggling with the ‘how’ of getting the power and programs back from the federal government and into the hands of the states.  The problem is that if you just slash the program at the federal level, you are likely going to cause a huge amount of calamity at the local level EVERYWHERE.  As with the politician hand-picking the impact of budget cuts to make them as painful as possible so nobody will want them, anytime you mention cutting a federal program, it is viewed through a one-way mirror that ONLY the federal government can provide this service, and therefore cutting it impacts too many people.  This is, at its core, one of the most serious aspects of federal control:  a change at the federal level impacts EVERYONE since everyone is under the feds.  The key to getting costs under control and making government programs nimble enough to remain efficient and service the people they are targeted at is to take that program down to the smallest governmental group you can.  A good first effort would be to move the power out of the federal government and back to the states.

 So how can you do it?  As I said, the problem is a big one – once a program is established at the federal level, it applies to people in every state and slashing it becomes seriously difficult, particularly if you view it from the perspective that it’s only a federal responsibility.  The interesting thing is that there is a fairly simple solution that would get all of this overreach out of the federal government with very little pain and at the same time preserve the things that people want while getting rid of things that folks don't need:   Instead of just slashing away at the federal level, do a little planning - work with the states to move things out of the federal government back to the state level.  This would require that the feds tell the states something like the following:

“Your share of the cost of program ‘X’ that is paid in by your state and your citizens, is such-and-such amount.  If you want to continue this program at the state level you may do so.  Regardless, we will begin to transition the funds that you send us to do that job back to you, the state.  Once the transition is complete, federal taxes will be reduced by the cost of that program, and no more money will be sent to the state by the feds for that program.  If the state wants to continue the program, it can plan to raise taxes on its citizens or it can move money from other programs.  If the state does not want to continue the program, it can choose to either phase it out or turn it off altogether.  Either way, the federal government will not be collecting money for that program and will not be providing that service.”

See how this would work?  The citizens of the state can decide if they want that specific program or service.  They can set up their own version of it to meet the needs that they have, versus trying to shoehorn a one-size-fits-all program from the feds into place.  The program can be managed locally, or if the state doesn’t really need that program, it can eliminate it completely or let a local government do it for the folks at their level.  Seems to me that any program that doesn’t have enough people in it to fund it probably doesn’t need to exist, so if you move it down to the local level and it’s too expensive, then folks will need to figure out how to take care of it themselves without government help.  As always, in the United States, the PEOPLE should choose (remember:  “…government of the people, by the people and for the people…”).  What makes us think that the folks we elect at the federal level are smarter than those of us who are not in government or are at the local/state level?

We have to get out of this star-struck awe we seem to have for federal officials.  They truly aren’t any more important than anyone we elect for any position.  I would argue that your state government is far more important to YOU than any federal official.  If you think about it, the feds should be almost invisible at the local level.  Your community should be the one making choices for those of you in your community.  You know, to be frank, YOU should be far more important to your government than the other way around.

Reality check time:  I am pretty certain this will never happen.  It could.  That’s the saddest part of this.  It really could.  It would take only a single change to bring it about:  The people we elected caring more about the country than about their power.  The problem is that this is like saying, “if only we had world peace, the world would be a better place.”  I’m afraid that human nature, once again, gets in the way of what is best for the people.  World peace will never happen as long as people are part of the equation, and smaller government will never happen as long as the people allow it unrestrained growth.  Like entropy, it requires the application of energy and intelligence to reverse.  Unfortunately, it seems we are sorely lacking in both.

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