Tax Roulette

Who the heck is in charge around here?

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are not the only signs our democracy is in trouble. Congress is working like a bicycle without a chain. This administration would “dissolve the people and elect another” if it could.

The federal government checks a scant 1 percent of government programs to see if they work, according to Peter Orszag and Jim Nussle. What slapstick.

The state Capitol trips over its two most expensive missions. First, health care sucks out twice the money from patients as other rich countries, despite continual bureaucratic tinkering. Second, legacy kindergarten through 12-grade education has serious problems of both high-cost and low-quality relative to other countries.

Further, Colorado’s state-run pension system is nearly certain to default on retirees, public school teachers included, unless it bets big and wins big. Meanwhile, legislators twiddle their thumbs.

Everyone in government wants to drive the bus, but only to their own front door. It is great comedy.

Tragedy lurks nearby, however. The studiously nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows the United States firmly on the path to national bankruptcy. So is the rest of the rich world. We are making the same mistakes.

Either we citizens change something big, or it changes us.

You can see the sloppy spending on your ballot. First, no one is proposing to return any money to you. Public administrators are not becoming more efficient. They are not becoming better managers.

Second, none of the tax proposals would get through the Securities and Exchange Commission. They are all more speculative than they admit. They also lack measurable objectives, detail, evaluation of alternatives, recognition of risks, responsibility and reviews.

Amendment 69, the proposal to socialize medicine in Colorado, is a legitimate shriek of financial distress. Unfortunately, it is also an $11,000 per family per year spin at the roulette table — on people with a similar record of success as the average golden retriever.

Amendment 70, the proposal to raise the minimum wage, is a shoot-from-the-hip approach to poverty reduction. It may increase low incomes. Or it might decrease them by shrinking the low-skilled jobs available.

Amendment 72, the big bump in statewide cigarette taxes, is classic case of confused cross subsidies. Does society really want to tax the poor to benefit the middle class?

Ballot Issue 1A is fresh taxes for county housing subsidies. It runs a minimum of $6,000 per household ($300 and rising per year for 20 years). Measurable net benefits to the general public are not mentioned.

Ballot Issue 1B effectively is an open space tax increase of $1,800 per household ($120 annually for 15 years). It extends a tax scheduled to sunset. Open space has never paid taxpayers back for its expensive early blunders. There is a lesson here.

Ballot Issues 3A and 3B are the school district’s price increases of roughly $15,000 per household (about $1,400 per year). Note there is no pledge to improve quality by, say, closing half the gap between Eagle County and Finland during the next three years.

During the last four quarters, government spent $47,800 per household. Ignoring Amendment 69, these proposals will increase Eagle County household tax liabilities by about $23,000, or $1,400 a year.

Why take hard-earned money from families instead of dropping the least effective public spending? Either, one, every dollar government spends is better spent than any dollar you spend; or, two, it is just easier to con caring people like you than it is to prioritize existing government spending. Remember, 99 percent of federal spending has never been justified financially.

Strengthen democracy. Vote “no” on all the tax increases on this year’s ballot. Train these fine people to come back with better proposals. They will.

No one is looking out for you, except you. Take charge.

This column was published in the Vail Daily on 5 November 2016 (click here).

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