Paul Begala over at CNN has been having a little spat with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. In the latest round, Begala suggests that South Carolina should refuse to take the stimulus money. I'll get to the meat in a moment, but first, let's deal with a pet peeve of mine. Begala says:
I'll deal with his "ideas" in a moment, but first let me make a modest proposal:
Unless you are truly advocating in favor of cannibalizing poor human children, please refrain from using the phrase "a modest proposal."
Begala cites Tax Foundation numbers that South Carolina "gets $1.35 back from Washington for every dollar it pays in federal taxes." Of course, given that it is an extremely technical process to provide a hyperlink to your sources, neither Begala nor CNN choose to do so. While I can't be certain, this appears to be the data from the Tax Foundation that Begala was referring to.
The first thing that leaps to one's attention is the title for this data-set: "Federal Spending Received Per Dollar of Taxes Paid by State, 2005". Notice that it doesn't compare how much cash a State "gets" back from the federal government for every taxpayer dollar it sends to the federal government, but rather how much the federal government spends in a State.
About this data, the Tax Foundation says:
The most important factor determining whether a state is a net beneficiary is per capita income. States with wealthier residents pay higher federal taxes per capita thanks to the progressive structure of the income tax. Other factors include whether states have powerful Members of Congress, the number of federal employees present in a state, and the number of residents receiving Social Security, Medicare and other federal entitlements.
So perhaps South Carolinians are relatively poorer that us Washingtonians. Or perhaps there are relatively more federal employees in South Carolina? Or maybe more retirees?
I find it quite interesting that none of the factors in the data cited by the Tax Foundation, and subsequently by Begala, are within the control of the State of South Carolina. Surely Begala isn't suggesting that Governor Sanford call forth the South Carolina National Guard and the militia to expel all federal employees present in that state! Fort Jackson, AFBs Charleston and Shaw would certainly have to go. See you later BATFE, FBI, DEA, INS, etc. That out to help even out the tax equation, right?
While the government of the State of South Carolina may be guilty of all manner of mismanagement (or maybe not), it is unfair and intellectually dishonest to hold them responsible for actions of the Federal government, which they could not prevent without starting another civil war.
Any intellectually honest discussion of federal spending in a State must also mention the mandates associated with that spending, and also with the unfunded federal mandates. And lets not forget that much of what the federal government spends is actually just a promise to collect increased taxes from our progeny.
According to the Wall Street Journal,
Projections for 2009 deficit range from Goldman Sachs's $1.43 trillion to $1.9 trillion from economic firm Strategas Research Partners. At 13.5% of GDP, a $1.9 trillion shortfall would more than double the peacetime record during Ronald Reagan's presidency, and approach the mark set in 1942 as the U.S. joined World War II.
The debt itself is about $10.7 trillion, about 40% of GDP.
Our Federal government has been fiscally irresponsible for decades. If you oppose this irresponsibility, Begala's response is "...don't take federal money." Just make sure you keep paying your taxes.
And of course Begala can't help but contradict himself. At the beginning of his nonsensical rant, he states:
After all, if you think all that federal spending is damaging, there are easy ways to reduce it: Don't take federal money.
So, not taking federal money will reduce federal spending. OK. Then Begala concludes:
Let's keep our federal money -- give it to states where the governors will actually put it to good use. We'll let Gov. Sanford try his plan, we'll try President Obama's plan.
Wait a minute. So not taking federal money won't reduce federal spending? You're just going to give it to other states? Good thing you aren't under oath, Begala. If memory serves, we impeached the President you counseled for lying under oath, and all he lied about was his personal sexual relations, nothing as serious as spending a trillion dollars of taxpayer money!
I don't know whether there will ever be another civil war or not, but certainly CNN can find a Democratic Party mouthpiece that can argue in favor of Democratic policies without implying, undoubtedly unintentionally, that an armed revolt is the best course of action for those opposed to federal spending. Begala can't be the brightest bulb in the box. Can he?