Mr. Lane Scott of Pope County wrote about Pope County spending $805,000 of what had been described as “free money” and how looking at it as free money changes spending decisions. He addresses county spending but the points he makes are also valid for state spending. Each budget cycle the state spends surplus tax money from the previous year and some politicians treat it as “free money” resulting in less scrutiny and sometimes causing higher spending obligations in the future.
We received Mr. Scott’s permission to publish his letter.
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By Lane Scott
LIMITED GOVERNMENT & LIMITED SPENDING ARE INSEPARABLE
Whatever happened to limited government? You might as well ask, “Whatever happened to fiscal responsibility in government?” because these two issues are joined at the hip.
PERSONAL EXAMPLE OF THE COST OF “FREE MONEY”
When our first-born was old enough to drive, a generous elderly neighbor offered to give his old pickup to him. The gentleman made the offer through me, telling me that the brakes had gone out on it. I explained to our son some of the costs involved in automobile ownership. Besides the obvious immediate cost of new brakes, there would be tags, taxes, insurance, gasoline, and other maintenance costs. At that point in his life, our son was not in a position to need or be able to afford this “free pickup.” He wisely decided that he would not accept this gift and the responsibility it entailed.
“FREE MONEY” DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY BRING LONG-TERM PROSPERITY
“In one study of Florida [lottery] winners, 70% of them had spent every last dime of their jackpot within 5 years of winning.” Although it is hard to imagine, there are even a few, 1% of winners, that become bankrupt. Whether we’re talking about winning the lottery, receiving a tax return, or being given a stimulus check some recipients of “free money” spend it in a way that protects their future economic well-being while others do so in ways that cause themselves future financial difficulty.
EXPECTED FUTURE FINANCIAL IMPACTS
You probably know that when the U.S. government spends more than it collects in taxes (revenue), its borrowing causes an artificial increase in the supply of money. This so-called “hidden tax” which the government steals makes each dollar that consumers have worth less than before. This inflation of the money supply is the main cause of price inflation–prices rise to make up for the devaluation of our dollars.
You probably also know that the U.S. government recently spent trillions of dollars that it did not have, causing a new round of inflated prices and a loss of real wealth for most of us. As part of this latest overspending spree, the USG gave away “free money” to households as well as state and local government. In addition, the current holder of a Pope County casino license has promised “free money” to the County. Now, the question is, “Will local government spend this “free money” in a way that will protect future economic well-being or in a way that will cause the people future financial woes, including increased taxes?”
Should we spend it in a way that presumes that nothing will ever change? Shall we, contrary to experience and common sense, spend as though the “free money” will always be there? Is there reason to believe that prices will not increase due to inflation from the national government overspending? Should we believe that Pope County will be the exception to the rule that property values (thus property tax revenue to the county) falls within 7 years after a casino moves in?
TWO DIFFERENT POLICIES ADVOCATED
In meetings of the Quorum court, the members were lectured at different times by 2 of their fellow justices as well as by a member of the public about proper spending policy. The Justices were told that they should not treat this money as if it were their own. The message seemed to be that they would instead readily spend it without holding a reserve for unexpected emergencies or opportunities.
Are you concerned that mis-spending “free money” could contribute to financial difficulties for the County and for you? You should be. In case you didn’t know, the Quorum Court can raise your taxes without you being able to vote on it. Some of the justices believe that this is exactly what will happen if we spend this “free money” building larger facilities and hiring a larger workforce than can be operated and maintained at present tax rates. Depending on how much taxes would be raised to meet these obligations, it could further erode local standards of living so as to drive away residents and businesses.
Let’s be wise in government spending at every level. Choose carefully when you vote for your County Judge and Justice of the Peace.
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