This is a tale of two governments. One closely accountable to the people and operating under strict financial guidelines and some degree of transparency. One massively detached from the people with spending no one has any handle on and acting as a virtual oligarchy.
Sarasota County must balance its budget every year. That is, not spend more than it takes in. Florida’s state government has the same requirement. Sometimes that can mean painful cuts or foolish tax increases, but it means making tough choices.
In the good times, Sarasota County squirreled away money in a rainy-day fund. It also began cutting employees quickly in response to the downturn, eliminating 300 jobs. While the county has already drawn down that fund, more than $100 million remains available and county officials believe that even if the recession goes longer, it can keep from any more major cutbacks or tax increases.
Commissioners just approved a 0.3% tax increase, almost negligible, and are looking at a $981 million county budget — the first time it has been below $1 billion in three years and the second reduction in a row.
That’s because it brought in less money, so it had to spend less money. Interesting concept not entirely understood everywhere.
Now we have the contrast.
USA Today did an analysis recently that found that each American household was put on the hook for another $55,000 in federal government commitments in 2008. Those commitments include Social Security,
Medicaid, Medicare and the rest of the welfare cushion, the national debt and the plethora of other government spending and promises.
That was a 12% jump and means that federal obligations by the end of 2008 reached $546,668 per household — which is four times more than the average household’s debt that covers mortgages, car loans, credit cards and so on.
But remember, that does not include the massive amounts of expenditures that the president and Congress have committed to since January, or the trillions more President Obama still wants to spend.
Sarasota County cut employees to balance the budget. How many employees has the federal government cut? How many does it ever cut, under Democrats or Republicans? We all know the answer to that. It just spends and spends and spends, and like lemming fools we keep re-electing and re-electing people who are ruining our nation.
Before Obama was sworn in, we already had long-term commitments we couldn’t meet. Social Security recipients had been growing by about 500,000 per year in the 1990s. But between now and 2032, they will grow at up to 2 million per year. Ditto for Medicare. All courtesy of the retiring baby boomers — which everyone saw coming. But no one could change it because if they tried, they were pasted as trying to take old people’s money away.
Further, Congress stopped putting any money in the military- and civil-servant pension and health-care funds starting in 2003 when Republicans were in control and continuing now under Democrats. That obligation stands at $5.3 trillion billion and is growing at $300 billion annually. There is so much more.
So there was plenty of opportunity for change for the new president, and in the campaign he talked about runaway spending. Perhaps he would change to some sense of spending responsibility, like states and counties and families.
Alas, quite the opposite. On spending, the only change from Obama is a stunningly faster rate of going into debt, to the point where reasonable people now ask if the federal government is sustainable. The Chinese, Russians and Japanese are not so sure.
In the last few months, the government has become the nation’s largest mortgage lender, is guaranteeing $3 trillion in money-market mutual funds, owns General Motors and restructured Chrysler Corp., is a part owner in 600 banks, has lent hundreds of billions of dollars to private companies in trouble and has spent nearly $1 trillion on economic stimulus — such as $3.4 million to design a turtle tunnel under a Florida highway.
President Obama needs to stop taking potshots at his predecessor, who is diminishing further and further in the rearview mirror, and begin to man up and take responsibility for this spending disaster himself. He owns it because as bad as President Bush’s spending was, Obama makes it look like chump change.
I doubt this was the change a lot of people were hoping for — indentured servitude to the federal government for generations. But this is the change you get, when, during campaigns, a slovenly, partisan media allows a nice-looking candidate to get away without answering the question: change to what?
Now, if Sarasota County acts irresponsibly with our future, we can go down to the commission meeting or call and actually talk to a commissioner. Most respond personally to emails. .
But who do we blame for the unfolding disaster in Washington? Who do we throw out of office? Who is responsible? It’s pretty easy. Democrats. And Republicans. Congress in general and multiple presidents.
The bureaucracy. Special interests. Who is responsible? In a word: government.
Our federal government is frighteningly unrestrained and, I fear, unrestrainable until average Americans revolt — peacefully revolt. The tea parties were a start. Expect more on the Fourth of July.
Barry Goldwater got it soberingly right: “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take everything you have.”
Rod Thomson is executive editor of the Gulf Coast Business Review and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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