RALEIGH – The next time you hear something like this from your state lawmaker – “we’ve done all we can do to trim the state budget, so the only question is how we’re going to raise additional revenue” – you now have the following reasons to snort.
• Right now, North Carolina taxpayers are compelled to spend about $450,000 a year subsidizing public radio stations at two community colleges. They spend nearly $12 million a year subsidizing a public-television network. Both compete for listeners or viewers with dozens of commercial channels that receive little or no subsidy and, in many cases, offer similar programming.
• State taxpayers are also compelled to spend $50 million a year in the Commerce Department to subsidize tourism, sports, the film industry, a seafood park, real-estate interests, biotechnology, community development corporations, and executive-branch trips on state planes and choppers. Would taxpayers continue to do this if asked?
• They also have to fork over $9 million a year to subsidize symphonies and local arts groups that cater disproportionately to wealthy patrons in urban areas. Would taxpayers really believe this to be a high priority if asked?
• State policymakers have cited a Tennessee study of school performance to justify the expenditure of tens of millions of tax dollars to reduce North Carolina class sizes. Yet the same Tennessee study found few or no connections between student performance and the presence of teacher assistants. Reducing TA positions by one-third would save about $140 million a year.
• The cafeteria at the Legislative Building in Raleigh spends about $620,000 more than it collects each year from diners. That is, the taxpayers subsidize the meals of lawmakers, staffers, reporters, and lobbyists. Nice deal for them.
• The state spends about $1.6 million a year enforcing certificate-of-need needs on state hospitals and medical practices that do little more than suppress competition and drive up prices. So we pay higher taxes in order to pay higher medical bills.
• Current plans will allow about $112 million a year from the national tobacco settlement to flow to three “trust funds” outside the normal budget process – two of which are clearly being used by political insiders to fund pet economic-development frivolities. Why should these dollars, supposedly paid to compensate taxpayers for smoking-related costs in Medicaid and the state employee health plan, not be used to defray costs in Medicaid and the state employee health plan?
• The state income-tax code currently offers special credits for gleaned crops (worth more than $4 million a year), recycling facilities and transportation ($9 million), dry-cleaning equipment ($600,000), and use of the state ports ($4.5 million) among other items.
These are just some of the gems to be mined in Freedom Budget 2005, a report by my John Locke Foundation colleague Joe Coletti. You can read many more of his discoveries and recommendations here. The bottom line is that when state lawmakers say they can’t find anywhere else in the state budget to save you money, they are abusing the English language. It’s not that they can’t. They just won’t, because they view these spending priorities as worth raise your taxes to maintain.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.