Two pigs and a poke in the eye of big spenders

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While other big-spending state politicians went to Washington seeking a handout, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford went to “beg” (his word, not mine) federal politicians not to bail out states.

Sanford understands something most economically illiterate politicians — a majority of Kentucky lawmakers — do not: Bailouts do not fix fiscal problems. Bailouts make them worse.

Sanford testified before the House Ways and Means Committee in October, just after the National Governors Association requested a $150-billion stimulus package for states. Sanford told the committee a bailout would “further infect our economy with unnecessary government influence and unintended fiscal consequence.”

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The $150 billion coupled with a plethora of previous bailouts would push this year’s national deficit beyond $1 trillion — the highest level since the 1950s, Sanford said. Now, five governors from the Northeast — suffering brain freeze, no doubt — want $1 trillion for states.

No wonder President-elect Obama wants the nation to brace for $1-trillion deficits for many years.

Meanwhile, while most of us focus on the national deficit — even Time Square’s “National Debt Clock” needs a bailout because it lacks enough spaces for zeros — state spending grows like the number of bailout calling cards dropped in Obama’s in-box. Spending by states grew a whopping 124 percent during the past decade, compared with “only” 83-percent growth in national spending during the same time.

As Sanford told the committee, a bailout rewards irresponsible spending and enables government spenders unwilling to make unpopular, but necessary, decisions about cuts.

“There seems to be no consequence, and indeed a reward, for unsustainable spending growth in states,” he said.

And Sanford doesn’t just talk the talk, either. He outraged his state’s politicians recently by showing up at the South Carolina House of Representatives with two piglets under his arms – named “Pork” and “Barrel.”

South Carolina House Speaker David Wilkins responded with the kind of dizzying behavior we get in Frankfort: He claimed embarrassment and led an effort to adjourn the House shortly after Sanford showed up.

The House put overriding Sanford’s budget vetoes for overspending on a fast track. Yet, its leader only focused on a lighthearted joke by the governor — not on the prospect of leaving two generations of South Carolinians with an opportunity-draining deficit.

At least while the House adjourned, it couldn’t further sock it to taxpayers. (This might be an idea for new Kentucky Speaker Greg Stumbo to consider.)

Sanford spent a few years in Congress and became known for his frugal ways. He often slept in his office to save taxpayers money. He took that same attitude to Washington when he asked Congress to — in the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath — “do no MORE harm.”

Instead, Sanford offered another way for the feds to help states: Give them relief from unfunded federal mandates, which have cost states $131 billion during the past four years.

How wise is it to force states to make up a $200-million to $300-million difference annually in the Federal Food Stamp program because the feds cut their funding for the program.

While other beggars lined up to bow to Almighty U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., House Ways and Means Committee chair, Sanford should have arrived with “Pork” and “Barrel” under each arm.

Instead, he arrived with an honest request: Give states “more in the way of flexibility and freedom from federal mandates — instead of a bag of money with strings attached.”

Kentuckians rarely hear from its chief executive such plain talk accompanied by innovative solutions. Maybe Sanford can to come to Frankfort and share some of his good ideas. Maybe someone would listen.

Yeah, when pigs fly.
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