Monday, June 15, 2009

The Stimulus Nightmare

Earlier this year, I wrote about this year's state budget shortfall and explained how I thought the shortfall would provide an excellent opportunity for state government to get smaller. I felt that the shortfall would force state government to cut the most wasteful and inappropriate functions.

Many of the residents of my house district can articulate their belief that government is wasteful with our tax dollars. I agree with them and see a budget shortfall as the perfect tool to make politicians and bureaucrats cut some of this waste.

For example, during one budget committee meeting hearing this year, a state agency testified that by rearranging some office space and giving up a conference room, they were able to realize $40,000 savings per year in rent fees. The way I see it, budget shortfalls which rid state government of $40,000 conference rooms are a huge blessing.

During the next economic upturn when state revenues will once again increase, it was my hope that conservative legislative leaders would return the increased revenue back to the people in the form of tax reduction instead of using the money to once again grow government. The result of the downturn which forced spending reductions, coupled with tax relief during the upturn, would be a smaller, more efficient state government. I am convinced that over the next few years, this simple strategy would be effective in returning government to a much more limited role.

Earlier in the legislative year, it appeared that this was about to occur. As the economic shortfall worsened and state government revenues dropped, state leaders were under the gun and facing tremendous pressure to take the necessary steps to start reducing state government spending.

Then everything changed as the federal stimulus money started becoming available. Because of this funding, not only did state government not get smaller this year, it will actually spend slightly more money.

It is hard to tell how many strings are going to be attached to the stimulus funding. For instance, in order for Oklahoma to accept stimulus money for one state agency, the state had to loosen its unemployment funding eligibility criteria, even though Oklahoma's eligibility guidelines are already extremely liberal. Once a program like this is expanded, it will be very difficult to shrink it back down to the appropriate size.

This is why I maintained a policy this year of voting against budget bills where it was apparent that stimulus money was being received. Not only has the stimulus greatly harmed the future of our nation, it has also made it much more difficult to eliminate waste in state governments all across our country.

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