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August 25, 2008

Stimulation or Strangulation?

Richard B. Weldon Jr.


Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Montgomery County, thinks he's found the answer to tough economic times for the 50 states. In his view, the recent federal economic stimulus checks were so beneficial for individual Americans that he wants the federal government to issue similar stimulation to each state.


No one can rationally argue that states have been immune to the harsh realities of our national economic woes. Huge increases in foreclosures, rising unemployment figures, and reductions in tax receipts appear to be consistent impacts for every state in the nation.


Mr. Van Hollen is concerned about the future impact, as states face difficult economic choices in the coming months. Always the dedicated progressive, he is deeply concerned with cuts to existing social programs. He points to a report – paid for by organized labor groups – as evidence that cuts in services lie ahead unless the federal government pours hundreds of millions of dollars directly into state coffers.


Not to suggest that Congressman Van Hollen isn't honestly concerned about the affect of state program cuts on his constituents, but come on! The report he cites was prepared by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The same AFSCME that spends 90 days each winter clogging the halls of Annapolis with government workers, paid through tax dollars, to influence state legislators.


These employees, who really ought to be home doing those important jobs that taxpayers are presumably paying for, fight any attempt to outsource government jobs – even when it makes more sense to do so; fight new regulation that is harmful to their members – even though the private sector has to suck up those same regulations; and push for higher pay and more benefits.


Asking AFSCME to produce a reasoned view of the state or national economy upon which to base legislative process is like handing Mr. Fox the keys to the chicken house, tying the bib around his neck, and sharpening the carving knife for him.


Mr. Van Hollen was joined in his call for another taxpayer-funded bailout by a number of progressive Maryland state legislators. All of these people are good, decent, and hard-working. All have expertise in a variety of legislative fields, but one thing they all appear to lack is a grasp of the fundamentals of economic policy.


Government produces nothing but more government. The revenue needed to fuel this new state fiscal stimulus package would have to come from Harry and Helen Taxpayer, the same taxpayers who have had to foot the bill for every other cockamamie, progressive, feel-good dream produced by the likes of Mr. Van Hollen and his comrades in the Maryland General Assembly.


By some odd coincidence, Harry and Helen Taxpayer might themselves be feeling the pinch of the national economic downturn. They might be struggling to make their own ends meet, to stretch a dollar to cover mortgage or rent, or to deal with the high price of fuel or groceries.


Unbeknownst to Congressman Van Hollen, and his apparently oblivious state legislative colleagues, Harry and Helen just don't do as much. They cancel vacations, skip eating out, and bypass movie night. Maybe they give up name-branded products at the store, or trade the aisles at Wal-Mart for their preferred clothes shopping at Kohl’s or Macy's.


Not our government, though. The idea of cutting programs, making tough choices, and even, Heaven forbid, having to say “no” to some you'd rather say yes to, seems like an anathema to the culture of politics.


It just doesn't make any sense at all to suggest that during an economic downtown, the solution is to look to taxpayers to pay more so that important entitlement and service programs don't have to tighten the belt.


The same Maryland legislators that support Mr. Van Hollen's state bailout are also against the slots referendum on the ballot in November. Now, that one should leave you scratching your head!


They propose a major fiscal stimulus, paid for by the American taxpayer, so that social programs don't have to be cut. At the same time, they oppose an initiative that will produce somewhere between $400 and $600 million a year, money already going to West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, and now Pennsylvania.


And they wonder why we shake our heads ruefully!


Some, including Mr. Van Hollen, suggest that we tax the wealthy more in order to bring balance to the process. That might work once, but will fail as a long-term strategy. That might be why Congressman Van Hollen found some support among Maryland legislators.


The Maryland General Assembly has already supported a millionaire's tax to keep from having to make more drastic cuts in services. The idea of having to return to that well again is probably too tough for them to consider, so they're happy to shift the tax burden to federal taxpayers.


Unfortunately, considering the challenges faced by Harry and Harriet, this stimulation being offered by Chris Van Hollen and Maryland legislators may constitute strangulation, not stimulation!


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