Binge Spending by Government Bureaucrats


Every September, U.S. government bureaucrats go on a spending spree to burn through all of the money that they’ve been approved to spend by Congress before the federal government’s fiscal year ends at the end of the month.

2018 is no different, except for the magnitude of this year’s federal spend-a-thon, where the bipartisan budget deal signed by President Trump in February authorized a lot more spending than would have happened without the deal.

Given that kind of license to spend, a lot of bureaucrats are now making a lot of really questionable purchases using your tax dollars and money they’ve had to borrow just to spend as much as they’re now allowed to spend. Elizabeth Harrington of the Washington Free Beacon reports on some of the more wasteful ways that Washington D.C.’s bureaucrats spent money before the clock on the 2017 fiscal year ran out last September.

Federal agencies spent millions on cars, scooters, fidget spinners, and shuffleboards in an attempt to exhaust their budgets before they run out at the end of the fiscal year.

An analysis of federal spending by OpenTheBooks.com and shared with the Washington Free Beacon reveals 67 agencies and departments spend nearly $50 billion closing out their fiscal year 2017 budgets.

The “spending frenzy” totaled nearly $50 billion in seven days.

And that was during the last seven days of September 2017, where federal bureaucrats spent $1 of every $9 that the U.S. Congress had authorized for them to spend in the entire 2017 fiscal year.

In 2018, the numbers are going to be even bigger!

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Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and the creator of the Government Cost Calculator at MyGovCost.org.

Home and Business Owners Deserve a Tax Break for Defending Themselves


This month homeowners will get a letter from the county demanding, OPEN IMMEDIATELY: PROPERTY TAX BILL, or something like that. “Let’s have the wallet, Jack,” it says in effect. The tax bill is certain to be higher than the previous year, with no explanation of new or better services. Since in some areas those services are actually declining, there may be a way to reduce the bill. 

In cities such as Oakland, police are reducing the number of crimes to which they will respond. And as the Women’s Self-Defense Network notes, the average interaction time between a criminal and his victim is 90 seconds. So “the police will almost always arrive AFTER the crime has happened and the criminal has gone.” Those who prepare to deal with violent criminals before the police arrive, deserve a tax break for doing so. A model for such a deduction is already in place. 

Under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), utilities must buy back any excess electricity home and business owners generate with their private solar energy systems. In similar style, business and home owners should be able to deduct from their property tax the cost of security systems, alarms and even firearms and ammunition. These owners face declining police services and slow response times, even as Propositions 47 and 57 have emboldened criminals. The last true tax break for California property owners was Proposition 13, passed forty years ago in 1978. Californians now pay the nation’s highest income and sales taxes, and relief is long overdue.  

Meanwhile, states, counties and cities should also make it easier, not more difficult, for law-abiding residents to keep and bear firearms. As Stephen Halbrook has noted, most recently in Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, it is the totalitarian state that squashes the right of citizens to defend themselves. 

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K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

Latest Pro-Criminal Bill Awaits Jerry Brown’s Signature


On Thursday, September 27, families of victims of double murderer Daniel Marsh will assemble at the California capitol to urge Governor Jerry Brown to veto Senate Bill 1391, an amendment to the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, also known as Proposition 57. That measure barred the prosecution of juveniles as adults, whatever the gravity of their crime. The measure applied to criminals aged 16 and 17, which SB 1391 lowers to ages 14 and 15. If this measure becomes law, anyone of that age could commit murder and serve only until age 25. 

In 2013, Marsh was only 15 when he murdered an elderly couple in their Davis home. Marsh tortured and eviscerated both victims and left a cell phone and drinking glass inside the bodies to confuse the police. Committing the crime at age 15 was part of his calculation to avoid the maximum penalty. He was tried as an adult and in December, 2014, and sentenced to 52 years to life, with the possibility of parole after 25 years when he would only be in his early 40s.

Two years later, in 2016, Prop 57 passed, but this year an appeal court applied it retroactively to Marsh and reversed his conviction pending a “transfer hearing.” In effect, this hearing a new trial, with no new exculpatory evidence, all for a convicted murderer who has never shown the slightest remorse and clearly poses danger to the public. If Marsh is judged suitable for juvenile court, he would be re-sentenced as a juvenile and face maximum punishment of incarceration until age 25. If outgoing governor Jerry Brown signs SB 1391, that will surely emerge in the “transfer hearing,” for Marsh, which starts October 1 in Yolo County. Call it the injustice inherent in the system. 

Meanwhile families of those killed by juvenile murderers are also rallying in Colusa County with banners reading “Colusa County Stands For Victim Rights.”  

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K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

Another Problem with the War on Drugs


A local news story in my area, Tallahassee, Florida, reports that a sheriff’s deputy has been stopping motorists and planting drugs in their cars for at least two years, leading to hundreds of convictions. The story reports that 263 cases in which the deputy “found” drugs in cars are being reviewed and that 48 cases have already been dropped.

While a new story here, the problem of police planting drugs on people, leading to their arrest for drug possession, has been reported in Baltimore, Los Angeles, and other places (see here and here for other examples).

The war on drugs is misnamed. Drugs are an inanimate object. It is really a war against people. At one point I characterized it as a war against people who buy, sell, or use drugs, but these examples show I was too narrow in identifying the targets of the war on drugs. People who have nothing to do with drugs can become victims as police frame them for “crimes” they did not commit.

All victimless crimes are an attack on liberty. Government is violating people’s rights, not protecting them when activities that do no harm to third parties are criminalized. But criminalizing drug possession has another negative aspect: No other people are involved, so there are no other people who are in a good position to speak up for the accused.

FDA Struggles to Develop “Sugar Added” Labels for Honey and Maple Syrup


Last February, the Food and Drug Administration released guidance indicating it intends to require honey and maple syrup (as well as some cranberry) products to include “sugar added” labels with their nutritional content information. Concerned that “consumers would not be able to understand the relative significance of these sources of added sugars,” the FDA hopes new sugar added labels will help consumers make healthier choices. As FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb remarked, “We’ve made it our goal to increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in food products consistent with recent dietary guideline recommendations.”

These new labels follow guidelines established by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which “Defines ‘added sugars,’ in part, to include sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such. The term includes…sugars from syrups and honey [italics mine].”

If you find the idea of requiring syrups and honey to have “sugar added” labels for containing sugars from syrups and honey confusing or misleading, you are in good company.

Sham Audit of DMV Will Leave Californians in the Dark


Wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles are up more than 60 percent, forcing some Californians to stand in line for more than six hours. While Californians wait, the DMV has retained employees who slept on the job for years instead of performing actual work. Complaints prompted politicians to demand an audit, but DMV boss Jean Shiomoto was opposed. Legislators not only backed off the audit, they handed the DMV another $16 million. The problems promptly got worse, with major delays at dozens of offices. As Richard Alcera of Hayward told ABC News, “The earliest appointment I was able to get was in December.”

Last week Governor Jerry Brown announced an audit of the DVM, which Shiomoto duly welcomed. That is no surprise because Brown did not deploy the California State Auditor, an independent agency of great effectiveness. For example, state auditor Elaine Howle’s office uncovered a secret slush fund of $175 million at the University of California, despite efforts by UC president Janet Napolitano to deceive the auditors. For the DMV, Jerry Brown is deploying the state Department of Finance, “the governor’s chief fiscal policy advisor,” previously headed by unqualified incompetents such as Ana Matosantos, with a BA in political science feminist studies. She was the selection of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger but duly retained by Brown. Current boss Keely Bosler has an advanced degree in economics, but the State Auditor is better suited for the DMV audit. 

Under the 2015 “motor voter” law the DMV has been cranking out registered voters who are not, in fact, eligible to vote. By 2016, a full 806,000 ineligibles had been registered, but Secretary of State Alex Padilla won’t reveal how many voted and refuses to cooperate with federal probes of voter fraud, a serious crime. By April 2018, the DMV registered more than one million ineligibles. Brown’s Department of Finance audit won’t yield any information on how many ineligibles manage to vote in November. 

The Department of Finance audit won’t even yield a report until March 2019. Californians should not be surprised if few if any reforms are implemented and the DMV, as after recent revelations, gets a hefty budget increase. The DMV did not fire the drone who slept on the job, so a ballpark figure for DMV bosses who will get the axe in Brown’s sham audit is zero. Meanwhile, the DMV is taking appointments for December. Book yours today. 

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K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

President Trump Starts Signing 2019 Spending Bills


On Friday, September 21, 2018, President Trump signed the first of what will be a series of budget bills to fund the U.S. government’s spending in its upcoming 2019 fiscal year, which will begin on October 1, 2018.

The first bill funds the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as a number of military, energy, and water infrastructure projects, and also the U.S. Congress through September 30, 2018, which marks the end of the U.S. government’s 2019 fiscal year. At the same time, the measure will avoid the risk of a partial government shutdown until at least December 7, 2018, even in the absence of the passage of other spending bills.

The Washington Post‘s Erica Werner describes some of the more notable line items of what a bipartisan majority of U.S. Congress members chose to prioritize in the newly passed budget bill.

The Growth of Discretionary and Mandatory Spending


The U.S. government’s spending has grown by leaps and bounds over the last five and half decades. Will Geary, aka “TransitMapper”, developed a pretty cool side-by-side visualization of the inflation-adjusted growth of the federal government’s major discretionary and mandatory spending programs, which gives an idea of how much the magnitude and share of that spending has grown from 1962 through the present year, as well as how much they are projected to grow through 2023.

Discretionary spending represents expenditures that the U.S. Congress votes upon every year, such as funding for the U.S. military, government agencies, et cetera. Mandatory spending covers programs that the U.S. Congress has set up to be automatically funded, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care Act subsidies, and also net interest payments to the people and entities who have loaned money to the U.S. government.

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Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and the creator of the Government Cost Calculator at MyGovCost.org.

Do Food Stamps Reduce Corporate Labor Costs?


On a recent segment of his popular Fox News program, conservative pundit Tucker Carlson took aim at the elite billionaires Jeff Bezos, the Walton family, and Travis Kalanick, arguing that their giant corporations rip off the taxpayers. Carlson claimed that Amazon, Walmart, and Uber underpay their workers—who must turn to government programs just to survive—and use regulations to stifle their competitors.

Although I agree that some corporations (such as Amazon) benefit from cozying up to the government, the basic economic logic in this popular critique is backwards: the food-stamp program tends to raise wage rates by giving workers more bargaining power. Worse, Bernie Sanders’s proposal to impose a 100 percent tax on large employers for every dollar their employees receive in government assistance would directly hurt these very same workers by punishing the companies that hire them.

Ten Years after Lehman—Will It Happen Again?


Robert Murphy has reminded us, ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, what the real lessons of the financial crisis were. It now looks as if, having learned the wrong lessons, we might be headed for something nasty once again.

The original sin was the manipulation of money in the form of artificially low-interest rates following the bursting of the dotcom bubble. In the context of a fractional reserve banking system and of a world accustomed to easy money since the beginning of the 1980s, the incentives for too much leverage were irresistible. Artificially low-interest rates had another perverse effect—asset-price inflation. The credit binge and the asset inflation related to mortgages and real estate in particular because, due to political incentives for the lowering of lending standards, a large part of the action was concentrated in that sector.

Everything else people usually associate with the financial crisis of 2008, such as the explosion of securitization or the failure of regulation, was a symptom, not a cause. Given the prevailing system, the incentives were for bankers (both commercial banks and “shadow banking” institutions) to issue short-term debt and invest in long-term securities. Since assets were constantly rising in value, it was assumed refinancing short-term debt against all that collateral would never be an issue. Moreover, the excessive investment in long-term debt also had the effect of lowering long-term rates, creating in turn incentives for malinvestments that would eventually play a key part in the Great Recession.

  • Catalyst
  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org