With Halloween fast approaching, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) - a watchdog group committed to decreasing the size and scope of government - came out with a list of government tricks and treats. Tricks include examples of outlandish boondoggles and wasted tax dollars such as nonprofit environmental organizations receiving tax dollars, the often panned Medium Extended Air Defense System and even Chattanooga's own government-funded broadband boondoggle. Treats are things government has done to reduce spending and save tax dollars, including the selling of wireless spectrum, trying to recoup money from a failed energy company and adoptioning enhanced federal whistleblower protections.
TRICK: Taxpayer-funded Broadband - Chattanooga city officials touted the promise of the gigabit-speed Internet service provided by EPB through its fiber-optic Smart Grid. The only problem is that, even after devouring hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, there is no compelling proof that the service exists on any useful scale.
Despite a $522 million cost to taxpayers and EPB customers, the fiber grid has come through on very few of its promises - including the promise of economic development. Not a single business has moved to Chattanooga as a result of the Gig. This embarrassing failure earned EPB's expensive Gig debacle a place on TPA's national list of tricks paid on taxpayers.
TREAT: Spectrum Auctions - Taxpayers received a small treat when the Federal Communications Commissions moved forward with auctioning off additional spectrum. Since 1994, the FCC has held spectrum auctions, which benefit all parties involved. Not only do these actions produce revenue for the government, they also promote and facilitate healthy competition in the market - allowing companies to allocate the new spectrum in ways that best fulfill consumer demands.
TRICK: The Missile to Nowhere - The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) has rightly earned the moniker the "Missile to Nowhere" because of its prohibitive cost ($2 billion over budget), schedule delays (10 years behind schedule) and the system's poor performance. Even the U.S. Army has said it doesn't want MEADS and that it would never use the missiles. With the impeding sequestration, which will impose difficult cuts on the Pentagon's budget, MEADS should be the first thing on the chopping block.
TREAT: Recouping Green Loan Losses - Something positive is occurring as a result of Solyndra and other now-bankrupt green companies that received government funding. The government is actually asking for some of your money back. As TPA wrote earlier this year, "The Department of Treasury is seeking to recoup taxpayer dollars it dispensed in the form of a loan guarantee to Thompson River, a now-bankrupt green energy company." While Thompson River's taxpayer-backed loan guarantee for $5 million may appear small compared to the $535 million provided to companies like Solyndra, the fact that the federal government is calling in the loan of even one of the bankrupt companies is a positive start.
TRICK: Environmental Handouts - Earlier this month, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance released "The Environmental Shakedown of American Taxpayers," a report that highlights the misuse of tax dollars by environmental non-governmental organizations. The report exposes $470 million of tax money that government misspent on environmental groups. These organizations are not only receiving tax dollars despite their "non-governmental" status, but are spending these funds to advance radical agendas, often at the expense of developing economies in some of the world's poorest regions. In Indonesia and Malaysia, where people are draining peat swamps to grow profitable crops, rather than compromising forests or infringing upon the habitat of endangered species, Wetlands International is working to prevent these enterprising farmers from using their land. Even though peat bogs have been drained so that peat could be used as fuel and farmland for centuries, Wetlands International has decided indigenous workers should no longer use the swamps as a source of income and food.
TREAT: Whistleblower Protection - On Sept. 28, the House of Representatives passed legislation to help protect federal government whistleblowers from retaliation on the job. This has admirably strengthened taxpayers' first line of defense against waste, fraud and abuse. That's the assessment of TPA, the National Taxpayers Union and the Liberty Coalition, which offered praise to House leaders and sponsors for advancing S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act during a "pro forma" session - and for giving momentum to final enactment when the Senate returns to Washington in mid-November.
TRICK: International Tobacco Tax - The World Health Organization (WHO) is proposing a $.05, $.03, or $.01 cent tax on tobacco products, depending on the wealth of the country where the products are being sold. This is being done with no regard to the potential economic impacts of such a policy. WHO documents strongly discourages countries from voicing concerns about the inflationary impact or a potential increase in unemployment in order to deter these tax increases.
While it certainly appears that government is handing out a lot more tricks than treats this Halloween season, at least there are a few treats that could help reduce the cost of government for all taxpayers.