BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
Many years ago, when this writer was at a university pursuing a doctorate, we looked at our bank records and decided that we were spending too much. Therefore, we planned on a program of austerity in our household of two, severely limiting our expenditures. We did not buy new clothes. Our meat diet consisted mostly of hamburger fixed one way or another, with an occasional chicken or chuck roast bought on weekend specials. We did not go to movies, eat out, or do any of the usual entertaining things.
After following a frugal life style for several months, we looked again at our bank records, studying them quite intently. We could not see much improvement. We had made no special expenditures, confining those just to those that were demanded in keeping house, body, and soul together. Still we did not get ahead.
So, then we looked at the other side of the budget – our income. My wife was an elementary teacher at the time, and I was bringing in the meager stipend of a graduate teaching assistant. Put together, those did not go very far.
So, we reached a startling conclusion: The way to get ahead is to make more money. Cutting spending alone has a very limited impact. Secondly, we concluded that it would be a while before we were able to resume the positive growth of assets that we had expected. This was not the time.
Our lesson learned on budget management is one that many of our politicians have yet to master, either at the state or the federal level. There are two sides of the budget! Controlling expenditures is one part of the equation, but the income brought in makes up the other side.
All the talk from the Republicans, in either the Oklahoma Legislature or the Congress, is about cutting spending. As we found, just paying our rent, our utilities, and maintaining a modest standard of living consumed our income. So it is with our state and federal governments.
Our Oklahoma Legislature is actually allowing an income tax cut to trigger this year, reducing revenue in spite of another year in a series of annual funding cuts for state agencies. Somebody explain the fiscal logic of that.
Further, the constant stress on adding “jobs,” while an admirable goal, usually means another set of “tax give-away” subsidies for businesses. Unfortunately, most of those now on the books do not carry rewards to justify them. While it is difficult to believe that the “party of tax-cuts,” currently in charge, will ever significantly cut government give-away’s to their donor constituency, it will be most encouraging if they will actually make substantive cuts there.
There is bally-hoo in Washington about cutting “entitlements.” To Republicans this usually means “something you are getting and I am not,” i.e. the benefits are going to old people, the disabled, the poor, orphans, the sick, the unemployed, or war veterans. The two largest of these are Social Security and Medicare.
Oddly enough both are fairly simple to fix, if we had the political will to do so. Social Security needs a very slight increase in the payroll tax and the applicable salary raised little by little as the years come. Retirement age and benefits need little adjusting. For Medicare the solution is two-fold: add a little on the Medicare tax and gain better control of medical costs with a similar, effective universal insurance similar to Medicare for all. Medical costs are the basic problem.
Simple enough, but to accomplish either of these will require a realization of the logic of increasing the income side of the ledger, and the political will to accomplish that.
In national budget management, too often we forget the awful fiscal load taxpayers are carrying with supporting a military, and accompanying industrial complex, for fighting multiple wars and continuing to perform the role of world policeman. We cannot afford this, and we should cut it way back – NOW.
Related to the problem of military expenditures is continuing to be the banker “sugar daddy” for the world with aid programs for any and all of our “friends,” however temporary these friends turn out to be. Most of the nations of world can now stand alone or with limited assistance. If we won’t tax ourselves to take care of our own, why are we taxing ourselves to subsidize economic competitors?
Sitting idly by watching Oklahoma state services shrivel, emergencies arise, and people suffer, while refusing to even discuss raising tax revenues, is the height of government irresponsibility. There is a limit to cuts, and it has already been exceeded in most cases. It is time to add to the supply side of the budget.
Are there no statesmen left?
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer