The Salem News
Thursday, January 15, 2004
President Bush will do a State of the Union next week. Mayor Menino just did a state of the city. Gov. Romney delivers his state of the state tonight.
Don't you wish you could do a "state of" something, too?
Speaker Finneran also did a state of the state recently, and his theme was the well-being of a baby girl who would enter the world during his speech. He asked his listeners to keep her in mind as he outlined the state of the place into which she was being born and the future that awaited her.
I wondered if her parents are among those who are planning to leave Massachusetts soon because of high taxes, high cost of living and a self-serving political system. Wave bye-bye, little girl.
I've sat through many of these speeches, so feel qualified to draft one to which more of us can relate. Never mind comparisons to the global economy and discussions of structural deficits and unfunded liabilities: It's all about dieting.
Friends, politicians, taxpayers, lend me your chubby little ears.
The commonwealth of Massachusetts, like many of us, is overweight. On the Tax Foundation's state government obesity chart, we rank third fattest per capita.
How did we get here? Let's admit it: the revenues were available during the proverbial years of plenty, and we ate them.
Each year, we added a few pounds, no big deal. But the fact of life that individuals face just before we start a serious diet is this: There is no upper limit. You can eat till you explode, or, more literally, until your heart and other vital organs can't carry your body anymore.
In our early evolutionary periods, storing fat was a good idea because winter came, and there were years of drought or too much rainfall. In these lean periods we needed to live off our excess weight. We recall the Bible story of Joseph, who convinced Egyptian rulers to store grain during the seven good years so that the people could be fed during the seven lean years.
Of course, the people didn't eat as well during those lean years, but they survived. This same concept works for us economically when we put money regularly into a savings account, which will hold us over during lean economic times even though we still forego vacations and a new car.
It's different for the government. While there is an eventual upper limit - when fed-up taxpayers revolt - the government will eat as much as it can, please as many special interests and buy as many votes as possible, in order to get fatter every year. Then, when the economy slows down and revenues don't increase at the same dramatic rates, the state has a huge body mass to sustain.
Diet? Tighten belts? Cut the fat?
As we individual dieters know, easier said than done. And we only have to debate ourselves in an effort to resist every temptation; the state, on the other hand, has to deal with each entity that thinks it is entitled to add lots of calories each year.
In good times, the cities and towns were fed record amounts of local aid and school building assistance; the unions got not only their step increases, but pay raises; and the advocates got new programs.
Now it's as if we have to put our entire family on a diet. Listen to the kids whining for cookies day in and day out, while we ourselves long for that hot fudge sundae.
It's hard when there is no shortage of food or television commercials promoting its consumption. But we can tell simply by looking at ourselves that things have gotten out of hand.
Similarly, the state has no reason to stop growing until there are no longer sufficient revenues to feed the expanding beast.
Even the rainy-day fund that the state set aside for the lean years wasn't used to make the downsizing bearable; it was used to continue weight gain, albeit at a slower rate. Fee increases, some of which are actually taxes, added small servings of dessert.
Ladies and gentlemen, we must put the state on a diet. If I can't have that heaping plate of spaghetti, then the state can't increase its budget another $2.7 billion this year. While we the people downsize, the state must slow its growth.
As each one of us digs down deep for the will to succeed, each state entity must take responsibility for controlling itself. We the people should choose fruits, vegetables and protein for our daily allowed calories, while cutting back on fats and sugar. State managers should fund direct services while cutting back on fat and sugar; and they know who, what and where it is. Meanwhile, politicians should help them make sensible choices.
Let's raise our glass of sparkling water to a leaner, healthier state of the state.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.