and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column

Climbing debt and deficit energize taxpayer advocates
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Should I be thanking the Legislature for voting not to kick us in the teeth with its outrageous pension scams anymore?

I think I'll wait for real, systemic pension reform. Because having just returned from the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) conference in Washington, D.C., I am intensely aware that public employee benefits are part of the political dynamic that will be taking our country over the cliff in the near future.

I've attended many NTU conferences over 30 years, and am presently on its board of directors. Usually I am there to share my experiences with the initiative petition process and property tax limitation; but my real reason for going this year was to find a plan of action on the national fiscal situation to share with you.

NTU has always had a plan of action. Since its founding in 1969, it has been fighting for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and came very close in 1997 winning in the House, but losing by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's one vote in the Senate. So the federal budget deficit this year will be almost $2 trillion, four times more than last year's.

The national debt in 1997 was just over $5 trillion; it is presently more than $11 trillion, and heading for an estimated $20 trillion by 2016. Thanks, Sen. Kerry.

Delegates from other states look at me funny when they see "MA" on my name tag. However, if I get a chance I generate some admiration for our commonwealth by telling them about our flat rate income tax, leadership in creating charter schools and, of course, our Proposition 2.

But it goes back downhill when I'm asked about Massachusetts' new health insurance law, which is being studied as part of the national debate.

I note that everyone can learn from us that there is no workable reform that lawmakers won't soon make unaffordable. Just as the Massachusetts Legislature quickly ate our health insurance savings by adding a mandatory prescription drug component, the president and Congress will quickly turn any moderate reform into Sen. Edward Kennedy's real goal of government-run health care.

As the conference generally agreed that the Obama bailouts are an assault on the American free-market economy, its speakers urged united opposition to further government control of our economy via a takeover of the private health insurance industry.

There was some small disagreement on the initial bailout/"stimulus" bills, but this was not a Bush crowd.

When Sen. John McCain addressed the opening reception, he was asked to explain his vote for the financial bailout. He replied that he couldn't say no to his president, but wishes he had demanded more oversight.

The only standing ovation I observed and joined was the breakfast speech by U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, a rising star of the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee. He talked about running as a Reagan Republican in 2000; then winning; then being asked by his president to vote for No Child Left Behind, and later, for the unaffordable Medicare Prescription Drug benefit. Unlike Sen. McCain, he did say no to his president.

He told about the constituent he met who recently lost his job but nevertheless thanked him for his votes against the "stimulus" plans because, "I can get another job. I can't get another country."

The luncheon speaker was my fellow board member, Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state, who, unfortunately, lost his recent campaign for chairman of the Republican National Committee. The RCN needs his message: "We NTU activists must light our candles as we rush into the darkness of these times and carry American light into the third century of freedom that all the world can admire."

ABC's Jon Stossel showed clips from his specials on government overreach at an evening reception. And I enjoyed seeing my old friend, Lew Uhler, whose National Tax Limitation Committee, like the NTU, helped create Proposition 2, 30 years ago. He presented studies showing that the optimal size of government for successful economic activity is government spending (at all levels) of 23 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

We are presently at 30 to 35 percent of GDP; but always the optimist, Lew pointed to New Zealand, which turned itself from a socialist nation into a free-enterprise role model.

Other speakers also sold optimism:

=  So far "our side" has prevented union attempts to deny workers a secret ballot for joining or rejecting a union.

=  The Heritage Foundation is energetically leading the battle against the new energy tax known as "cap and trade" which "would raise an average family's annual energy bill by at least $1,500."

=  Freedom Works is challenging the constitutionality of the Wall Street bailout.

=  The Pete Peterson Foundation is sounding the warning about the national debt and another $56.4 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

=  The Tax Foundation sees "a golden opportunity" in the fact "California's budget crisis offers a chance to fix a broken tax system" that could open a dialogue on tax reform across the nation.

=  The Sam Adams Alliance is working for transparency with its Sunshine Review.

Mike Pence challenged us all: "We're in the wilderness. What are we going to do about it"?

As taxpayer activists around the country try to answer his question, I'll keep you informed.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.