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April 13, 2006

Jim DeMint: National Hero

He's proposing slashing the federal gas tax from 18.3 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents.

It's not just to give you cheaper gas, although that might be a nice side benefit. It's to reduce the pool of money available at the federal level for boondoggle pork projects paid for through gas-taxes.

If individual states feel the pressing need to collect additional gas-taxes to make truly necessary improvements to roadways and highway rest-stops and bridges to nowhere and all of that, they may. But they will be limited by political pressures. Right now, they're not so limited. The pool of money collected by gas taxes is essentially "free money," so there's no reason for a Congressman not to take as much of it as he can get his hands on, even to fund very low-priority projects in his district.

Do I want a 50 inch plasma flat-screen TV? Of course I do; who wouldn't. But as the money comes out of my own pocket for such a pricey purchase, I have to evaluate just how much I need such a TV, and whether or not it's worth it for the money I'd have to spend.

On the other hand, if there was a free pool of money provided for by the federal government for purchasing such a TV, and all I had to do was fill out a form to get a voucher for a new $2500 entertainment system, of course I'd do just that.

I would be buying a low-priority item only because other people were paying for it, and hence it was more or less cost-free to myself.

Pork happens because of this. If Alaskans really think they need a $50 million bridge connecting a town inhabited by four people to an island inhabited by two caribou and a crazy hermit who thinks he's John Elway, well, then-- let them pay for it out of their own pockets. If they're paying for it out of their own pockets, we know it actually is a priority for them to have a nice little bridge for caribou to cross, and for a crazy hermit to spray paint strange messages on, like "The man you call 'John Elway' actually swapped brains with me, and I want my goddamned Superbowl rings back."

But if someone else is paying for it, why not have this stupid bridge, no matter how useless? At least it creates some temporary jobs, pumps money into the economy, and gives you a bridge.

When people pay for stuff out of their own pockets, it imposes spending discipline of them as well as a rational scheme of prioritization. When people pay for stuff with other people's money, those limitations are completely gone.

Cut as much of this "free money" bullshit out of the system as possible and spending at both the federal and local levels will naturally come down.

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posted by Ace at 12:46 PM

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