Since President Obama took office, the phrase “high speed rail” has become the buzzword for just about anything. Supposedly, it will stimulate our economy, reduce carbon emissions, and make cats and dogs live in perfect harmony. There’s just one problem I foresee with the President’s grand ambitions. I can’t find to many people interested in riding the damn thing.
High speed rail will cost the taxpayers billions of dollars. An entire infrastructure has to be put in place to support it as standard railways can’t handle the speed these trains can generate. That means more eminent domain seizures. That means less money for things people expect from government, be it law enforcement or welfare. That means years of construction with little to show for it prior to the grand unveiling.
For many that’s not that big of a deal. They’re willing to wait for something if it’s pretty awesome. They’re even willing to spend tax dollars for it. The question is, will it be worth a damn?
One of the knocks on Amtrak is best summed up by my trip to Manhattan, Kansas several years ago. I needed to actually get to Kansas City where a friend would pick me up. Taking Amtrak was going to take longer than a bus, and cost me more than taking a plane. There was no incentive to take a train at all, especially since a large chunk of that time period was a lay over.
In theory, high speed rail should solve that. The train moves faster after all. But the question is, will there be enough trains? A large part of my reason to not take a train - despite a desire to actually travel that way for once - was due to a very long lay over. The reason for that was because there isn’t enough traffic to justify more trains. So far, there’s little reason to assume high speed rail will have more travelers and therefore more trains running.
The protests in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal that would require public-sector workers to pay more for benefits and pensions, though they’ll still be better off than private-sector workers, and reforms that would limit collective bargaining by public-sector unions are still receiving an incredible amount of attention.
In case you haven’t seen it, here is video a speech Gov. Walker gave last night explaining the reasons for the proposal. You can read the transcript here:
Walker, who has been falsely accused of favoring certain public-sector unions, has warned that unless the measures are passed to help ensure that the $3 billion budget deficit over the next two years can be cut, 6,000 public workers could lose their jobs.
I think my head will explode if I have to listen to any more whining or protests about cuts to education budgets. From California to Washington, D.C., and right here in Georgia, students, teachers and various union members are showing up at capitols and at county board meetings, whipped into a fury over the thought that any cuts might be made to the precious education system. Well, here is a news flash. We’re all hurting here. Everybody has to make sacrifices, and everyone will have to make do with a little less. Unemployment in Georgia is almost 10.5%, and no one in the private sector has the luxury of raising prices to keep from laying off workers. Why should the education system, or any government department for that matter, be immune from tightening their belts like the rest of us.
Like every other government agency and department, education spending has been rising for years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006 (latest statistics available) we spent an average of $9138 per student on education nationally, with Georgia spending $8565 per student. And what exactly have we gotten for such an impressive financial outlay “for the children”? Georgia consistently ranks in the bottom 10% in academic achievement of American students, and America ranks in the lower middle of the pack of industrialized countries. The PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment) ranked American students near the bottom in math (23 of 30 countries ranked ahead, two tied) and science (where American students were 11-points below the average). So maybe I would have sympathy for protecting education budgets if we were producing the top students in the world, but we are not. We are getting our tails kicked by countries like South Korea and Poland (which, according to the 2008 OECD study, spend about half of what we do per student).
The latest estimate of what health-care reform would mean for the government’s finances was such a hot document Thursday that at times the Congressional Budget Office’s Web site couldn’t handle the traffic.
But as much as the 25-page “score” of the legislation was treated as holy writ in Washington — Democrats eagerly flagged its conclusion that the package they aim to pass this weekend would cut the deficit by $138 billion over the coming decade — the reality is considerably messier.
Budget experts generally have high praise for the work of CBO analysts, the non-ideological technocrats who crunch the numbers to estimate the fiscal impact of legislation. But their work is often more art than science, and although the forecasts that accompany legislation are always filled with uncertainty, this one contains more than most.
One major reason is the sheer complexity of the legislation. If Congress were considering, say, a 20-cent increase in the gasoline tax, the CBO could easily analyze how that would affect gas consumption and do some simple math to calculate how much money it would raise. The same goes for figuring out the cost of legislation that offers a new benefit, such as an expansion of food stamps.
The Wall Street Journal reports that when lawmakers receive per-diem money for official travel, it’s typical for them to pocket the leftover cash instead of returning it to the Treasury—that, or they spend it on gifts and souvenirs:
When lawmakers travel overseas on official business they are given up to $250 a day in taxpayer funds to cover meals and expenses. Congressional rules say they must return any leftover cash to the government.
They usually don’t.
…”There’s a tacit understanding that if lawmakers don’t spend the money, they get to keep it,” said Rep. Sue Kelly, a New York Republican who was defeated in 2006.
…Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) said he once bought marble goblets in the Kabul airport as gifts for constituents. Rep. Mark Souder (R., Ind.) said he dipped into his funds to buy a $200 painting of an estuary in Turkey, which hung in his office for a while and was now in his house.
This is not a lot of money when you consider the trillions of dollars that make up the federal budget. But the concept that it might be innapropriate to spend taxpayer money for personal reasons seems to be completely lost on our elected officials.
And here’s the real kicker: When asked about taxpayer money he uses for non-official purposes, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla) replied, “I’m a generous spirit and a courteous spirit. I stand accused.”
Yes, Mr. Hastings, it certainly is easy to be generous when you’re spending other people’s money.
We all know the government is spending freely…. but do we really understand how much? Can we truly put things into proportion? I hope this video helps do just that.
H/T: Jason Pye
Dr. Paul, once again, outlines the real culprits of the current economic crisis, and points to the real solutions- less government, lower taxes, decreased spending, the end of devaluing the dollar.
H/T: Matt Chancey
Quotes from Andrew Malcolm’s take on this video:
Here’s how silly Ron Paul is: He set a budget for his campaign and lived within it. Flew commercial.In fact, he ended with no deficit, which is how he thinks the federal government should operate. In point of fact, Paul ended his campaign with a surplus. Can you imagine anything so silly in this day and age?
Paul warned all during his campaign about a looming economic disaster if government just kept growing and growing and printing more money like Republicans and Democrats wanted.
Dr. Paul discusses the spending bill and the credibility of the Republican Pary with Bill Maher, and argues that regulation and spending has created this crisis, not the free market.