America / Taxes

How is Your Money Being Spent?

Have you ever taken a close look at where your taxpayer dollars go? If not, maybe you should start. The government spends its money in some pretty ridiculous ways. Money is often wasted through silly use of grants, and legislatively through earmarks. Also known as “pork barrel” spending, earmark spending is funding added to the federal budget by legislators to serve their constituents’ interests.

For funding to be categorized as earmark spending, it must meet at least one of the following criteria: 1) the funding is not specifically authorized for basic government operations; 2) the funding is requested by one chamber of Congress; 3) the funding was not included in the President’s budget request; 4) the funding is a sizeable increase of the amounts projected in the President’s budget request; or 5) the funding benefits a small population or special interest.

In October 2012, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released his Wastebook 2012 report. The document details one hundred instances of wasteful spending and areas where cost cutting measures could be taken. Here are a few examples of such wasteful spending measures.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) gave nearly $700,000 to a New York based theater company to create a musical about climate change and biodiversity. The play received terrible reviews and apparently was not any more informative than information that can be easily found on Wikipedia.

The USDA and Department of Agriculture will be spending $1.3 million to help PepsiCo build a Greek yogurt factory in New York. Since Pepsi had net revenues of $66 billion last year, and there is great demand for yogurt products, it is unlikely that Pepsi needed any federal assistance to build a new factory.

The Department of Treasury lost an estimated $70 million in 2012 producing coins that cost more than their face value. It costs 2.4 cents to make a penny, and over 11 cents to make a nickel. Pennies are relatively useless in today’s economy as more people move away from cash and primarily use plastic now. Other countries like New Zealand and Canada have already stopped producing pennies.

In 2010 a two year moratorium was placed on all earmarks, yet some still managed to sneak in. Citizens Against Governments Waste’s 2012 Congressional Pig Book Summary provides even more examples of earmarked projects on which the government spends money. $3 million was spent on aquatic plant control, $2 million was spent on EPA geographic programs in the San Francisco Bay and Lake Champlain, and $5 million was spent on an abstinence program.

While earmark spending constitutes a very small portion of the total budget, it still seems strange that taxpayer dollars continue to be given out for projects like restoring an unused bridge when there is a huge push right now to reduce government spending. Two years ago, President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform suggested an outright ban on all earmarks as a way to help reduce the debt by $4 trillion over the next ten years. Maybe it’s time we started listening to them.