Owens’ Fiscal Responsibility Will Help All Coloradans

Barry Fagin

Independence Feature Syndicate, June 7th 2002



You’d think the sky was falling.


Governor Owens “slashes” $46 million from a $14 billion budget, and howls of pain echo through the Rockies.  This is a budget cut of one third of one percent.  What’s one third of one percent of your budget?  For most of us, that’s the cost of dinner and a movie.  Sort of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?


But perspective doesn’t matter much in politics. That’s why these cuts are a good example of how hard it is to make the moral case for fiscal conservatism. 


All politics is about using law to redistribute wealth:  who loses, who wins, and by how much.  Governments’ primary tool for raising money is taxation, and politicians’ get re-elected by spending.  The result:  distributed costs and concentrated benefits.


Taking a few dollars from every taxpayer and spending targeted millions is a sure path to political success. The cost to individual taxpayers is too small to worry about. The benefits pay off big time.


The problem arises when spending exceeds revenue. When this happens, fiscally responsible leaders must undo the process.  This is hard, for the same reasons that made starting it so easy.  Those who were benefiting from redistributed wealth now have a great deal to lose. They’ll complain to anyone who’ll listen.  Those who’ll benefit from fiscal responsibility, however, can’t be identified. It’s just too hard. 


My local paper just ran a story on how the revenue shortfall is affecting non-profit agencies.  Their stories would break your heart. People down on their luck who were helped by getting state funds are upset that the funding is gone.  No one could have read their words without being moved.


And that’s exactly the problem.  Where is the moving story about the worker who just got a job, because a business came to Colorado?  Where is the sound bite from the taxpayer who just bought his kid a bike because his tax bite was less?  We’ll never see them;  they’re too hard to find.  So when it comes to those who believe in the morality of fiscal conservatism, the deck is stacked against us.


But all is not lost.  When people wonder if cuts are necessary, if deficit spending is really a problem, and if taxes should be raised because cutting spending is “too painful”, we need to sound a clarion call for the morality and justice of our position.  We must make the following points:


1) It’s not moral to spend money you don’t have.  Doing so is lying, pure and simple. 


2) It’s our money.  Wealth does not belong to the state first, to be returned based on what we should be allowed to keep.  Wealth belongs to private individuals first.  We give up a small portion of it for limited, essential tasks that governments perform to protect our rights.


3) True social progress requires a very limited use of the redistributive power of government.  The best way to fight poverty is to live in a world where private property is respected, where everything gets better and cheaper, and where men and women see a future bright enough to marry and create stable homes for their children.  This is harder than throwing money at problems, but in the long run it’s infinitely preferable.


These are hard points to make when sound bites and sentimentality guide public policy.  But we must try and make them.  We cannot rest until people of good will everywhere see fiscal conservatism as more just, more moral, and more compassionate than the alternative.