Government is in need of a little belt-tightening

Most Americans are surely aware our economy is still in trouble. The downswing in the last year of the Bush administration has not yet seen an equivalent upswing. Frightened by the state of the economy, the massive public debt, and the ignorance of the current administration regarding the machinery of private enterprise, businesses across the United States have, by and large, put a hold on hiring, increasing inventories, and expanding plants.

Meanwhile, our federal government continues gobbling up resources like a bottomless wonder at an all-you-can-eat buffet. In 2009, a time of economic hardship, the federal government increased its number of employees by 25,000. This figure does not include, of course, the half-million part-time census workers hired in 2009-2010. In December 2009, USA Today reported that 19 percent of our federal employees earn salaries of $100,000 or more — and this is before overtime pay and bonuses. The federal government now sucks up 40 percent of our GDP, a level unmatched in 20th century American history except during the Second World War.

In the meantime, states like California, Connecticut, and New Jersey are facing exploding expenses — many of them caused by bloated employee pension plans — and battling potential bankruptcy while still maintaining some modicum of services to their people. Over the past year, our state governments have collectively decreased their work force by 13,000 employees. Unlike the federal government, states have to answer more directly to the people for their budgets, which largely explains this trend in cutting expenditures and employees. Many are also required by law to meet a budget.

Our own state has yet to see the light. In 2005, according to the Tax Foundation, North Carolina ranked 28th in the country in state and local taxes. These taxes included income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, luxury taxes, fuel taxes, and more. Only four years later, the Tax Foundation placed North Carolina 20th on its list of high tax states. To leap eight places down the list in the last four years tells us that we are either spending too much or our neighbors are doing a better job at cutting back on their own expenditures.

Now let’s look at the local level. Let’s look, in fact, at the Haywood Country Public Library. Recently the Haywood County Public Library system made the news in this paper on account of budget cuts. In the last three years, the SMN reported, the library’s allotted funds have dropped more than $162,000. In response to its loss of funds, the library has restricted hours at some libraries, cut out the evening hours at the main library, reduced the materials budge, and cut out several staff positions.

Now, this is a wise and judicious response to reduced circumstances. In many places in the United States, the powers in charge would, in similar circumstances, cut only services. “You don’t want to pay higher taxes for the money to run the libraries?“ they would say. “Then we’ll cut hours and we’ll cut budgeting, but we will never cut our own workforce.” Our own local librarians, recognizing that they must make cuts, have nobly shared in those cuts by reducing positions and by working harder.

Why did our librarians tender such a response? Because they understand the times in which we live and because they are our neighbors. They know that budgets are tight, that some of their friends and relatives have lost their jobs and are having trouble finding work, that we’re all in this mess together. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.

America was never designed to be a nation top-heavy with a bureaucracy. Our founders and our ancestors were suspicious of strong central governments. The immigrants who have battled their ways to our shores these last 200 years came to make their own way in business or farming — not to find jobs with the federal government or to be supported by welfare. Americans are not a people designed to be ruled and molly-coddled by nursemaids.

Take some time this summer to prepare for the November elections. Look for candidates — Democrats, Republicans, or otherwise — who speak of spending less and of cutting budgets. Look for men and women willing to take a butcher’s blade to government budgets. These are the men and women we want in our federal and state offices. Such cuts may entail sacrifices from us as well, just as the library cuts here in our mountains did, but we must take the long view. The federal government in particular, grown waddling and porcine in this last half century, needs now to be forced onto a diet of bread and water.

It’s the way it’s supposed to be.

(Jeff Minick is a teacher and writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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