We could all identify with the scene from “Peggy Sue Got Married,” in which Peggy Sue, transported back 30 years to her high school algebra class, tells the teacher (when he demands to know why she blew off a test), “Well, uh, Mr. Snelgrove, I happen to know that in the future, I will not have the slightest use for algebra. And I speak from experience.”
Well, today I needed algebra. And not Algebra I or II, but something I learned how to do in Algebra 5 (in Hawaii, they counted by semesters) or Analytical Geometry or Introduction to Calculus. Or maybe full-fledged Calculus. One of those.
I saw this Tweet from our anti-government friends at the SC Policy Council:
There is nothing “conservative” about a budget that’s grown nearly 40% over the past decade. http://bit.ly/1paA3HT #sctweets
So I immediately tried to calculate what that was annually. I knew it had to be less than 4 percent, but how much less?
I was pretty sure that I once knew how to set up an equation that would give me the answer, but I had no idea how to do it now. (I thought, Is this a “related rates” problem? I seem to remember that phrase vaguely. But no, I don’t think it is…)
So I guessed, trying several numbers that felt about right. And I found that adding 3.4 percent per year for ten years gave me an increase of a little under 40 percent. (I think I did that right.) So I replied to the Policy Council,
Or in other words, about 3.4 percent or so a year. That’s what you’re saying, right?
Now, I’ll grant you that 3.4 percent a year is nothing to sneeze at. That’s a healthy rate of growth, although not alarmingly high to your average observer.
However… I knew that that sounded WAY higher than what we actually experienced in SC over the last year. And I became immediately suspicious that the Policy Council wasn’t talking about state spending at all, but was throwing in increased federal spending — in other words, funds that our conservative Legislature was in no way involved in levying taxes to raise. So I followed the link, and I was right:
While the General Fund has only grown by 1.76 percent (again accounting for inflation), the bulk of budget growth has come from dependence on Other Funds (27.61 percent increase) and Federal Funds (36.77 percent increase). There is nothing “conservative” about an increasing budget, regardless of where the increases are coming from. Indeed, the budget is even less “conservative” now than ever since reliance on federal funds includes the loss of sovereignty by forcing the state to comply with the federal mandates attached to that funding. Moreover, there is nothing conservative about a budget that doesn’t return surplus money back to the taxpayers.
This reminded me of something that I didn’t realize about modern libertarians until I’d been exposed to Mark Sanford for several years.
I used to think that their objection was to paying for growing government. That they just didn’t like paying their taxes. And through the Reagan era and for a couple of decades after, I think that was to a large extent true — the supposed “pain” of paying taxes did indeed seem to lie at the emotional center of anti-government feeling.
But by the time we were done with Sanford’s battle to keep federal stimulus money out of SC, I had fully realized the extent to which the objection wasn’t to spending their money on government — it was to government itself. If a genie from a bottle made the wealth appear from thin air, the Sanford kind of libertarian would object to it being spent on government programs. Because of this quasi-religious belief that government itself, by existing, was an encroachment on the poor, beleaguered libertarian’s “freedom.”
Which reminds us once again that the policy council doesn’t want conservative government at all. It wants our legislators to be classically liberal.
Which is why, even if I remembered everything from every math class I ever took, I wouldn’t come up with the same answers the Policy Council does in trying to quantify “conservatism.”
The Legislature has been consistently “conservative” by the Reagan-era standard. They have held the line on taxes — cutting them at every turn — ever since Republicans first took over the House at the end of 1994. They have tightly contained the growth in funding sources that they control. And they’ve consistently starved essential functions of government to the extent that they’ve been at best marginally effective. (You can see this most dramatically when you look at our transportation infrastructure, but it’s true in the areas of education, law enforcement, public health, prisons, and so forth.)
But no, they haven’t quite shrunk it to the size that they’ve been able to drown it in a bathtub. Yet. And there are interest groups who won’t be happy until they succeed in doing that — no matter where the money is coming from.