The pain of budget cuts

Years ago I lived in southern Illinois where high school basketball was THE sport. When we moved to Texas in the mid-1970s, it was quite a culture shock. No one knew of or ever went to a high school basketball game. But football was king.

Every Friday evening, almost everyone went to the game. The evening news on TV was high school football on Friday, college football on Saturday, and, of course, the professional teams on Sunday.

If the world came to an end on a weekend in football season, the people in Texas would not know about it until some time on Monday.

The politicians knew this very well. When a school bond issue would fail because people did not want to raise their taxes, the school board would just issue a press release that said that since the bond issue did not pass, they may have to cut back on the football program. This would cause a general uprising in the community. Then an amazing thing would happen — they would try the bond issue again and it would pass easily. Imagine that.

Now our federal government is using the same plan. They could not agree on a new budget (or even the time of day), so the budget cuts kicked in.

If you or I were faced with a cut in income, which many of us are, we would cut some of the “fat” out of our spending — maybe not going on that luxury cruise, or driving that new car two years instead of trading it off this year. And we expect the government would do the same — trim a little fat here and there and then go on.

There are two very real problems with that. First, if they cut a little fat here and there and no one notices, the people will think that the government did not really need all that fat in the first place and the cuts will become permanent.

The second is an even more dangerous problem: If these little cuts had no effect on people’s lives, why not cut some more? And we just can’t have that, according to the politicians in Washington, D.C.

So the government has to make the general public feel the pain. The first step the FAA took was to cut back on the hours for air traffic controllers. This worked perfectly. There were flight delays and a general outcry from the public, so Congress found some money and the world went on.

Now the FAA is making the Experimental Aircraft Association pay a ransom for air traffic controllers at this year’s AirVenture, the largest airshow in the nation. Again, make the public feel the pain.

It is always interesting to hear politicians talk about the budget problem. They say that it doesn’t help to cut a million here or there, because the deficit is in the trillions, so small cuts will not solve the problem.

But if you are a few dollars short on your income tax, or the EAA does not pay a half a million for air traffic controllers, now that is a national emergency that may cause the world to come to an end.

Good thing it is not football season.


  1. Greg W says

    Kent, “the private sector where competition leads to lower costs,” Do you mean like the petroleum industry? Many government actions need to be reduced or eliminated but Capitalists are not there for the common good they are there to make money. In theory the govt. is a break-even proposition, it simply must be made to act like one. That is not so simple. The govt. is needed for oversight and industry and the people need to be allowed to do what they can inside broad guidelines. At one time, and this includes the FAR’s, laws prohibited things now things are considered prohibited unless a law permits them. This must change and we can get our country and our industries back.

  2. Michael Magnell says

    This is all so true and won’t change as long as the voters continue to vote their pocketbooks. By that I mean voting for the candidate promising to give them the most. What government gives it takes from someone else and in the process keeps some for their over bloated spending! We have no one to blame but ourselves, the voters!

  3. Kimberly Bush says

    Ah, yes, the good ole days when a president merely had to promise a chicken in every pot to get re-elected. And full meals were served on every commercial flight, on real china!
    Let’s just contract out all government services. We have never experienced bid-rigging and kickbacks in the US, so we know this idea will work well.
    Then the only Federal office we will need is the Inspector General. We can probably also eliminate a whole slew of laws this way, because we all know that private contractors, even more so than government employees are ALWAYS honest and follow the rules.
    No accountability will be needed. The only complaints anyone will ever have is that a contract employee was rude.
    Now, about that swampland I have for sale near Phoenix…..

  4. The Duck says

    This is so true. Here at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville Alabama, Civil Servants are alloted 30 minutes for lunch. Well for most of the employees this extends to up to two hours. There is a constant stream of cars leaving the Arsenal that starts a 10:30 and a constant stream returning from 12:00 to 1:00 daily. I know this is a fact because I worked there as a contractor for 25 years.

  5. uncle lar says

    I agree wholeheartedly with Kent. Problem is that the government and it’s salaries (which by far is the cost) have continued to grow year after year under Republican and Democratic administrations. It is now really out of control. I am a retired fed employee so I know. They have upgraded positions and given themselves raises year after year until now not only are they large, they are well overpaid with the average government yearly salary now a bit over $84k. $84k! Think of all of the clerks and paper processors and this number looms even larger. Great benefits and guaranteed pension along with employment unless you steal or kill someone.

    I worked in an Atlanta office where we had folks with a high school degree making $64k a year. Now we start to see even more and more excesses and intrusions on our daily lives such as the IRS, NSA, EPA, this, that ……….ad nauseaum

    Now it seems that the govt can’t even reduce their increases without whining and crying and making us pay more and more. I truly don’t know what the answer is until we get a slash and burn president and congress that can tame the beast. Good luck on that one.

  6. Lee Ensminger says

    Ben, as a retired public school teacher, I can tell you that your analogy is spot on. Schools cut music and the arts from the curriculum and no one cares, but sports?!? Whoa! And to your statement about reduced hours for ATC causing a “public” outcry, I would add my opinion that it just took a few members of Congress being on those delayed flights for that to be rectified in a hurry! Once it inconvenienced them, their finely honed sense of self-interest kicked in and the problem was fixed quickly. The federal government has reacted childishly to the smallest of reductions, with doomsday predictions galore if we don’t give them the additional money they think they need.

  7. Kent Misegades says

    Well put Ben. The best solution to this is TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights, limit budget increases annually to the sum of inflation and population growth), Zero-Based Budgeting (all government budgets are wiped clean each year; every dollar including entitlements must be justified each year), the FairTax (single consumption tax on all services and new goods, no IRS, no need to save receipts or file, no exceptions, no need for lobbyists, etc.).

    The solution to the most recent hiccup with the FAA is the same as for all government screw-ups – replace them with the private sector where competition leads to lower costs, more options, and greater value. What current FAA service can not be replaced by the private sector? I can not think of a single one.

    Return to a federal government that is limited to the enumerated rights in the Constitution, allow our 50 Sovereign States to handle most of our needs, and we’d all be better off. Return the District of Columbia to the nice Southern landscape it once was, with a few memorials to our Founding Fathers.

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