It is the oldest trick in the book, but sadly most people fall for it every time.
Any time we are asked to approve a tax increase, we are told the extra tax is essential to preserve essential services such as fire fighters, policemen, health care and education. And, the flip side, any time there is any resistance to a tax increase, we are told that these essential services are at risk.
We are seeing abundant examples of this at present with the largely imaginary ‘fiscal cliff crisis’.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s claim on Sunday that teachers are already getting pink slips due to the pending sequestration has now been shown to be totally 100%, false. And somehow, sequestration cuts that have yet to occur (and, let’s face it, probably won’t occur for more than a showy few days if at all) have been blamed for last week’s release of hundreds of illegal immigrants.
As you surely know, we are being told we are about to ‘fall off the fiscal cliff’. Yawn. Today is 1400 days since the Senate last passed a budget, and so our lawmakers have pointed a gun at their own heads and told themselves that if they don’t agree on a budget and spending cuts by Friday, then ‘automatic spending cuts’ will go into effect. The extent of these cuts will be $85 billion, half being levied against the military and the other half against pretty much everything else (except, of course, politicians salaries and benefits).
A fiscal cliff? This $85 billion in cuts represents 2.2% of the total budget spending for the 2013 year. And the half that does not come off the defense budget is merely a 1.4% reduction in spending.
Falling off a cliff? More like drunkenly stumbling over a curb.
The Selective Sequestration Process
Now, what exactly is an ‘automatic spending cut’? You could be excused for thinking that it is an evenly pro-rated cut of 1.4% on every item of expenditure. But you’d be wrong.
For the most thinly disguised of venal reasons, it seems these automatic cuts are being selectively applied primarily in ‘public-facing’ areas that will impact the most on voters, so as to bully them into agreeing to higher taxes.
In particular, we are being warned to expect up to three-hour delays going through airport security due to cutbacks in TSA staffing, and we are warned that as many as 200 airport control towers may be closed, and this, together with other limitations in the FAA’s services, may add a second three-hour delay to air travel due to flight delays once we get through our three-hour wait for TSA security.
It would seem that a 1.4% cut is much more serious than any sensible and sane person would have expected!
No-one ever talks about the tens of billions of dollars that are sent off-shore in our ‘international programs’ – apparently this is never at risk (‘international programs’ do not include any of our military misadventures, they are our various aid and development programs, and our bribing foreign governments that hate us – such as Pakistan – to pretend to like us).
No-one ever talks about the tens of billions of dollars that disappear into energy programs (much going to finance chronically unprofitable projects owned by Obama supporters that go bankrupt after spending our money), and no-one ever explains exactly what the federal government does with its $100 billion education budget (if you are like me, you pay $1000 or more in property taxes for county and state education programs already).
For that matter, what do we get for the $100 billion that goes to the Department of Labor (again, the chances are your state, like mine, already has an extensive and expensive labor department, and unemployment benefits come out of a different budget category)? There’s a total cone of silence surrounding the mysterious $32 billion in ‘general government costs’, and no-one dares question the $55 billion that goes to the Department of Homeland Security – a department that didn’t exist at all until November 2002. As for the $246 billion in interest, unavoidably up 10% from last year, that is a legacy from our past budget deficits, fated only to grow and grow until it sucks the life blood out of our economy entirely.
Add it all up, and the federal government hopes to limit itself to spending ‘only’ $3.8 trillion in its 2013 fiscal year, while receiving $2.9 trillion in income. In other words, for every $3 it receives in income, it turns around and spends $4.
Hence this ‘sequestration process’ – which is laughable for many reasons, including the belief that even if it were to come to pass, a 1.4% trimming in our out-of-control government spending would actually positively impact on our growing deficit.
But enough of that. You already know the country is in a mess. Let’s look simply at the two consequences of the allegedly ‘automatic spending cuts’ that are threatening to impact us on our next flight somewhere – the TSA and FAA cutbacks.
The FAA has been told it must cut its budget by $600 million. Its solution is to close up to 200 control towers at small airports and impose one day a month furloughs on staff. They say
The furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers and technicians would require a reduction in air traffic to a level that could be safely managed by the remaining staff, resulting in slower air traffic in major cities, as well as delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season.
The House Transportation Committee noted that the FAA didn’t actually use $200 million of the money it had been allocated in the first quarter, that it has $200 million budgeted for supplies and travel, and $500 million more for consultants. Noting the $200 million/quarter not currently being spent and these other sums of discretionary spending, it was their opinion that the FAA could make its $600 million in cuts without closing a single tower and without reducing the manning at any other towers at all.
But even this alternate proposal overlooks a key consideration. The FAA has a total budget of $15.2 billion. Interestingly, 1.4% of that is not $600 million, but only $213 million, so there’s a puzzle right from the get-go – why is the FAA getting a triple dose of the sequestration cuts. As this article points out, the DoT in total needs to cut $1 billion, and $600 million of that is coming from the FAA. But the DoT’s total annual budget is $73 billion, so proportionally speaking, the FAA should only get a $200 million sequester, not a $600 million sequester?
Sure seems like someone has pushed the ‘manual override’ on that ‘automatic spending cut’, doesn’t it.
But, back to the $15.2 billion total FAA budget. Did you know that the airlines paid $19 billion in taxes and fees to the federal government last year? That $15.2 billion is all covered and paid for by taxes and fees levied on the airlines. In other words, none of the FAA’s budget should be cut at all.
The FAA does not need to be funded from general taxation revenues, it can be fully funded from specific airline taxes and fees.
It is bad enough that the government is currently receiving 25% more in taxes and fees from the airlines (which, of course, really means ‘from us’) than it actually spends on the FAA, and it is beyond bad that the government continues to delay and delay the implementation of Nextgen air traffic control that would increase safety, reduce travel times, cut out delays, reduce fuel needlessly burned/wasted due to inefficient flight paths, and make the overall air traffic system more resilient to weather and other problems, due to ‘not being able to afford it’.
But now they are proposing to massively disrupt our nation’s air transportation system, even though it is being directly paid for at a rate of one and a quarter times its actual costs. Will the government now give refunds back to the airlines for not providing the services the airlines are over-paying for?
In addition to FAA created delays, we are also told to anticipate up to three-hour waits at airport security lines, and at Customs to get back into the country. Ouch!
Two responses to that.
First, why is the TSA focusing on cutting back its security screeners? If the TSA were to eliminate its ‘Behavior Detection Officers’ – a ridiculous program that employs thousands of people but which has never detected a single terrorist – and release those people back to regular security screening duties, wait times at airports would decrease rather an increase.
The TSA is understood to comprise about 50,000 people in total, of which it is believed more than 3,000 are BDOs. By eliminating these 3,000+ BDOs – employees who do nothing to help speed passengers through security, but rather employees who hinder passengers in other parts of the airport, the TSA wouldn’t just save 1.4%, they would save 6% or more of their budget, and provide a better service to air passengers, too.
There’s more. If the TSA were to stop its mission creep out of the airports, and stop their showy ‘VIPR’ teams doing Hollywood impersonations at high school dances, Amtrak stations, and elsewhere (and again all for no net result – not a single terrorist detected or apprehended) they’d again have a surplus of airport screeners. Oh – doesn’t it make you feel like you’re in a police state when pseudo-police agencies wear full military combat gear and call themselves ‘vipers’? The sooner we get rid of this costly affront to our freedom the better.
Why is the TSA choosing to cut-back on the (debatably) most essential part of their overall services, rather than on other parts that are either unwanted mission-creep extensions of their core mission, or expensive failures that have demonstrably failed to justify their cost? They could get more than three times their needed level of cut-back by axing their failed and unnecessary programs and concentrating on their prime mission.
But that’s not the only solution, that’s not the only issue. The main issue is, the same as the FAA cutbacks ignoring the airline funding that more than pays for every part of the FAA’s annual budget, we have already directly paid – we have overpaid – for TSA and CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) services too.
We are paying $2.50 every time we go through an airport screening station – and sometimes even when we don’t! The fee applies for each of up to two legs per one way journey, and if you are changing planes in the middle of a trip, you’ll pay two fees, even though you’ll probably not need to be rescreened, but will stay on the secure side of the terminal while changing from one gate to the next.
So, perhaps on average, allowing for the times we pay twice for being screened once, we end up paying more than $3 every time we go through screening. Does that represent a little, most, all, or more than all the cost of our screening?
Think about your typical path through security screening. You first spend less than a minute while someone pointlessly checks your ID and matches it to your ticket. You then probably consume less than a minute of someone’s time who marshals people through the different lanes, and maybe 30 seconds of time for the man at the X-ray machine checking your bag and 30 seconds of time for the man at the metal detector (more if going through one of the ridiculous whole-body imaging machines). Add another 30 seconds of time for a supervisor, and another 30 seconds of time for someone to shuffle bins from one end of the conveyor belt to the other, and you are using a maximum of four minutes of time total. For that you’re paying maybe $3 on average.
So we’re paying at a rate of $45/hour for this ‘service’; shouldn’t that be enough to cover the cost of the people providing it? This should be sequestration proof, because it is a separate specific charged service and in return is being paid for by a separate specific income source.
As for when we return home on an international flight, we pay to speak to the man at the Immigration booth for a minute or two ($7 for that brief encounter), hopefully avoid the agricultural inspection entirely (but still pay $5), and speak to a customs officer on the way out for another minute max (incurring another $5.50 in the process).
So, we pay $17.50 for three minutes of service – that’s a princely rate of $350/hr (and no, I’m not going to point out the other types of ‘services’ you can get if you are willing to pay that sort of money).
Surely at that rate, the government can afford to keep all airport immigration, agriculture and customs posts fully manned. Indeed, we should each be given our own personal ‘escort’ who walks us through the process, carrying our bags for us, and giving us a choice of hot or cold drink and refreshment as part of the deal!
Rather than making it hard for us to return to the country, the government should be encouraging us to travel in and out as often as possible (there are other fees for both leaving and returning to the country also), because they profit massively from every journey.
Maybe sequestration is one teeny tiny part of the shock therapy our government desperately needs to administer to itself to diminish its dependency on spending money it doesn’t have and can’t afford.
But our politicians need to abandon their instinctive dishonesty and not cut specific programs which are specifically funded. That is not their money. It is our money, being channeled through the government to pay for the specific services we are charged for.