Lessons in government spending

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By Rob Witwer

Two weeks ago, my kids returned home from school with new backpacks. The green bags — which more resembled re-usable grocery totes — touted the U.S. census, proclaiming “Be counted” in several languages, with a backdrop of multi-colored hands. 

It’s impossible to miss the census envelope in your mailbox, but just in case you do, odds are good you’ll get a personal visit (according to Time, the federal government will hire more than 200,000 part-time census workers). This follows, of course, $2.5 million in ads just during the Super Bowl. And now we have biodegradable backpacks.

Some people will never take the trouble to fill out census forms ó but it certainly isn’t for a lack of effort on the part of the federal government.

About the time the census backpack came home, we received something else from our school. Like all schools across the state, Jefferson County Public Schools will experience serious cutbacks due to state budget shortfalls. These are legitimate cuts, not reductions in growth (which are often, misleadingly, characterized as “cutsî). 

 According to the Jeffco website, over the next two years the district will need to cut $27.9 million, which includes more than 222 teachers.

Those who have read this column for a while (thanks for sticking with me) know that I’ve never been afraid to criticize excessive spending in government, including at the state and school district level. But the one thing local governments always do is balance the budget. When the money isn’t there, they cut. They have to.

Not the federal government. When it needs money, it prints more, or goes into deeper debt. The national debt now stands at a staggering $12.9 trillion. In more easily understood terms, that’s almost $42,000 per person (if you want your eyes opened, check out www.usdebtclock.org).

So what it all comes down to is this: The further away you get from a local government, the more wasteful the spending gets. For Washington, it’s almost like funny money — heck, what’s another couple million on Super Bowl ads for the census? Signs alongside the road that do nothing other than tout how the government went deeper into debt to build this road? Why not? Put it on the credit card. 

The federal government goes billions into debt for wasteful “bridge-to-nowhere” projects.

For a lot less, we could have more teachers in the classroom.

Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care).”