Jason Cline: The Audit We Really Need

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 316 views 

Editor’s note: Jason Cline, the author of this guest commentary, is the Arkansas State Director of Americans for Prosperity.

As you read this, millions of Americans are scrambling to finalize their tax returns before the April 15th deadline, crossing every “T” and dotting every “I”, hoping they aren’t nailed with the IRS’s dreaded audit.

While we scrounge up each dime Uncle Sam demands, the politicians and bureaucrats spending our hard-earned tax dollars aren’t being nearly so scrupulous. Based on a brief audit conducted by the Americans for Prosperity-Arkansas policy team, it’s clear that Washington politicians have managed to waste millions in Arkansas alone. Their waste means we spend more time working to pay off Uncle Sam rather than feeding our families, saving for our future dreams, giving to our churches and favorite charities, or building businesses.

Wasteful spending is part of the reason why Tax Freedom Day – the date at which taxpayers stop working for the government and get to keep their income – now arrives on April 7 in Arkansas, more than a third of the way through the year. While there are some good ways that the federal government can, and at times, does, spend your money, they aren’t doing a very good job picking priorities – and it’s costing all of us. Here’s what we found:

A bridge paved with dollar bills. In 2009, about $2.5 million of federal stimulus dollars were spent to renovate the pedestrian bridge between Little Rock and North Little Rock. Fixing broken bridges is a fine project, but $2.5 million for a foot bridge? It turns out that even $2.5 million wasn’t enough, and even more money was requested. The spending was justified for the potential to “bolster tourism and economic development.” I’d sooner trust a rickety old bridge than that exaggerated claim.

The over-priced mechanic. Replacing tires is always an expensive project, but $16,000? Those tires better last a lifetime – and then some! More than $1.5 million in federal stimulus funding was used to retrofit 41 trucks, 29 tractors, and 27 trailers with “low rolling resistance tires.” The cost of this routine maintenance came to approximately $16,000 per vehicle. And oh, all this spending created just half a job. I’ve got a great mechanic to recommend next time someone needs their tires changed.

Taxpayer-Funded European Vacation. 11 students and 4 teachers from Arkansas were flown to the U.N. climate change convention in Copenhagen. The plane transporting them emitted 54,000 pounds of carbon emissions and cost taxpayers $50,000. Whatever you think of the climate change debate, I think we can all agree there are much more reasonable ways to educate our students than flying them across the globe. I wouldn’t have minded a European vacation when I was in school – guess I should have asked taxpayers to pay for it.

These are just a few of the most glaring examples. All told, they hardly amount to a drop in the budget in the gargantuan $3.8 trillion federal budget. However, the obvious lack of oversight raises questions about how much other waste is lurking inside the federal budget.

If the federal government doesn’t bat an eye when stimulus dollars are used to retrofit tires at a cost of $16,000 per vehicle, it indicates that there’s a much bigger problem with spending restraint. If you run a business and wasted that much money, you’d probably find yourself running a deficit, in trouble with your board, and possibly in trouble with the IRS for unacceptable business expenses. You have to be responsible with your family’s money and your employer’s resources – shouldn’t the federal government be equally responsible with your tax dollars?

While citizens can debate about government’s proper functions, we can all agree that federal spending needs more scrutiny. As the IRS gets ready for the annual shakedown of hard-working taxpayers, I’d like to propose that we turn our own magnifying glass onto Washington’s spending habit. Politicians and bureaucrats have a responsibility to use our tax dollars wisely, not blow $2.5 million on a foot bridge.

Americans for Prosperity has made it easy for concerned citizens to conduct their own audit. Do you know of an example of wasteful federal spending in Arkansas?  Report it to spendingspotlight.com so our crack policy team can expose it. This tax season, let’s turn the tables on Washington.