Budget Should Fund Core Government Functions, Not Private Sector
Written By: Ashley Landess
The budget debate will rightly focus on raided trust funds, wasteful spending and the looming danger of unfunded liabilities. How much money lawmakers allocate to government programs and how those dollars are spent should be vigorously debated. But this year fiscally conservative lawmakers should do more than fight wasteful spending on government programs. They need to stand up for their core governing philosophy — that the private sector grows the economy better than the government. Even a superficial glance at this budget could create the impression that some elected officials think otherwise.
It is true that private organizations do not receive the big dollars in the budget. A few million dollars hardly registers in the context of a $7.2 billion budget. Frankly, that is exactly the problem. If all these small projects go unchallenged, there will be more of them every year, and the line between government and the private sector will become increasingly blurred.
The amount of money spent is not the point – the choice to spend it at all is what should worry taxpayers. For example, the budget provides $760,000 for the Boys and Girls Club, $750,000 to the Manufacturers Alliance, and hundreds of thousands of dollars for festivals and sporting events such as the Myrtle Beach Ball Classic and Anderson County’s Great Southeast Balloon Fest.
Those projects mean the state would fund private charities, funnel tax dollars for an advertising campaign through a private association and give money to festivals and sporting events that should be (and often are) funded with private donations and ticket sales.
It hardly takes an in-depth investigation to discover that many of these allocations are to the pet projects of a few powerful legislators. A deeper look reveals another common factor – lobbyists. The Manufacturers Alliance has one on its payroll, and some private charities pay high priced lobbyists to secure state dollars.
The question is not whether these organizations or charities are respected and worthwhile. The Boys and Girls Club has been serving needy children for many years, and the Manufacturers Alliance plays an important role in advocating for pro-business policies on behalf of some of our state’s most respected companies. It is troubling that such successful private organizations would seek and receive public dollars. Government should also stay out of funding speculative research for products or technology. Since when has government been the driving force for innovation in the market place? That is the role – and the financial risk – of the private sector, not the taxpayers. Nor should there be state money for private entities such as the SC Manufacturing Extension Partnership, an organization that helps “small to mid-sized manufacturers…..solve business and supply chain process problems.” Why should taxpayers serve that role? Businesses should solve their own problems with their own money.
Then there is the Spartanburg Center for Ethical Leadership, a program to “concentrate on various and related fields of government, business, and education with each program designed to explore the fundamental importance of leadership, creativity and service within the context of ethical values.” Whatever that actually means, it doesn’t sound like a million dollar priority for government.
Some politicians seem to have given up on the idea that free market forces should promote business, drive the economy and encourage charitable giving. Instead, they are buying in to the false notion that the private sector cannot succeed unless government is the economic engineer. What used to be government interference is now called a “public private partnership.”
Taxpayers should not be fooled. The real purpose of a private-public partnership is to turn functions of government over to the private sector because it does them more efficiently. Instead, there is a movement toward letting government take over functions of the private sector under the guise of “economic development.”
This is no small matter. Few government functions are ever evaluated for their success or failure, and the taxpayers are not likely to see a cost benefit analysis of their investments in industry advertising or leadership training. Also, private charities stand to lose in the long run. Today South Carolinians are ranked among the most generous charitable givers in the nation, but that will likely change when citizens realize that politicians and lobbyists are deciding which charities deserve their tax dollars.
Policy makers do a disservice to the public when they dodge a thoughtful debate on what constitutes a core government function. They need to get tough, draw the line and decide what kind of economy our state will have. If government takes over driving the economy and funding our charities, they will both fall apart. Legislators should focus public resources exclusively on government functions and let the private sector take care of the rest.