August 07, 2009


‘Small government’ devotees suck in federal dollars
by Patrick Dobson

(image courtesy of

“In fiscal year 2004, New Mexico, Alaska, West Virginia, Mississippi and North Dakota received substantially more from the federal government than they paid in taxes, while New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Illinois paid much more in taxes than they received in spending.” Dubay, Curtis S. Federal Tax Burdens and Expenditures by State, Special Report No. 139 Washington, DC: Tax Foundation, March 2006 ( )

If the exciting history of American politics teaches us anything, it’s this: The political actors in and outside government who approach their podiums of power with the greatest amount of certitude and volume tend to be the greatest hypocrites.

Maybe we Americans, as a people, admire loudness and confidence. We like people who are sure of themselves when they tell us what we want to hear. We tend not to look under the blanket of rhetoric to find out what’s actually inside the talking head.

Such is the case with the small-government advocates. It’s difficult to name even one small-government promoter inside or outside of government who does not admire the military/industrial complex. They hate government but lobby for defense welfare to corporations in their states or counties. They are also prone to waddle to the trough for infrastructure funds and commercial welfare. Conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat — it doesn’t matter. When it comes to the choice to live with or without the spending power of Big Government, all of them belly up to the teller window.

Alaska, for instance, has birthed one of the most notable tiny-government campaigners in Sarah Palin. It’s hard enough to take her seriously. Her inability to focus on anything but her career makes her highly suspect. Combine this with her attitude that everything is simple and black-and-white, and she becomes absolutely irritating. Then, when we look closer at how Alaska benefits from Big Government, she loses every strip of credibility.
Alaska spends more state tax per capita than any other state in the Union. With an $8.4 billion (2008) budget for its tiny 652,850 population, that is $16,952 dollars per Alaskan. (Missouri’s budget is $23 million for 5,911,605 Missourians, or just under $3,600 per Missourian.)

But Palin’s true hypocrisy lies in two other facts. First, after years of “suffering” under low oil prices, the state under Palin has experienced record-high revenue from taxes on oil company profits — to the tune of $10.4 billion in 2007. Part of that is paid to Alaskans, allegedly, to offset high-energy costs. This year, every Alaskan citizen will receive $3,269 from the state government to a limit of $19,000 per family. What such payments do, in good times, is bolster the political establishment in power — regardless of its ability to govern.

Second, Palin is rabidly anti-corporate tax. But instead of lowering corporate tax rates during the oil profit boom, Palin gave her blessing to and oversaw over the largest expansion of construction and infrastructure projects in the state’s history — to accommodate the increased revenue. Meanwhile, the state’s education, social service and welfare budgets saw huge cuts.

To give some context for the extent of Palin’s “big government for me, small government for you” attitude, the state receives more money per capita than any other state in the Union from the federal government. In 2004, the state took in $1.87 of federal money for every $1 in federal taxes. It joined other low- and anti-tax holdouts like New Mexico (which received $2 for $1 in fed taxes) and West Virginia ($1.83 for $1 in fed taxes) in the bid for the top three of largest per capita federal-tax takers.

GOP operatives keep calling Palin an incredibly popular governor, which she may be. Alaska has no state income or sales tax. Ninety percent of the state’s revenue comes from taxes on oil company profits and the other 10 percent from the federal government. But beating that drum hides the fact that every Alaskan benefits from the appropriation of the capitalist means of production. For Palin, who could not stop calling the future president a socialist during her bid for vice president, socialism is anti-American and anti-business. Everywhere but Alaska.
(For the record, the largely conservative Kansas and Missouri, receive $1.12 and $1.29 for every fed tax dollar they contribute to the national kitty.)

So how can people like Sarah Palin keep spouting moralisms while they, themselves violate them?

Well…they keep bringing home the bacon.

The paradox of having a small-government, anti-tax conservative come from a state dependent on federal tax shifting and corporate taxes is in keeping with a long line of conservative money grubbers who hate socialism for everyone but themselves.

Such is the case with GOP stalwart Missouri U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, whose fed-backed corporate subsidies and Huey Long-like earmarks are legendary. Monsanto. Bayer. State highways. Defense contractors. Rows of local governments and corporations benefit from this small-government advocate.

When did state social services benefit from an earmark? When did the working poor receive a direct payment from the feds via Bond?

Such pork barrel spending to benefit Missouri’s working poor usually go to creating tax breaks for business in Urban Enterprise Zones and Enhanced Urban Enterprise Zones (which include high- and middle-income suburbs).

These supply-side economics efforts have produced great benefits for businesses that move from higher-taxed and higher-regulated jurisdictions to UEZs. Local and state governments use UEZs to attract business with lower taxes or tax incentives, and eased government oversight. Such fed-backed zones have produced mixed results for local populations. The enterprise zone incentives serve to shift employment from one area to another, rather than creating increased employment and tax revenues. The kinds of skilled labor and management experience companies demand generally can’t be found in the working poor. Ultimately, the company occupies the ground, employs people from outside the enterprise zone, pays fewer taxes and has less government oversight.

Even more telling, cities, counties, and states with enterprise zones compete with one another to attract business. They give property, sales and corporate income tax incentives to businesses locating in the enterprise zone, regardless of the total revenue losses these represent. The result is a race to give away the store though tax-increment financing, sales of municipal- and state-backed commercial bonds, and business property tax relief for building, equipment and roads.

Examples of fed spending that Bond either lobbied for or earmarked:

• State and local bridge projects, highway and interstate expansions;
• The new Federal Reserve Bank, which moved from downtown to the old Trinity/St. Mary’s Hospital property. Kansas Citians provided tax incentives and infrastructure for the new building;
• The new IRS complex near Union Station;
• The Army Corps of Engineers levee and flood control project at the sprawling Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies Facility (and former IRS regional headquarters) near Bannister Road and Troost;
• And continued levee maintenance and channelization of the Missouri River — even though river traffic is negligible and near non-existent.
So, we can christen Bond the “Sarah Palin of the Midwest.” He has worked tirelessly expanding small government in our fair city and creating, literally, our River to Nowhere — and he’s getting a new, expensive bridge named after him!

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver is not immune to the attraction of federal money for defense and business. The latest of several earmark and defense spending initiatives he has lobbied for include the cleanup of the federal complex at Bannister and Troost. Honeywell is due to move its nuclear-bomb trigger making facility to a new $500 million plant near the old Richards-Gebaur airbase, which, in days passed, Bond had lobbied hard to keep from closing down. Cleaver went to bat with Bond not only for the money to move the nuke bomb operation but also for the half a billion for the new plant.

Then, in a move that can be called swift and contradictory, both Bond and Cleaver are working hard against a U.S. Department of Energy plan to store the nation’s mercury at the Bannister federal complex. Both have stated that the environmental hazards of mercury storage are too great and the threat to business development at the Bannister complex is too steep.

Cleaver bills himself as a “green” public servant but loves nuke-bombs for the fed money it brings. Bond loves the bomb. Granted, we only make bomb triggers here. Or, rather, corporate giant Honeywell makes them. Bond and Cleaver believe we workers should be grateful for the opportunity to mass-produce death for government-funded corporate profit. The jobs! The local taxes (which we are giving to Honeywell to move to south Kansas City)!

Let’s see: Tax money helps not only to fund jobs, local government and company profits. But we are also supposed to be ingratiated to the people we fund to employ us, and may ultimately help to destroy us?

To be fair, Cleaver and Bond are not the only hypocrites. They are joined in a sort of hypocrisy conspiracy by Missouri notables Sam Graves, Ike Skelton, Jo Ann Emerson and Roy Blunt.

Graves is a rabid small-government Republican whose northwest Missouri district receives nearly as much welfare in the form of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, WIC, food stamps and federally backed unemployment assistance as Jackson County. Moreover, federal and state agricultural dollars flow into his district like water. Speaking of water, he depends on and expects the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the Missouri River from rising into farm fields in his district.

Skelton has not seen a defense dollar he didn’t covet. The more military he can get for his central Missouri stronghold, the better. He worked for years to expand the mission and physical scope of Whiteman Air Force Base and then was able to headquarter the astronomically expensive B2 bomber there. The planes were already in production when the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union rendered their mission as long-range nuke bombers obsolete.

Jo Ann Emerson regurgitates Gingrich-era supply-side and small government ideology on command while waddling to the fed trough to keep the southeast part of the state in highway and infrastructure dollars, welfare and Mississippi River projects. She recently lobbied successfully for $15 million in defense spending for weapons research at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.

And Roy Blunt hates Big Government but loves what it does for his district. The benefits businesses receive from the fed include agricultural subsidies, defense spending for contractors in Springfield, opening the Mark Twain National Forest to logging and mining companies, and developers. In addition, much of the Ozark tourist industry is based on federally funded reservoir and flood control projects.

The row of contradictions goes on and on.

The one thing that redeems Cleaver in all this — besides the outright hypocrisy of not wanting the mercury but slavering over nuke bomb triggers — is that he never said he was a small-government man. The rest of the Missouri delegation mentioned above has, continues to, and will for some time talk small government while sucking up all the fed dollars they can lay their lips on.

Unless we call them on their nonsense and demand that they just be honest. Palin and her likes keep getting traction for a small-government agenda that subverts such commonsense ideas as universal health care, government regulation of securities companies and investment banks and more favorable labor laws. We need to ask them what it means to have a small government. From their actions, it’s impossible to know.

Sources for this story include: The Tax Foundation, , , : Kaiser Family Foundation, ; National Association of State Budget Officers, : U.S. Census Bureau, , ; Jo Ann Emerson, ; Emanuel Cleaver, ; Ike Skelton, ; Kit Bond, ; Roy Blunt, ; Sam Graves,

Patrick Dobson is a freelance writer, author and working member of Ironworkers Local Union #10 in Kansas City, MO. His first book, Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains will be published September 2009.