Taxpayers Never Run Out of Money

There was this girl somewhere in my extended family who wanted her mom to buy her a new book. It is good, of course, that a kid in elementary school wants to read, but at that time her mom happened to be a bit strapped for cash. 

"That's OK" said the girl. "Just go to that machine where you get money."
"You mean the ATM?" the mother replied.
"Yeah. Just go there and get money."

That little girl grew up and now knows much better how the world works. Unfortunately, a lot of people never get past that stage where they think there is a self-replenishing ATM somewhere that they can go to whenever they think they need more cash. 

That ATM is you. And me. And every other taxpayer in this state. 

And before we go further with this article, let me one more time point out that government cannot simply expect more revenue year in and year out; you cannot spend tax revenue to get more tax revenue - taxes don't pay taxes; and Wyoming is not a low-tax state

Another well-spread myth is that only the minerals businesses pay taxes here. They pay taxes, obvious, but so do the rest of us, regardless of whether we work in minerals or some other industry. Not only do we pay property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, use taxes... we also pay the taxes our employers pay. That money does not just materialize out of thin air. Businesses do not have some ATM they can go to whenever government demands more taxes. 

Someone has to produce the revenue that becomes the taxes that businesses pay.

Now that we have stated the obvious, let us take a look at the latest fingers reaching into the taxpayer's pockets for more money. 

We start with the new campaign for telemedicine. From the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Friday November 23 (pp. A1-A2, print edition):
In the battle to increase access to doctors and decrease the cost of medical treatment, some in Wyoming's medical field are pushing the state to focus more on telemedicine. the practice, which also goes by the name telehealth, allows doctors on one location to provide medical care to patients in another location. 
Hold on to your wallet, because as the WTE explains, somehow it is we the taxpayers who are responsible for educating medical doctors in how to use telemedicine:
The state's Medicaid department ... treats telemedicine visits with doctors as an in-person visit when it comes to payments. But for Wyoming to truly take the next step in telemedicine and make it a prominent tool for care, [Wyoming Medical Society president Lisa] Finkelstein said state government needs to make promoting telemedicine a priority. That means putting more money into educating doctors about how telemedicine works, the resources already available to the medical field and how it will improve the overall care they can provide to patients.
So taxpayers should pay for medical doctors to learn how to provide a new health-care product. Does this mean that if a car salesman wants to learn about self driving cars, can he ask the state government to pay for his education on that product? If I want to learn about industrial organization, a field of economics I don't know much about, can I ask the state to pay for my education on it?

Over to the next tax-grabbing finger in your wallet. This one belongs to a legislator. (Are you surprised yet?) On November 24 the WTE reported (pp. A1-A2, print edition) that Senator Charlie Scott (R-Casper) wants a study of health care in Wyoming: 
Scott, co-chairman of the [Joint Labor, Health and Social Services] committee, said one of the focuses of the study would be to see what impact Wyomingites seeking care across state lines has on the cost of, acces to and quality of emdical care in the state. A 2014 study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that almost 25 percent of medical services for residents were received across state lines.
This study, which would run over two years, would have "a potential cost of about $250,000", though the good senator "wasn't sure if that would be enough money". 

Have you gotten your money's worth for all the other consulting reports the state has ordered in the past few years? 

I can save the state - and my fellow taxpayers - a good deal of money. It is, namely, not that hard to explain why health care is so expensive. Here are three main reasons:

1. Obamacare.
2. State regulations on health insurance.
3. The creeping socialization of hospitals.

If the legislature would address the last two points, and continue to work with our Congressional delegation on the first, we would come a long way toward cheaper, more accessible health care here in Wyoming. And taxpayers would not have to throw another few hundred thousand dollars after yet another out-of-state consultant. 

Sadly, it is not just health care that drains taxpayers of money. Behold this story out of the Casper Star Tribune:
Wyoming will pay local communities in the state’s windiest region a little over $5 million to address the impacts from two wind developments now edging forward. The Ekola Flats wind project proposed near Medicine Bow — which will be owned and operated by Rocky Mountain Power — and Invenergy’s Uinta Wind Energy Project near Evanston will bring an influx of workers and traffic that could strain the communities nearby. The Industrial Siting Council — a governor-appointed group that oversees large, expensive construction projects — approved both projects last month and cemented the package of dollars going to towns like Medicine Bow, Evanston and Rock River. The dollars are intended to boost local income during the construction phase of large projects. “It’s really that you have a very large, non-local workforce come into a county,” said Kimber Wichmann, chief economist of the Industrial Siting Division of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.  
Here is a thought. If the local communities and the state government believe that these wind-farm investments will generate more economic activity, or even a revenue surplus, then why not take out a loan to fund the development costs mentioned in the article? If the wind farms will expand the state and local tax base, then why not borrow against that tax-base expansion?

The answer, of course, is the same as with every other economic development project: those who advocate it have no numbers to show for it. There are no calculations that credibly establish that the projects will indeed expand the tax base in the future. But since tax revenue is always someone else's money, the usual requirements for sound finance do not apply. 

And besides, we all know that taxpayers are really just self-replenishing ATMs, right?

Before we sign off for today, let us note that wind mills have a life span of only 20 years. They also run at less than half the capacity compared to coal and nuclear energy plants. 

But don't let such ephemeral facts get in the way of another grand, tax-paid project in our state. After all, the fact that we have such a big government - the largest government workforce in the country, and the second-highest taxes relative personal income - has made us the most powerful, fastest growing, most prosperous state in the country. Right...

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