Surpluses belong to the taxpayers, not government

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 3, 1999

Some time back, two men found themselves in a bit of a disagreement.

Tuesday, August 03, 1999

Some time back, two men found themselves in a bit of a disagreement. The state government was expecting yet another budget surplus and the men politely quarreled about the identity of the surplus owner, or owners.

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After all, this was no small chunk of change; as with a previous state surplus, it amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hence, the debate.

Insisting that once state taxes are deducted from paychecks the taxes belong to the state, one of the men said, &uot;It’s the state’s money.&uot;

With the best of intentions, this fellow said the state should use the extra money to improve government services.

He proudly raised his head, and said &uot;No.&uot; We’re not overtaxed.

Well, the other man strongly disagreed. He said, &uot;The surplus belongs to the taxpayers of Minnesota.&uot;

He believed his former government teachers when they said, &uot;Of the people. By the people. For the people.&uot;

This guy added, &uot;Governments should operate on what it takes to run governments. Because the surplus wasn’t required to run the state government, it should return to the taxpayers.&uot;

Because there was a surplus, Minnesotans were overtaxed, he said. The same is true of expected future surpluses. If the state requires the money, it should justify it in its budgets.

Blank checks are way too risky, the fiscal man said.

Of course, government revenues aren’t that simple. When employment and income rise so do tax revenues. When people are allowed to keep more of their money, they’re more inclined to spend it on gadgets. This too sends money to the state coffers.

&uot;It’s obvious,&uot; the conservative countered. &uot;Give it back.&uot;

While the state did finally agree – this time – that the money belonged to the taxpayers, the debate between the two men didn’t accomplish much and continues to this day.

The first fellow still says we’re not overtaxed, and the fiscal guy says, &uot;Give it back&uot; whenever possible.

Not only does the fiscal-minded gent believe most surpluses should come back to taxpayers, he says the state and federal governments continue to bamboozle taxpayers.

It’s understandable that governments should provide services, he said. It’s understandable that governments should provide a lift to people when they’re down.

Social Security is an obvious benefit – too bad liberal spenders didn’t realize this when Social Security funds were directed to the federal government’s general budget.

The conservative blames mostly Democrats for spending the retirement accounts of senior citizens.

And, he’s not about to knock our public education system; this is one area where he believes we should spend more of &uot;our money.&uot;

But $3 trillion?

That’s how much the federal government expects to overtax us in the coming years.

The government-is-seperate-from-the-people gentleman believes the federal government should now save almost all of this money. With good intentions, he points to our ailing Social Security system, underpaid military, debt, health care, education and the coming census as possible increased spending targets.

The remainder, he says save for the &uot;unexpected.&uot;

Well, he does name some good spending targets, the fiscal man countered. But with the exception of Social Security and the debt, these programs are already funded. Social Security was funded, too, but the Democrats, and yes, Republicans, spent it.

Remember, we’re discussing surplus money here.

Unlike the fiscal chap, the save-it dude disagrees with a Republican plan to return about $800 million of the added money.

Again remember, this is our money, countered the other guy.

It’s important to pay down the debt. It’s important to resurrect Social Security for present and future generations; if we made the system private, the fiscal man doubts that we would find any $40 hammers in it.

But the Republicans are only talking about giving 25 cents back for every dollar of the expected surplus.

The remainder can save Social Security, said the fiscal man. The remainder can help reduce the debt.

And, there’s another benefit. When we’re allowed to keep more of our money, we spend it, or invest it.

It either case, the economy grows, providing more of a tax base for government to plunder.