Rant-Man’s Notebook: Your Tax Dollars at Work

It’s tax week. I’m doing mine tonight. Actually, I’ll probably drag it out over the next few days and get it in the mail at the last minute. I do that. I’m a procrastinator. I know for a fact that I’ll be in line at the Post Office at 11:59 on Monday night to mail my return, even though I’m getting a refund. The last minute is the only minute. That’s why I’m writing this today instead of a week ago. It’s my curse.

To really get in the mood for taxes, I like to think about what my money is going to pay for. I wouldn’t mind so much if the money was going to something I wanted, like maybe a jet-pack. Here we are in the 21st century, and we still don’t have jet-packs, or flying cars or personal robots or any of that cool stuff the Jetsons had. I feel cheated. But instead, I’ll concentrate on the things the feds are spending my cash on.

Does anybody remember the Golden Fleece Award? Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire created the Golden Fleece in 1975 to call attention to government waste, and continued to give them out until his retirement in 1988. In 2000, he asked Taxpayers for Common Sense to revive the award for its 25th anniversary, but as far as I can tell, they only gave out two, and I KNOW there have to be more than two worthy candidates. As Jeff McNelly once observed, “your government is expanding to meet the needs of an expanding government.”

In the words of Senator Proxmire, the Golden Fleece singled out a “wasteful, ridiculous or ironic use of the taxpayers’ money.” The criteria for earning this dubious distinction was not just any example of government waste in the federal budget.  Instead, it was awarded to federal programs that most Americans would agree were outrageous and wasteful. For example, although Senator Proxmire believed that the MX Missile was a waste of money, he never gave a Fleece to that program. More importantly, projects receiving the Golden Fleece Awards did not necessarily have high costs, but rather violated a principle of responsible government spending. Lastly, to receive a Golden Fleece Award, an example of government waste must never have received national press coverage.

Let’s take a look at some highlights from the Golden Fleece, so we’ll all be good and cheery when we look at our tax bills. These items are some of the ones Senator Proxmire awarded between 1975 and 1988, but a 1985 winner was still going strong in 2001, so these aren’t merely historical curiosities just yet.

  • The National Science Foundation squandered $84,000 to try to find out why people fall in love.
  • The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration spent nearly $27,000 to determine why inmates want to escape from prison. Ummm, the food?
  • The National Institute for Mental Health funded a study of behavior and social relationships in a Peruvian brothel. This study was a part of a $97,000 grant.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration burned up $120,126 to build a low-slung, backward steering motorcycle that no one could ride. The people in charge of highway safety built the world’s most dangerous motorcycle.
  • The Office of Education spent $219,592 to develop a “curriculum package” to teach college students how to watch television. As if they need help with that.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency tacked on an extra $1-$1.2 million to preserve a Trenton, NJ sewer as a historical monument. Thanks, I’ll skip the tour.
  • The National Institute for Mental Health funded a study on why bowlers, hockey fans, and pedestrians smile.
  • The Department of the Army spent $6,000 to prepare a 17-page document that tells the federal government how to buy a bottle of Worcestershire sauce.
  • The National Science Foundation spent $144,012 to test commonly accepted, historically proven, fundamental economic principles of supply and demand –on pigeons.
  • The Department of the Army went through about $20,000 to prepare 30,000 fancy, multicolored pamphlets explaining how to play King of the Hill. I think the Navy is working on a similar booklet on how to play Marco Polo.
  • The National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke invested $160,000 to study whether someone can “hex” an opponent during a strength test by drawing an “X” on his chest. Anybody knows that won’t work. You have to put garlic on his shoes.
  • The Department of the Air Force spent $59,000 over six years to buy playing cards that were given away as souvenirs to visitors aboard Air Force Two. This was during the Reagan Administration. Later, during the Bush presidency, they gave out paddle-balls; when Gore was VP, Air Force Two handed out souvenir campaign contribution envelopes.
  • The Urban Mass Transit Administration spent $68,160 to send mass transit officials to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to learn Disney’s secrets of motivating employees.

MMMM-Boy! I’m feeling pretty darn good about the US of A’s budgeting abilities right about now. Oh well. Maybe next year I’ll get that jet-pack.

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