Diet Pork

The Washington Post reports a record pork feast today

President Bush signed into law a massive $286.4 billion transportation
bill Wednesday that includes more than 6,000 pet projects of lawmakers
across the country that range from a crucial parkway linking two
interstates in Illinois to a snowmobile trail in Vermont. … Keith Ashdown … said the distribution of the money “is based far more on political clout than on transportation need.”

Such waste may seem inevitable; how else can congressfolk claim credit for “bringing home the bacon” to their district? But consider this alternative:

Allow federal tax rates to vary by congressional district.  Given this, taxes would suddenly become a concentrated benefit.  Incumbents could brag about how much lower taxes were in their district, and challengers could complain how high they were.  Incumbents would have clear incentives to trade votes to get taxes lowered in their district.

With “diet pork” on the menu, politicians would have a healthier way to feed their need for concentrated benefits.    (I’m leaving comments on for a change.)

Comments

What makes you think that's a viable alternative?

How would this work?

Would the federal income tax for the district be a function of the targeted spending in that district? Would spending targeted to the state be assumed to apply to all districts equally (since they have similar populations), or would the money need to be followed by federal bureaucrats?

Would it be affected by any spending (like disaster recovery or military bases), or just "pork"?

If only to pork, how would that be defined?

I am only a humble Australian, but I understand that the federal government in the U.S. gives money called block grants or something to the states. Would it be possible to add up the amount of pork in a state and subtract it from the block grant at the rate of say fifty cents in the dollar? Or should I go read a book instead of writting comments on something I know very little about?

Hmmmm...

Senator from high-tax state says to low-tax Senator: "So, you want that porky project in your district, yeah? Well, if you want that, then I'm going to have to vote against lowering the federal tax rate for your state. Deal?"

Points for creativity, Robin. And at first glance, it seems to make sense. It also seems to be something that will never ever happen. Can the federal income tax vary by state anyway? I doubt anything in the constitution precludes such a thing, but it sounds like a pipe dream. Nevertheless, very cool.

As long as we're redesigning the incentives for legislators, why not give them cash bonuses when they keep spending under control ? Perhaps they could get a percentage of any savings from the previous year -- or savings below the pace set by the growth of GDP or (tax-law-constant) revenues.

I like the idea of creating incentives that aren't just spending, but Anon is probably right. As Jimi Hendrix almost said "There's to much colusion, I can't get no relief." Of course, he was probably high.

Also, wouldn't this lead to each district havin incentives for both low taxes and high spending? Since the national debt is a communal issue, you'd end up with a sort of tragedy of the commons, wouldn't you? I think there needs to be something to check against running up a hue deficit aside from altruism.

Because district-specific spending is really only a very small part of overall federal spending, your proposal would have an insignificant effect on spending. And defining what is district-specific would be extremely difficult. There are some projects, such as, say, a library that are obviously district-specific, but what about a highway or bridge that carries people from other states? A rain forest in Iowa that attracts visitors from out of state?

In short, your scheme would be ineffective.

Sounds depressing but I really don't see a way out of this since the electorate loves the pork and their the ones who elect the pork barrelers..

It's fun to express outrage over this sort of thing, but I wonder how much really is "pork" and how much is legit. My guess is that the overwhelming majority is defensible (if you believe in federal funding of transportation).

And this is a drop in the bucket relative to America's true fiscal problems (entitlements).

Will: Wisconsin (my state) has a line item veto.
The budget is still filled with pork. An analysis of why might be interesting.

I like Thon's idea. It might be doable at a muni level to start out with.

How odd -- to be to the *left* of most of the people in the room! (I live in MA. I don't get this feeling a lot.)

Anyway, I'm seeing the opposite problem from most people here. Federal taxes perform redistributive functions and I happen to think some of them are legit. It seems like under this scheme the people most able to take care of their needs without government help would strongly pressure for low federal district taxes; the people with high needs would end up with the higher taxes. Sounds fair until you realize that the people with higher needs are quite likely to be the ones least able to pay for help. The people in the town I live in, with its plethora of $600K houses, could easily enough educate their children privately if they had to; the children I teach, many of whom have single parents and live in the projects, have limited options other than public education, and their districts have the least ability to pay for it.

Furthermore, there's a fairness question about truly shared services. The military, for instance, provides a certain common benefit to all, so it seems reasonable for everyone to fund it. With local taxation, though...do my MA neighbors, dutiful war-protesters all, stop funding the military...but still have the right to have jets scrambled from Otis AFB next time something suspicious flies out of Logan? And...*do* they have that right? Would the military find itself foot-dragging to defend low-tax regions of the country?

"Do my MA neighbors, dutiful war-protesters all, stop funding the military."

As an added, benefit, this sort of thing could lead to more efficient use of the military. The best way to protest a war would be to refuse to finance it.

This discussion about the transportation bill is in my opinion based on some faulty assumptions. The main one being that all this so-called pork in the appropriation bill is being spent on frivolous stuff that is just put in there to get votes. National infrastructure doesn’t grow on trees, and once built, requires maintenance to remain functional. According to the following link (which I admit is going to be a bit biased, considering the source) rates the country’s infrastructure as pretty poor.

http://www.asce.org/reportcard/2005/index.cfm

While the methodology for gathering this data (surveying civil engineers) may be a bit flawed in the objectivity department, transportation infrastructure does need improvement. I mean its not like no one ever complains about traffic congestion, potholes, etc.

Second, take into consideration that this bill is at least 5 years late. That means that for the last couple years, there have been a lot of transportation projects that have come to a standstill (in either the planning or construction phase) due to lack of funding that didn’t come through when it was supposed to come through. As a result, due to the delay in funding, the final appropriation bill has to cover all these old projects plus fund future projects. Otherwise, you end up with a 5-mile section of interstate out in the middle of nowhere that connects to nothing.

Sure you can pick out a few projects that maybe don’t have to be built now. But this isn’t Russia, we can afford a decent national transportation infrastructure. And in my opinion, we should not only try to keep that which has been built in good, safe condition, but also improve it for future generations of Americans.

houyuping 07年8月15日

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