By Kurt Martin
In your editorial last week, you reported that our national debt was 70 percent of the GDP. I’d be curious as to where you are sourcing your statistical data. The sources I’ve utilized indicate our national debt was 68 percent of the GDP at the beginning of President Obama’s presidency. With the “stimulus” spending on top of what has become the “normal” deficit spending of the federal government, it had reached 106 percent of the GDP in the first quarter. I’ve read that 120 percent is where a government is deemed insolvent. I suspect we’ll exceed that before year’s end.
Many believe that excessive government spending is a federal problem. No doubt, there is a problem on the federal level, but run away government spending is certainly not exclusive to the federal government. To elaborate, total government spending (federal, state, local) consumed 42 percent of the GDP as of 2010. (This compares to 26 percent in 1965, to give you a benchmark of comparison.) Of that 42 percent, Minnesota state and local government spending consumes over 20 percent of the state’s GDP, nearly equal to federal spending when apportioned to Minnesota.
But again, while Minnesota state government has an excessive spending problem, so does our local government. I attended the truth in taxation hearing conducted by the Crow Wing County Board, last December. At that hearing, I had circulated the attached spreadsheet (prepared by the state auditor’s office) to all in attendance, to each board member, county staff, and the Dispatch. During my presentation, I discussed that while the board was proposing a 2.87 percent levy reduction, spending was actually increasing by 4.6 percent. This was during a time when the private sector was struggling, the county U6 unemployment rate is arguably in excess of 20 percent, and property values continue to decline. I made specific references to the attached spreadsheet, which was displayed on the projector screen. Such as despite a 15 percent reduction in the number of general county employees the salary expense for that same category increased by 13 percent and the cost of benefits 47 percent. The sheriff’s department has seen a 17 percent increase in full time staff, a 40 percent increase in salary expense, a 91 percent increase in benefits — but yet there is only a single deputy assigned to road duties in a weekday shift. Moreover, there are 2.1 deputies per supervisor. I spoke to nearly each category all of which had double digit increase and some near triple digit increases, as exemplified on the attached spreadsheet. None of these increases were supported by county population growth, COLA tied to inflation, or any other supporting factors.
I was rather surprised by the blank look of all the commissioners and the lack of any comments. However, what surprised me even more was the fact the Dispatch offered absolutely no reference to my presentation or spreadsheet in their reporting of the hearing.
I’ve heard it is a new era at the Dispatch and the liberal bias that encouraged and facilitated the very government spending that you wrote about was in the past. But when the Dispatch failed to report on the presentation I had made at the truth in taxation hearing, I questioned if it really was. More recently, the Dispatch reported on county employee unions that have brought suit against the county for what they allege is the illegal failure of the county to provide step increases in salary. I can’t help but fail to wonder if the silence of the county board and the failure of the Dispatch to report the increases in wage and benefits set forth in my presentation and accompanying spreadsheet hasn’t emboldened them.
On the second page of the attachment, is an excerpt the budget presentation prepared by the county auditor’s office for the truth in taxation hearing. It documents an increase of 81 percent in property tax revenues in the six years that represent the tenure of nearly, if not all, the current county commissioners. Did your salary increase by 81 percent during that same period? Do you know anyone whose did? Did the county’s population increase by 81 percent. Dispatch readership or revenues? Where is the rationale to justify such a dramatic increase in such a short period of time?
If we’re going to turn the tide of out of control government spending, the Dispatch will need to have the backbone to challenge the government employee unions with honest and factual reporting. I believe we’ll both agree that for us to do nothing will ultimately lead to much more than just the failure of the Dispatch or my business.
Kurt Martin was a candidate for the Republican endorsement for House District 10A.