The Camel's Nose
Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
In considering how one might overthrow the state government, I have decided the safest course is by baby-steps, so to speak. Attacking the requirement to re-new your auto license yearly is a good initial procedure. Not too controversial, and without dire consequences if unsuccessful.
Don’t be put off by the term “overthrow.” It is quite right and proper to overthrow the state government, at least here in Missouri. The state’s Constitution states: “That the people of this state have the inherent, sole and exclusive right to regulate the internal government and police thereof, and to alter and abolish their Constitution and form of government whenever they may deem it necessary to their safety and happiness….” I deem it necessary.
So: having decided that “Missouri” is inimical to my safety and happiness, how can I rid myself of it? By attacking it bit by bit, challenging those operations that have little public support--such as licensing automobiles.
A very useful tool for the revolutionary is the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). It is a font of information. For example: on page 155 of Missouri’s 2008 CAFR, I learn that the state employs 63,000 people. A footnote informs me that the 63,000 figure includes only full-time personnel, and does not include college or university employees. This makes state government the largest employer in the state by far. The next largest employer in Missouri is Wal-Mart, with 40,000 employees. But third is the University of Missouri, employing about 20,000 individuals. Added to the other, non-university, employees, it brings the total number of people working for Missouri to 83,000 individuals! The CAFR graciously provided percentage figures to accompany these numbers: the total percentage of workers in Missouri employed by the state is 2.88%. This compares with 1.39% for Wal-Mart, and about .60% for the postal service, which ranks fourth. Work hard, citizen! Look at all those people you support! It makes one wonder if, perhaps, it might be possible to do some pruning of this overgrowth.
The state constitution has this to say about taxation, among other things: “Taxes may be levied and collected for public purposes only….” The word “only” seems awfully significant, although “public purposes” is an attention-getter, also. If you ask Google for a ranking of the states in terms of revenues, you will be provided with a report from 2004 (evidently the most recent year for which data is available) from the U.S. Census Bureau. Missouri is listed in 19th position in terms of revenue, with $26.3 billion. The state ranks 20th in terms of expenditures, having spent $22.04 billion. If this official agency of the U.S. government is to be believed, the state took in over $4 billion more than it spent in 2004. How can that be reconciled with the constitutional mandate that taxes be collected for public purposes only?
That brings our attention to “public purposes.” Just as the federal rulers justify whatever they want to do by invoking the Commerce Clause, or the General Welfare Clause, it’s likely that the state rulers find “public purposes” a convenient justification for their activities. And there are plenty of activities! The state’s website has a box called “Find a State Agency,” and when you click on it, a pull-down menu appears. I estimate about 240 or more state agencies are listed, and I’m willing to bet that every one of them must be serving some “public purpose.” For instance, there is the Certification of Interpreters Board: obviously critical to the well being of every Missourian. And the Amusement Ride Safety Board, the state Council on the Arts, the Dental Hygienists Advisory Commission, the Clinical Perfusionists Advisory Commission, the Cosmetology and Barbers Examiners Board, the Film Commission, the Board of Geographic Names, and one of my favorites, the Interior Design Council. I consider myself blessed to live in a state with such an intense concern for my well being and happiness. And there is even an Unmarked Human Burial Consultation Committee, should I ever need it. No wonder the State employs 63,000 people, exclusive of part-time employees, and those working at the universities and colleges! All those state agencies require a heap of workers.
I’ll confess to a certain wee bit of cynicism: the rulers have such an embarrassment of revenues that they have to do something with all that money, and returning it is clearly out of the question. But it can be spent for “public purposes,” even if the purpose is establishing a Film Commission, or a Board of Geographic Names. Even so, there was a surplus of over $4 billion in 2004! And that wasn’t an exceptional year: the state’s CAFR shows a surplus of billions year after year.
So: Who is aware that taxation is authorized ONLY for public purposes? I’d guess the percentage of the general public aware of this constitutional imperative is close to zero. Are our public-spirited legislators aware of it? In their case, the percentage may be slightly higher than zero, but they’re not letting it ruin their day. Maybe it should. That could be our job--raising awareness that year after year, Missourians are taxed not only for nebulous “public purposes,” but for the accumulation of a tidy fortune. (At the end of 2008, the state had assets of almost $30 billion.)
How could it hurt to demand of our “representatives” that they explain all those employees and agencies, and the year-after-year surpluses of billions? They swore to uphold the state Constitution; I didn’t.
Does the servant--public or private--have access to the master’s purse? If so, can he spend as much as he wants for whatever he wants, and without giving an accounting? It would be a good idea to clarify just who is the servant, and who the master!