Cross-posted on CW Unbound.
Both the federal government and the Massachusetts government are facing huge budget shortfalls, but they apparently offer radically different examples of supposedly wasteful spending. In Washington, the devil is in "earmarks"; in Massachusetts, generous pensions for state employees elicit the loudest catcalls.
Conservative opponents of President Obama's stimulus bill and proposed federal budget have focused almost exclusively on earmarked programs, particularly those with a scientific bent. (Well, the Manhattan Institute is floating the idea of scrapping Head Start, but it's an outlier.) Most of the outrages seem quite defensible upon closer inspection, which makes Republicans such as Sen. John McCain seem indistinguishable from the Bay State's own Carla "Small Government Is Beautiful" Howell. In McCain's Twitter remarks from the floor of the Senate, he repeatedly admits that he doesn't know or care what a program does -- as in "$650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi - how does one manage a beaver?" The logic is that if government does it, it's inherently wasteful, so the details don't matter.
(BTW, it seems like an eternity ago that Bill Weld, running as a Republican for governor of Massachusetts mocked his Democratic opponent as insufficiently interventionist in the preservation of open space: ''Would you tell us what plans, if any, you have for the preservation of open space in Massachusetts other than leave it to beavers?'')
Steve Benen has a good rundown of McCain and company's greatest hits:
The list of failed examples is getting rather long. Disney-to-Vegas HSR? Doesn't exist. The gang tattoo-removal program? Money well spent. Marsh-mouse preservation? Doesn't exist. Disaster insurance to livestock producers? A sound investment. Volcano monitoring? Seems like a pretty good idea.
John McCain also blasted "$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah." Matt Yglesias, without the benefit of a Senate office staff, spent a few minutes on Google and discovered that Mormon crickets are reaching high levels in Utah, and destroying large areas of alfalfa fields. Given the impact on the area and industry, "$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah" doesn't sound especially wasteful.
It's usually a different story when someone accuses the state of Massachusetts of wasting money. Instead of scientific research and experimental anti-crime programs, the objects of outrage here almost always fall into a single category: people getting paid too much, whether though salaries, overtime work, or pensions. And these examples tend to be tougher to defend than volcano monitoring. The Boston Herald rings this bell again today:
The Essex jail system has become a retirement playpen for ex-lawmen collecting thousands in state dollars on top of plum pensions for second careers as greeters, tour guides and urine jockeys, a Herald review shows.
Hub Blog has been collecting these stories for years (though he would strengthen his case by putting them all in one easy-to-find page on his website).
So we are left with two questions: Isn't anyone overpaid by the federal government? And do Massachusetts voters have a better understanding of silly-sounding (but often sound) government programs?