A billion here, a billion there

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After all, it’s just a tiny percentage of the total spent

By John Pawlak

When discussing the difficulty of defining pornography, Potter  Stewart, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, said, “I know it  when I see it.”  
Pornography comes in all forms these days and we  are graced with its ubiquitous presence on television, the internet  and in lyrics of hit songs.  But is it really all that easy to  recognize?
Sure, it’s easy enough when watching Lady Gag Gag or commercials by  Victoria (who really doesn’t have any secrets) or Internet  advertisements for ED (you know, the pop up kind?).  But I’m  talking about something far more pornographic.
Numbers.  Big numbers to be specific.
Most people don’t understand big numbers, but they sure do love  small percentages.  
I was watching a TV show in which a senator was  filibustering a $6 billion health care bill to secure an $18 million  provision for the study and treatment of autism.  
When the White  House complained that the bill was already $6 billion in size, the  senator said, “So what’s another $18 million?”   
Well, that was a TV show.  Let’s get back to reality.  You know,  where people are much more sensible about spending money?  (Yeah,  you’re wondering what mushrooms I’ve been eating lately.)
A teacher’s union in Madison, Wisc. sued the school district to  force the district to include erectile dysfunction drugs in the  school’s health insurance plan.   
The school district was in  financial crisis and had been forced to lay off hundreds of  employees.  The money required to add the drugs back into the health  care plan would cost the district enough to pay for 12 teachers.
When asked why anyone would fight such an absurd battle, the union  argued, “The costs for the drugs are tiny compared to the $1.3  billion annual budget.”
Comparative reasoning is a comparative problem plaguing this  country, not just in schools but everywhere. CEOs get billions in  bonuses and argue that it’s a small percentage of the total salary  pool.  
The military can’t account for billions sent over to Iraq and  argues that it’s a small percentage of the total amount spent  there.  
The federal government continues to finance boondoggle  projects that spend billions over budget and argues that it’s small  compared to the total budget.
But fortunately, leveler heads are prevailing.  In Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker suggested not buying toilet paper for city  offices.  (Fiscal analysts congratulated Booker for his innovation,  but oddly enough declined to shake hands with him.)  
In New York  City, cutbacks have slashed funding for schools, libraries, senior  centers and day care, but public pools will stay open (it’s nice to  know that out-of-work teachers can enjoy a swim now and then).  Los  Angeles cut back on garbage collection.  
As one citizen remarked,  “These cutbacks really stink!”
An interesting story comes from Oakland, Calif. City officials  laid off 200 police officers and then started talking about  legalizing drugs to offset the cost of incarceration and to increase  tax revenue.  With drugs legalized, the state would save billions by  not having to imprison thousands of inmates and once released, those  inmates could go into taxable businesses.  Oddly enough, this might  actually work!
Spending money to save money is a favorite pastime of politicians  and so once again we find ourselves being helpless spectators as  they play fiduciary football with our taxes.  
With the holiday  season upon us, Republicans held unemployment insurance hostage ($56 billion) and so the White House capitulated to their demands, paying  $814 billion in ransom in the form of tax breaks for the poor rich  (an oxymoron used by morons.)  
As the wealthy get wealthier and  invest their savings overseas, taxes will increase for one third of  low and middle income Americans.
There’s an old adage in government spending; A billion here, a  billion there, before you know it you’re talking real money.  It’s  only a matter of time before we see these type of tax “compromises”  hitting New Mexico citizens where it really hurts.  
Red and green  taxes on enchiladas?  A taco tariff?  A tamale tortilla tax?  A  frijoles fee?
So, what’s your preference in tax, red or green?
 John Pawlak
Los Alamos columnist