Friday Comment Forum — Downsizing Government?

Here’s the Friday open comments post.

Today’s suggested topic is downsizing government. If you could cut, what would you cut? Alternatively, what would you preserve, other cuts (if any) not withstanding? Would you expand anything?

The Cato Institute has a fine new website, entitled, offering a ‘department by department guide to cutting the federal budget.’

The focus today is on federal spending. (FREE WHITEWATER will focus on the City of Whitewater’s tax policy, its fiscal outlook, and municipal budget at a later time.)

Cuts represent far more than a savings in federal expenditures — they represent a reduction in meddlesome government, and a return to taxpayers of earnings (or alleviation of federal deficits from borrowing). Money returned and interest avoided will be better used in the hands of taxpayers than federal officials.

Consider just this one proposal, for a roughly 95% reduction in the size of the Department of Transportation, from Chris Edwards of Cato:

Most of the activities of the U.S. Department of Transportation are properly the responsibility of state and local governments and the private sector. There are few advantages in funding infrastructure such as highways and airports from Washington, but there are many disadvantages. Federal involvement results in political misallocation of resources, bureaucratic mismanagement, and costly one-size-fits-all regulations imposed on the states.

The Federal Highway Administration should be eliminated. Taxpayers and highway users would be better off if federal highway spending and gasoline taxes were ended. State governments could more efficiently plan their highway systems without federal intervention. The states should look to the private sector for help in funding and operating highways, and they ought to move forward with innovations such as expressways with electronic tolling.

The Federal Transit Administration should also be eliminated. Federal transit subsidies have caused local governments to make inefficient transportation choices. Federal aid favors rail systems, which are more expensive and less flexible than bus systems. The removal of federal subsidies and related regulations would spur local governments to discover more cost-effective transportation solutions, such as opening transit markets to private operators.

Air traffic control should be removed from the federal budget, and the ATC system should be set up as a stand-alone and self-funded agency or private company. Many nations have moved towards such a commercialized ATC structure, and the results have been very positive with regard to efficiency and safety.

Canada’s reform in the 1990s to create a private nonprofit ATC corporation is a good model for the United States to follow. U.S. ATC is currently overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has serious funding problems and a poor record on implementing new technologies. Moving to a Canadian-style ATC system would help solve these problems and allow our aviation infrastructure to meet rising aviation demand.

Amtrak has provided second-rate rail service for decades, while consuming almost $40 billion in federal subsidies. It has a poor on-time record, and its infrastructure is in bad shape. As a government agency, it is hamstrung in its decisionmaking regarding routes, workforce polices, capital investment, and other aspects of business. Amtrak should be privatized to give it the management flexibility it needs to operate in a more efficient and competitive manner.

The table shows that federal taxpayers would save about $85 billion annually by closing down the agencies and programs listed. The department would retain its current activities regarding highway safety, aviation safety, and some other regulatory functions. Those functions could be reformed as well, but the most important thing is to end federal subsidies for transportation activities that would be better handled by the states and private sector. America should take heed of the market-based reforms being implemented abroad, and pursue similar solutions to its transportation challenges.

Department of Transportation
Proposed Spending Cuts
Program Spending in 2010

($ million)
Federal Highway Administration
Terminate entire agency $51,750
Federal Transit Administration
Terminate entire agency $15,476
Federal Aviation Administration
Air traffic control operations $7,299
Air traffic control capital grants $3,017
Airport grants $3,979
Passenger Rail
Amtrak $2,528
High-speed rail grants $339
Maritime Administration
Assistance to shipyards $104
Ocean freight differential $175
Title XI loans $108
Essential air service $53
Total proposed cuts $84,888
Total department outlays $90,944
Source: Estimated fiscal year outlays from the Budget of the U.S Government, FY2011.

The use of pseudonyms and anonymous postings are, of course, fine.

Although the comments template has a space for a name, email address, and website, those who want to leave a field blank can do so. Comments will be moderated, against profanity or trolls. Otherwise, have at it.

I’ll keep the post open through Sunday afternoon.

Have at it.

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13 years ago

Cuts should happen for every part of the government. We should cut every department by 5 or 10%. It could be a multi-year effort but would still save billions. That’s more fair than singling out some agencies. Transportation could still be cut more later on.

13 years ago

Road projects stretch out way too long. They go on forever to hide the fact that there’s not a lot of private construction work these days.

13 years ago

let’s start with politicians salaries. they should be reduced by ten percent. when that happens they’ll see that they need to be more careful with money they take from other people.

13 years ago

I like the idea of an across-the-board cut. Even a small percentage would stop the expansion of the federal government with programs for states that taxpayers in other places don’t support.

13 years ago

If you want to really save money of federal salaries, you’ll need to look at official’s pensions. That’s where the biggest cost to taxpayers are. Someone gets into office for only a few years, and he’s got a cushy pension for years after he stops bothering people while in office. A few years = a lifetime of leaching off the public.

13 years ago

From our earliest days, Americans have seen the tendency of politicians to seek salary increases. An effort to limit the practice, by giving voters a chance to vote on those who gave themselves a pay raise before the raise took effect, was proposed for the original Bill of Rights. It was not included, however, with the first ten amendments. Centuries later, it became part of the Constitution. The 27th Amendment, ratified on May 7, 1992, places limits on when a Congressional salary increase can take effect:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Cutting is the Answer
13 years ago

Our economy is growing so slowly that limits on the growth of government aren’t enough to lead to a reduction in the overall amount of the economy devoted to government spending. The private sector is too weak to outpace all the spending on public programs.

A freeze won’t be enough to shift the balance, and small cuts won’t help. Only a large reduction will help our ecomony break free of heavy government costs.

If even a few agencies had the kind of reductions that the Department of Transporation had in the example we would be much better off.

Ayn Rand
13 years ago

The Cato analysis shows that many of these federal departments shouldn’t be in existence. They’ve usurped state and local authority, and created huge inefficiencies in the process. Transporation is only the tip of the iceberg.

Much of this spending might be transferred to state government, but at least it would be more effective there.

Go Freedom
13 years ago

Reducing federal agencies and cabinet departments massively is the only answer. As long as these departments are left alone in their present size they will grow much larger again at the first chance. Transportation, Agricultre, and Education should be abolished over a four or five year wind down effort.

13 years ago

the cold war is over and the first cuts should come from military spending. we spend more than ever on the military without any big enemies anymore.

there’s no real threat except for small groups of terrorists. the pentagon budget should be cut for big weapons programs. a portion of the savings could be shifted to combatting terrorism. taht’s where the real danger is today.

13 years ago

We should start by geting rid of the Department of Nowhere.They brought us bridge to nowhere,bike path to nowhere,by/pass to nowhere.What a waste.D.O.T.should go nowhere!!!!!

The Phantom Stranger
13 years ago

Cut military spending and unnecessary interventionist wars and conflicts. Channel monies to education, health, science, and the Arts…yeah, in a perfect world…