Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Budget Cuts and Penny Pinching – Why the Government Isn’t Like Everyone Else

March marks the first time that I have ever actually forced myself to plan a budget. I recently bought a car (Bambi thought my old one wasn’t hip enough and totaled it for me). I’m also looking for a home to purchase; if I stay in my apartment past May, rent increases almost by half! Over the past month’s I’ve found that with my car insurance spiking, rent payment, and everything else, I can’t afford to eat out as much or purchase frivolous items such as bottled water, funny shirts, or DVDs. So, I’m hunkering down, forcing myself to stay in on Friday nights to play monopoly, drinking lots of tap water, and watching cable that’s already paid for.

I’m not here to give finance advice – I’ll leave that to the experts. But I am noticing a trend amongst my friends and coworkers. We’ve all cut back on things that cost money that we used to do on a regular basis without thinking and are saving money as if it’s a precious commodity. Well, for many (and more each day) it is! I’ve been reading more and more in the news about middle-aged individuals losing their jobs and dipping into their 401(k) accounts early or draining their savings to make ends meet. Getting a job isn’t easy either right now, especially when I know people who have applied to dozens of jobs and if they get a response at all it is a rejection. Like many people, I’m planning for the worst and squirreling away anything I possibly can.

So why is the government implementing an economic stimulus package that entails spending nearly a TRILLION dollars instead of saving money?

Many conservatives on www.twitter.com frequently tweet about the stimulus package and how it “oddly” reminds them of the German attempt in the late 20s. I don’t agree. Even though the Obama administration in many cases isn’t putting in formal checks and balances to ensure that the money isn’t misappropriated or poorly handled, many Senators are doing what they can to increase transparency and oversight. Michael W. Brubaker (R-PA), for example, wants to create a nine-member panel in Pennsylvania made up of state officials to manage the economic stimulus money. His state alone is set to receive $10 billion of the money set-aside for state building. If his bill is passed, which hopefully it will be, this panel will help prevent corruption and boost the local economy within the state. However, PA is ahead of the senator and has created a website that will allow the public to monitor the spending.

One of the benefits of posting the spending online is the level of transparency it creates. The stimulus bill is something that the American people have heard about non-stop for the past several months. With the aid of the internet people have access to developing stories 24/7, letting those who are interested keep up-to-the-minute on the progress of governmental affairs, especially with www.CSPAN.com’s streaming feed to the House and Senate debates. This week some of the first expenditures from the stimulus package are happening, focusing mostly on information technology support and staff. Michael Carleton, Health and Human Services Department’s head officer, said, “There are provisions in the law that require the money in the Recovery Act to be subject to a higher level of transparency than is the convention.” Carleton thinks that these expenditures will help make that happen.

I like to compare the stimulus bill to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, designed to create new jobs in the 1930s. Vast swaths of American infrastructure, schools, and even the Appalachian trial exist today because of that plan. States are spending wisely if they invest in IT first because in today’s society, information is the key to getting anything done. Without the necessary support of technology, the spending could in many cases go awry and unchecked. FDR focused on projects that kept the American public busy, while providing future generations with something free to enjoy when there is an economic hardship. We can still enjoy those trails today even though we are budgeting and that should make all of us happy. It makes me forget that I can’t see the latest movie, buy the newest computer, or eat out three times a week.

While it seems ridiculous to many people that the government is spending such tremendous quantities of money during a time when the general public has had to cut back, I think it’s necessary - as long as there is enough transparency with this act. It’s our money, we should see to it that it is properly spent on rebuilding our economy, eventually letting us spend our money as we wish again, hopefully leading us back into prosperity. Right now, the main reason we need the government to put money back into the public is that we can’t spend money to help other businesses out. As much as I would like to, I can’t go down the street to buy from the local farmer’s market; the huge grocery store chain is cheaper, and every penny counts. Businesses will benefit tremendously from the surge in money, especially those involved in government contracting. The more money the government spends on us, the more we’ll have to spend later, which will eventually boost everyone up, even those not involved in contracting who don't get it directly from the government.

The stimulus plan will work because we aren’t just printing money off and hoping for the best; we’re opening Excel, discussing, managing, and making everything transparent so the best decision is made. I’m glad the government is spending money, because I believe that it will lead to me being able to spend mine in the future on what I want, instead of what I need.

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