All Commentary
Sunday, July 1, 1962

Taxpayers’ Money


Mr. Preston is an editorial writer for The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) in the April 11, 1961 edi­tion of which this column first appeared.

Of all the lost causes I think none is recalled more often than the unsuccessful attempt to do away with the expression “at gov­ernment expense” or “paid for by federal funds” and similar phrases.

Scarcely a day passes but what the newspapers report on some project which the “government will pay for.” Quite often a politician will explain gleefully to his constituents how he has saved them money. The new bridge or highway or municipal building or what have you will not, says the politician, cost his beloved tax­payers anything but a simple fee.

“The big expense,” he tells the audience, “will be taken care of by federal funds.”

Now, except for their own con­tribution through personal tax, politicians don’t spend their own money. When the President or the Congress approved a gift or a loan of millions or billions of dol­lars, inside the country or outside, the money being spent doesn’t be­long to them. It isn’t President Kennedy’s money that’s being spent, any more than it was President Eisenhower’s money or President Truman’s money or George Marshall’s money under the Marshall Plan.

The money is taxpayers’ money; it is your money and mine, and for a long time I have scorched with a slow burn when the loot is referred to as government money.

The implication is when there is a joint financing of some project, any part contributed by the fed­eral government is “found” money. As long as “federal funds” are used, nobody has to pay.

It seems to me it is about time somebody put to use the known facts of financial life, the most prominent being that there are no such things as federal funds in the sense the government owns money. The government doesn’t earn a dime unless you include some of the unintentional profits it makes from its intrusion into business.

Because of this, I have sug­gested more than once that the phrase “federal funds” be changed to “taxpayers’ money.” Instead of accepting a statement that the United States government is spending $500,000,000 for devel­opment of a river in South Amer­ica, I think the American Society of Newspaper Editors ought to agree to print such an item as follows: “The taxpayers of the United States today sent, etc….” Instead of telling how the fed­eral government is paying for some new building in Catchall, Kansas, through generous loans at low rates, the item ought to read, “The taxpaying citizens of 50 states today chipped in $43,000,000 so that the people in Catchall could have a new downtown devel­opment.”

In the first place, I think the people who come up with the scratch, not the gents who spend it, should get proper credit. In the second place, drumming home the point, day after day, that there are no “federal” funds but only taxpaying citizens’ contributions might cause more people to zipper up the national purse strings. At least, it might get recognition abroad for the hard-working folks who make it possible for our agents to play Santa Claus.

Federal funds? Nuts. That’s our dough.