Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Average taxpayer deserves fiscal Christmas, too

Sunday, April 7, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

Views from the Boathouse

Ba de ya, say do you remember Ba de ya, dancing in September Ba de ya, never was a cloudy day

— Lyrics to “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire

The lyrics to the 1978 Earth, Wind & Fire hit song claimed that it’s never cloudy in “September.”

That might be true for governments, but not for the average American taxpayer.

And that’s because for federal agencies, Christmas comes in September — the final month of the fiscal year.

That’swhenfederalagencies scramble to spend whatever is left in their annual budgets. Agencies worry that spending a smaller amount than Congress appropriated this year might mean they’ll receive less money next year. So instead of realizing that the department could run efficiently on a smaller budget, federal agencies embark on shopping sprees.

It’s a “use it or lose it” spending philosophy at the expense of the taxpayer’s dime.

The fiscal year 2018 federal government “use-it-or-lose-it” spending spree totaled $97 billion in contracts signed during the month of September, according to a report from transparency organization OpenTheBooks. In the final seven days of the fiscal year, federal agencies spent $53 billion in contracts. That’s $1 in $10 of all contract spending on the fiscal year, all spent in the final week.

And the problem is only getting worse. The 2018 expenditures represented a 16 percent increase from 2017. Since 2015, that’s a 39 percent spending increase in the final month of the fiscal year.

“When the purchases are made in a mad dash at year-end, the jaded taxpayer has a right to be skeptical. It was a $53 billion final week of blowoff spending by the federal agencies,” Adam Andrzejewski, the CEO and founder of told Newsweek last month.

Having extra cash on hand at the end of a fiscal year is a good thing — something that many average taxpayers living paycheck to paycheck can only dream of.

It’s a situation the city of Ruston finds itself in following a recent audit of the 2018 fiscal year.

According to the audit for the budget year that ended Sept. 30, 2018, and was clean with no findings, the city had $71.5 million in revenue last year and $54 million in expenses, not counting capital projects. Its Sept. 30 cash-onhand balance was $14.8 million.

City Treasurer Laura Hartt said recently received figures for the 1.75 percent new restaurant and hotel tax that went into effect Jan. 1 show that in February, the new tax generated $135,852. Based on that, the annualized income from the tax would be approximately $1.6 million — even better news for a city coming off a year with a $14.8 million budget surplus.

But is that really good news for the average taxpayer who has seen tax and cost of living increases in recent years while salaries have remained stagnant?

One bill up for discussion in the legislative session that starts Monday would gradually increase Louisiana’s gasoline tax from 20 cents to 38 cents in hopes of addressing the state’s $14 billion backlog of roadwork needs.

Louisiana’s gas tax has not been hiked in 30 years and is among the lowest in the nation. Anyone who has driven over the Tech Drive/Cooktown Road Interstate 20 overpass in recent weeks knows how much repair work on state roads is critically needed.

But can the oftentimes cashstrapped average taxpayer actually afford another increase? Louisiana already has the highest combined state and local sales tax in the nation. That doesn’t include the state’s gas sales tax.

And there’s also a current push in Congress to raise the federal gas tax by 25 cents. If Congress and the Louisiana Legislature go through with their proposed gas tax increases, motorists will end up paying 80 cents per gallon in taxes, meaning the typical Louisiana motorist might have to spend $400 yearly in federal and state taxes alone at the pump.

Currently, a percentage of state gasoline taxes goes to pay for the salaries and benefits of state employees at the Department of Transportation and Development and not to roadwork and repair.

It’s time for governmental leaders to start thinking like the average taxpayer and learn how to exist and even succeed within a given budget without causing financial strains to their constituents. Part of that means cleaning up the way current gas tax monies are being spent. Another part of that means realizing the use it or lose it governmental spending philosophy often isn’t fair to the American taxpayer.

I’ll bet many of those taxpayers would be greatly relieved to find their own “end of the fiscal year Christmas.”

T. Scott Boatright is editor of the Ruston Daily Leader. Contact him at