Many of you may know that my business is engaged in private management of public recreation. We get a lot of pushback from certain sectors who believe access to government lands or services should be free -- ie already paid for by their income taxes.
I often argue that this notion of discretionary services (like parks and campgrounds) being run with high cost government labor and funded by general revenue taxes is a dead one - in fact it has been dead for at least 10 years. Just look around at public parks organizations. Odds are that your state is facing parks closures and is very likely not fully funding park maintenance. I wrote about this failed model here.
In the future, anything discretionary government program that can charge use fees or be privatized or both will do so. Or else it will be provided at terrible quality with long queues and frequent closures. Don't believe me? Lets look at the US government budget data from last year. This chart has been making the rounds -- I have not checked the data source but I presume it is correct (as usual click for larger version)
I have some interest in the science of chartmanship. McKinsey & Company did a great job teaching me how to make a presentation, a skill I have honed somewhat in way too many planning and strategy jobs that seemed to revolve around Powerpoint (one of the criteria for my current job is that it did not involve Powerpoint).
This chart is a case where the author used the wrong chart type. The pie chart is not appropriate to show a changing total (as the author does with the size of the pie). The eye has trouble assessing volumes. I have taken the same data and put it in a slightly different form. I did not take time to make it pretty, but I think it works better in this format:
Now do you see my point about discretionary spending? Last year government taxes just about covered entitlements and interest on the debt. Had we not borrowed, there was no money left over for any discretionary spending, including all of the Defense budget! Now, even without action, the picture will improve in 2011 as taxes go up with a rising economy and some of the unemployment spending goes down. But this might just get us to still having a defense department. Either large swaths of discretionary spending is going to have to be zeroed out, or some sort of entitlement restructuring is necessary.
Of course, tax increases will likely be part of the mix as well, but look at the individual income tax bar. Even doubling it would not close the budget gap!