Taxpayer funded, not "free" -- a modest disclosure proposal

Anyone viewing or listening to political advertising will be graced at the end of the ad with the statement “this has been a paid political announcement.”

Recently, I’ve become particularly annoyed with the use of the word “free” when it comes to programs, projects and offerings to the public that are underwritten in part or in whole by some level of government – or more correctly, taxpayers.  Whether it is a local library promoting a “free” senior literature program (in a San Diego case, it also comes with “free” care for other seniors in one’s care) given by paid staff or the federal government advertising the food stamps program, it is high time that we have some disclosure, or at least a reminder of who is paying the bill.

In California (and perhaps elsewhere), highway and bridge construction projects usually include a “Your Tax Dollars At Work” sign that includes the cost of the project.  And in those rare cases when a project is done ahead of schedule, a banner is plastered over the original sign bragging about it.  No surprise that we don’t see a “we’re late and over budget” sign in the other cases.

When talking about nationalized healthcare, it seems that too many people are caught up in the erroneous concept of “free healthcare” and a reminder that nothing is free is warranted.

With that, a modest proposal:

  • For those programs that are completely taxpayer funded, the word “free” must be replaced with “taxpayer funded.”
  • Subsidized programs must included some mention of the fact of the subsidization and the amount of subsidization.  For example, an Amtrak ticket of $25 that relies on a $25 subsidy from taxpayers any advertising must be stated along the lines of “Amtrak’s new special is $25 between Boston and New York.  The real cost of the trip is $50 and the other $25 is being paid by a taxpayer subsidy.”
  • Advertising done by or on behalf of a government agency or program is to include “this program is funded by taxpayers.”

To make the point even more clear, it would be great to include the total amount being spent.  For example, “this program costs $25 million and is brought to you by the US taxpayer.”

Will all of this become monotonous because it states the obvious?  Perhaps, but too many people don’t think about it and need to be reminded just how many things they are paying for and just how ubiquitous government spending really is and just how much it is being wasted.