Conservative leader calls for 50 percent government cut

klunney@govexec.com

Despite all the federal downsizing of the past decade, conservatives should aim to cut the size of government at all levels in the United States by half in the next generation, argues a prominent right-wing thinker.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, argues that reducing the size and scope of government over the next two decades will give citizens greater control over their assets, while limiting the cost and power of the federal government. His opinions appeared in the May 2000 edition of The Insider, a monthly publication from the Heritage Foundation's Resource Bank.

"When government controls the pay, pension and careers of a great numbers of Americans, it builds a political base for its own expansion," Norquist said.

According to Norquist, for the last 50 years conservatives have erroneously focused on trying to eliminate deficit spending, instead of concentrating on two more important factors: how much the government collects in tax revenues and how much of that money it spends annually.

Now that the federal budget has been balanced, he argues, the timing is perfect to reduce the size of government. Norquist singles out four measures of the government's size that he says should be cut in half over the next 25 years:

  • Total government spending. Total spending by governments at the federal, state and local levels accounted for 34 percent of the economy in 1999, Norquist wrote.
  • Cost of regulations. Government rules cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion in 1999, Norquist wrote. Regulations at all levels of government, he argued, should be measured as a percentage of the economy.
  • Government workforce. Norquist argued for reducing the number of government employees at all levels. Currently more than 15 million Americans work for state and local government, and most federal agencies have projected a slight increase in the number of full-time civilian employees for 2001 in their budget requests.
  • Control of assets. Take money out of the hands of government and put it into the hands of the people. Government owns more than one-third of the land in the United States, and state and local governments control pension funds of more than $1.7 trillion. Norquist says giving employees the option of maintaining their own 401K plan or individual retirement account would increase the American investor class from 48 percent to more than 60 percent.
Norquist said a 25-year timeline for such changes is feasible.

"Is it possible to cut government in half in one generation? Certainly," he said.

Americans for Tax Reform is a coalition of taxpayer groups, individuals, and businesses opposed to higher federal and state taxes. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank in Washington.

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