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EDITORIAL: Wasteful spending is why your taxes are so high

The government flushes away nearly half of the money paid to the IRS

- - Monday, April 14, 2014

Some of us waited until the last minute to stuff a tax return in an envelope and drop it in the mail at the stroke of midnight, but we share something with those who e-filed months ago. We all wonder why our taxes are so high.

Federal agents extract $1.3 trillion in individual income taxes from Americans every year, and the watchdog organization Citizens Against Government Waste estimates $616 billion of that is blown on duplicated and useless projects. That's equal to $5,300 for every family in the United States.

Several examples: The cash payments to Uncle Sam were essential in preserving a National Institutes of Health initiative to fund male prostitutes in Mexico. So far, recipients have been paid $398,213 for using condoms and testing negative for sexually transmitted diseases.

The agency used federal tax dollars to underwrite the cost of an Arizona State University study that paid 21- to 30-year-olds to play video poker while getting bombed on taxpayers' booze. The $49,198 study sought to determine if getting drunk results in poor gambling choices. If taxes were cut in half, we might never know the answer to this burning question. (But we have a good guess.)

Imagine the neighbors' outrage if the State Department hadn't spent $704,198 on landscaping at the home of the U.S. ambassador to NATO in Brussels.

Six Colorado-based Office of Natural Resources Revenue employees were tasked with preventing waste and fraud of tax dollars. They used taxpayer largesse to finance new scams, including a $13,000 vacation in Las Vegas. Rather than attend a fraud investigators conference in Denver like they were assigned to do, federal bureaucrats headed to Las Vegas and stayed there for an extra party day after the conference ended, at public expense.

Government claims such expenses are essential; many agencies keep their own propaganda departments. The FBI's Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit, according to the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, spends much of its time consulting with producers of movies and television shows to make sure the action on the screen looks realistic. Hollywood could afford to hire its own experts.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing takes the idea of throwing away taxpayer cash a bit too literally. The agency recently tossed 30 million brand new $100 bills into the trash because the greenbacks were printed with too much ink. The cost to taxpayers to discard the Benjamins and print new ones was $4 million.

In his annual "Wastebook" report, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, revealed that the Defense Department destroyed more than $7 billion worth of usable vehicles and other military equipment in the Middle East rather than sell it or ship it back home. A further $3.5 million went to fund solar panels at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire. It seemed like a good idea until the glare from the politically correct power source blinded air-traffic controllers, forcing the airport to cover the panels with a tarp.

If there's one thing Washington is good at, it's coming up with weird and expensive schemes for Americans to pay for. Voters should remember those solar panels (and the tarps that cover them) and well-manicured ambassadorial lawns, and send men and women to Congress who treat tax dollars with respect.