Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. Say you have a great idea for promoting your business — you’ll rent some billboards plugging your store all over the state. You go to your boss, and he likes it. He gives you money to rent the billboards. Check in hand, you immediately start looking to rent them.
And then you find out that there are no billboards for rent in the entire state, because your state outlaws billboards.
So there you are, with a check in hand from your boss. What do you do?
1) Go back to your boss, apologize, and give the check back.
Most people would choose #1, and hope they keep their job. But most people don’t work for the state of Vermont, and the check is from the federal government.
What happened was the federal government noticed that Vermont’s seat belt use was low, and told the state to get more people to buckle up. With federal highway dollars at stake, state officials got the bright idea of putting up billboards promoting seat belt use. They got about $25,000 in federal money (that’s OUR money, folks) to pay for them, and THEN they remembered the Vermont law against billboards. Faced with the possibility of having to give back the money, they recoiled in horror and hired a couple billboards here in New Hampshire.
And that’s why drivers around Manchester (a good hour from the Vermont border) are told to “”Buckle up in Vermont. It’s the law.”
In normal business, spending less than you are budgeted is cause for promotion, or at least a pat on the head. But when you’re dealing with government money, spending under budget means you were given too much money last year, and you’re likely to get less money next year.
With perverse incentives like this, is it any wonder the federal government is in debt as far as it is?