The other epidemic: Overspending

By MIKE NICHOLS | January 13, 2022

Turns out, as it always does when you look at where federal tax dollars end up in this country, Wisconsin is bringing up the tail end in the scramble for COVID cash.

It’s not the way the number-crunchers put it but we, in other words, are the suckers, the dupes, the ones falling prey to the schemers and politicians and bureaucrats in the rest of America.

Sure, we have our share of people using COVID money for things that have nothing to do with making us healthier or getting back on our feet, the small-time cheats and grifters on the taking end of the con.

There was even one Madison guy, Ahmad Kanan, who scammed federal taxpayers out of over $47,000 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “loans” made through the CARES Act.

Kanan “seems addicted to the con game,” U.S. District Judge William Conley said last April when he sentenced him to 42 months in prison for that scam and some other stuff. But he’s an anomaly. And not really even a Badger, having reportedly had his parole transferred here from Vermont some time ago.

Vermont – now there’s a place that knows how to vacuum in federal cash from all the non-socialists in America. The state is number three in the nation at $16,214 per capita, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which has tracked almost $4 trillion in federal funding for COVID-19 programs.

Numbers one and two are the government workers in the District of Columbia ($21,945 per capita) and the professionals in New York State ($16,950).

We here in Wisconsin? Eighth from the bottom at $9,834.

If your check, like mine, seems to have gotten lost in the mail you could try calling Gov. Tony Evers, who controls most of this spending. He’d probably tell you $9,834 includes all the PPP money and the unemployment compensation payments and the Medicaid expenditures and the money for schools and local governments and on and on.

If you’re not on lists like those, you’re not getting a check from all those other taxpayers in Illinois and Alabama. So who is?

Our editor here at the Badger Institute, Mark Lisheron, is in the beginning stages of tracking where all the federal money in Wisconsin is actually going. He reported this week (just one little example here) that correctional and other public safety agencies in Wisconsin have used federal COVID money to buy at least 55 “disinfection robots” at a cost of more than $40,000 each.

Those sorts of expenditures are not prohibited – though there are some worthwhile bills in Madison that could hopefully change that.

I looked through Mark’s spreadsheets, and some of the pandemic spending in this state is tragically necessary. You have only to look at the line items for body bags in Waukesha County to know that. Needless to say, a lot of people, a lot of families, have suffered greatly and needed real help. Government has a role there.

But there’s very little accountability, not enough transparency and just plain too much money. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of line items, no good way to keep track of them and, too often, no real rules.

As Lisheron reported in a story on Medicaid growth a while back, dramatic increases were to be expected because of the pandemic but they were buttressed by a little-discussed provision that allowed people to remain on Medicaid even when their increased income should have made them ineligible.

Not surprisingly, the number of Wisconsinites receiving Badger Care Plus, which is mostly funded with Medicaid, increased dramatically from 777,000 back in March of 2020 to 994,000 in March of 2021 to 1,068,568 last month. Many Wisconsinites no doubt need it, but it’s hard to say right now how many of those don’t. So it is with so much of this federal spending.

There are explanations other than fraud for some states getting more money than others. Some have higher percentages of people who worked in restaurants or bars who got knocked out of the workforce. Some got more money because they have more healthcare providers.

Formulas for some of the pandemic programs, in addition, were intentionally structured to send more money on a per capita basis to smaller states like Vermont. That’s what happens when the politicians in D.C. get involved. There are winners and losers.

Real fraud is impossible to quantify but there’s little doubt residents of other states are more criminally ambitious. Last June in New York, a guy by the name of Muge Ma, better known as “Hummer Mars,” pleaded guilty to singlehandedly – and fraudulently – trying to land more than $20 million in pandemic loans.

The bigger problems are waste, and bureaucrats spending emergency money on things that have little to do with the emergency. Smart legislators in Wisconsin have just introduced bills that would give the Assembly and Senate more oversight over how federal spending is distributed and more transparency regarding where it goes.

That’s a good thing. This federal overspending and ever-growing debt is going to sink us, or more likely our kids. In the meantime, we need more accountability and metrics to make sure the cash is being spent the right way, and all these other states need the same.

Otherwise, we’re just part of the race to grab as much of the rest of America’s cash as we can before the socialists in Vermont and scammers in New York, aided and abetted by the politicians and bureaucrats all across America, get it.

That’s a competition we’ll never win.

Mike Nichols is the president of the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.