During a historical, global economic crisis, our federal government spent more than it brought in by over a trillion dollars each year for the last four years, equating to $5.2 trillion in additional debt and bringing our total debt to over $16.3 trillion.
Not alarmed? Did you know that:
* Federal spending grew 71 percent faster than inflation over the last 20 years.
* Entitlement spending has more than doubled over the last 20 years.
* Defense spending has dropped from 49 percent in 1962 to 18.7 percent in 2012, while Social Security and other mandatory entitlement programs went from 31 percent in 1962 to 62 percent in 2012.
* For every $6.80 the federal government collected in taxes in 2012, it spent $10, borrowing $3.20 for every $10 spent.
* And, your taxpayer share of this debt is $142,493 (USDebtClock.org).
But wait, there is more. With federal entitlements now at 62 percent of our total spending, growing faster than inflation and working against our economic output, it is estimated that all other government programs beyond Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, like national defense, transportation, education, economic and agricultural programs, etc., will be financed on borrowed money by midcentury. That is like paying your mortgage (or rent) by credit card. It is not sustainable.
According to The Heritage Foundation, which also provided the majority of facts above, the public debt is expected to reach 90 percent of our total economic output by 2022 and be twice the size of our entire economy 25 years from now. Think about what we are doing to our children and grandchildren.
What will it take to make needed reforms? It will take knowledge and the will to do it.
Often, when lawmakers are asked to reduce government spending they throw the question back to the public, saying "Tell me where you think we should make cuts." But, most of us do not review federal or state budgets or have the inside departmental knowledge needed to make such suggestions. They do.
However, when you dig through the layers of bureaucracy, it is astounding to see how some of our hard-earned taxpayer money was spent, particularly in these challenging times. Here are a handful of examples from many found by The Heritage Foundation:
* In 2011, $115.3 billion of taxpayers' money was wasted in improper payments: money paid in the wrong amount, to the wrong person, or for the wrong reason. Implementation of updated computer systems, fraud-detection methods and stricter documentation requirements would reduce payment errors.
* In fiscal year 2010, the federal government spent nearly $1.7 billion to maintain 77,700 underused or unused buildings.
* The Government Accountability Office found that some people are double-dipping from unemployment and disability benefits programs. This lack of coordination among government agencies is costing taxpayers $850 million annually.
* Federally subsidized Amtrak lost $84.5 million on its food and beverage services in 2011, and $833.8 million over the past 10 years. It has never broken even on these services.
* Taxpayers funded a National Institutes of Health study costing $55,382 in 2011, and $170,000 over three years, to study the hookah smoking habits of Jordanian university students.
* A grant totaling $25,000 was even used to transcribe a Maldivian love ballad.
Clearly, more can be saved with improved systems, better management, and a focus on core government services. We must prioritize programs and stop financing spending with higher taxes or increased borrowing; it drains our economy. The time for reform is now.
* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.