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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

The outrage of wasteful government spending

In this Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 photo, President

In this Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 photo, President Barack Obama listens in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Credit: AP

Let's say your son asked for $100, promising to buy books that would help him study for the SATs. Then he spent the cash on Budweiser and a T-shirt that said, "My Parents Are So Dumb They Pay For T-shirts With Slogans That Deride Their Intelligence." What would you do the next time he asked for $100?

It's a permissive era and many kids don't really hit their stride by age 31, so you might give him the $100 again. But by the seventh or eighth time, as his bedroom filled with beer cans and increasingly insulting T-shirts ("Ka-Ching! Damn My Dad Be Stupid!!"), you'd cut off funding.

That's how fiscal conservatives feel about taxes. We don't oppose hikes because we hate poor people or young people (other than our own ne'er-do-well children) or black people or brown people. Fiscal conservatives are often brown or black or young or old themselves. We don't hate education or health care or smooth roads or non-rickety bridges or even providing for those less fortunate than us.

But we don't trust governments with money, because they're no better with it than crackheads. And we're tired of being labeled as uncaring when we fight against giving more money to government entities that seem to simply waste it.

Last week it was reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs' homelessness hotline wasn't great at addressing the plight of more than 50,000 homeless veterans because, well, a lot of times operators didn't answer the phone. More than a quarter of the vets calling the 24/7 hotline got answering machines because night-shift counselors were unavailable an average of four hours per shift. And call-center workers spent about twice as much time logged off the system, or on leave, at lunch, on work breaks or in training, as they did on answering or following up calls.

What strikes me is that the report, issued Dec. 2 by the VA inspector general, hasn't been big news, mostly because it's not surprising.

This is the same VA busted earlier this year for falsifying medical wait-time records to meet benchmarks and earn bonuses for executives. That resulted in $16 billion in new funding to help the VA fill staffing gaps. The adage is "Mo' money, mo' problems," but for governments it's "Mo' problems, mo' money."

The Government Accountability Office lists Medicare as a "high risk program" because an estimated $44 billion of its 2012 payouts were improper.

The military lost more than 15,000 pieces of equipment worth about $420 million in Afghanistan, according to published reports. This only sounds like a lot if you don't remember that in 2003, the Pentagon was unable to account for $1 trillion in equipment and money, including 56 airplanes, 32 tanks and 36 Javelin missile-command launch units, making $420 million sound like pennies under a ratty $3-billion military sofa.

Locally, it's alleged that an entire shift of postal maintenance workers in Hicksville was sleeping every night rather than working.

And on a much bigger scale, people understand now that every penny of the trillions we spent on Iraq and will continue to spend on soldiers wounded in Iraq produced little more than wounded soldiers.

It seems no project ever comes in on budget or on time. It seems no program ever fully delivers what's been promised.

And every time, the government seems to come to the taxpayer saying, "If we just had more money, we could make it all turn out swell."

Many fiscal conservatives aren't unwilling to pay for governments to do good things. We're just tired of failures, and the sense that under their work clothes, the pols wear T-shirts that say, "Ka-Ching! Damn My Taxpayers Be Stupid!!"

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.