Southern-fried duplicity

February 28, 2019

In journaling there are few things more rewarding than exposing self-righteousness and hypocrisy. And the area I’ve chosen for today’s column is the one most dominated by right-wing conservative politics and overwhelming Republican majorities, the former states of the Old Confederacy, the “Solid South.”

Down here they profess a deep distaste for the federal government, particularly its social programs. But almost without exception these are also the very states that rank highest on the federal government’s dependency index, “slopping at the trough” of Washington’s largess.

This is how the Financial and Business News website “Business Insider” describes the situation: “Who really benefits from government spending? If you listen to Rush Limbaugh you might think it’s those deep-blue states packed with hippie socialist liberals, sipping their lattes and providing free abortions for bored horny teenagers. Instead it is the red states, mostly southern, who think government is too big and spending needs to be cut. A consistent drain on the federal budget, these states all receive far more federal dollars than they pay out in federal taxes. They talk a good conservative game but stick the blue states with their bills.”

And who leads the pack in milking Washington’s cash cow? None other than the reddest state of all with the largest Republican majority, Mississippi. Almost half of its budget revenue comes from the federal treasury. Neighboring Louisiana (40.1%) and Tennessee (39.9%) are not far behind. And where does Georgia rank among the net takers? We’re in there, but not among the greediest. We are fortunate enough to have the Atlanta metropolis generating tons of revenue for the state to tax. But many rural-county Georgians choose to deny this reality.

The taker states not only get back far more dollars than they send to Washington in taxes, the generous amount of federal aid they receive allows them to keep their own state taxes artificially low. This facilitates the luring of northern-based industries to move south to take advantage of the lower taxes (and wages!) But how did this asymmetrical tax/revenue situation come about?

From the pre-Civil War era to the 1960s when the first post-Reconstruction civil rights legislation was enacted, the “Solid South” was solidly Democratic. Congressional election could mean a lifetime career in Washington. Thus, southern legislators amassed ever-growing congressional committee seniority and were able to dominate committee leadership and wield legislative power far beyond their actual numbers. And they used this power to send money back home in the form of federal projects, defense contracts, military installations and outright grants and transfers. Grateful southern voters rewarded them by repeatedly returning them to Washington. This situation, of course, quickly became self-perpetuating. And it’s the same game today, only the party label has changed. And (surprise! surprise!) the most notoriously red states are also the leading “welfare queen” states.

To be fair, the non-southern states North Dakota, New Mexico, Hawaii and a few others are also in the net-taker category. The one thing these states all have in common is an unusually high poverty rate. But that’s another topic for another column.

In the net-giver category taxpayers in Delaware, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio and a few others pay more in federal taxes than they receive. In a sense they are both winners and losers, depending on one’s perspective (and/or politics).