As hard as I try, I just can’t fathom $14.3 trillion. In fact, the only thing harder to try and fathom is probably that $14.3 trillion is not enough to cover our national debt.
Thinking back on my career, I realize that at certain stages all I did was add zeros. When I was a college student, zero was a big part of my finances and the biggest part of my checking account. After I graduated and got my first job, I was able to put some numbers in front of that zero.
When I went into business for myself, I added more zeros behind those numbers. And when I became a mayor, I added even more zeros. I remember being blown away by the magnitude of our city budget at that time and the reassurance that our city manager tried to give me.
“They’re the same numbers you’ve always used,” he said. “Just add more zeros.”
And when I became involved in state government and started working on our budget – you guessed it – all I had to do was add more zeros.
But $14.5 trillion? That’s a bunch of zeros.
As our national leaders try to negotiate a deal on raising the debt ceiling limit for our country, one has to wonder how we ever got into this mess in the first place.
I remember meeting with a congressman when I first became mayo. I was seeking help in securing federal funds for our public safety department in our rapidly growing city. He suggested that we apply for grants from a recently approved anti-drug fund in the federal budget.
“There’s over $12 million in that fund” he said before quickly correcting himself. “It must be $12 billion, $12 million is nothing.”
So where does the federal government spend all that money? We only have to look right here at home in the state of Georgia to find a lot of it.
Our fiscal 2012 state budget that went into effect July 1 is set at $18.3 billion. Some of this money is used to leverage “draw down” money from the federal government.
The biggest federal program the state administers is Medicaid. In Georgia, for every $100 spent on Medicaid, $33.84 is from the state and $66.16 is from the federal government.
All total, the state administers almost $11 billion in federal funds.
But the majority of federal funds administered in Georgia don’t pass through our budget and the amounts are staggering.
For instance, more than $25 billion is spent on retirement and disability payments, including veterans disability and Social Security payments. Almost $17 billion is spent on direct payments to individuals through programs such as Medicare and food stamps. And more than $19 billion is spent in funding different grants in education, community health, human services and labor.
These are just a few of the many examples right here in our own state of federal benefits, salaries and programs.
And let us not forget the billions of dollars spent on our military bases in the state, and the “ripple effect” these soldiers and their families have on our state’s economy. Just ask the retailers in Hinesville and our other base cities what happens when soldiers are deployed and their families go back home.
Regardless, we all realize something has to be done. Whether it’s “cut, cap and balance” or the proposal offered by the “Gang of Six,” a compromise in Washington will probably be reached.
But the madness that is out-of-control spending must end. Our country, our way of life hangs in the balance.
Hopefully, our national leaders are beginning to get this message. But are we getting it?
We know we don’t want higher taxes, but do we fully understand how budget cuts will impact us? Are we willing to give up some of the things that we take so much for granted and feel we have worked for and deserve?
This is not going to be easy for our state, our cities or for us individually – but it must be done to ensure the financial stability of our nation.
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Room 301-A, Atlanta, Ga, 30334 or (404) 656-5109.