“What else could aTurkey buy?” and related observations on opportunity cost

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“What else could a turkey buy?”  If you are talking whole one for Thanksgiving, you could get 35 cans of cranberry sauce instead; or maybe even four pies.  But if you’re talking Florida’s state budget and the annual TaxWatch Turkey Watch list, them turkeys can buy a lot more.

In the just-released report, the nonprofit watchdog presents an opportunity cost approach, placing in context the $106.8 million in Turkeys it identified within the 2013 budget.

According to the report, “one of the best arguments for stopping Turkeys is the many essential state services to which the funds spent on budget Turkeys could otherwise have been appropriated.”

For example, TaxWatch cites that with further legislative action these funds could have provided for an additional three sales tax holiday weekends; compensate for nearly the entire manufacturing sales tax exemption passed this year; enroll 46,821 more children in early education programs; hire 3,000 new teachers at a salary of $34,856; or compensate for a hypothetical 0.25 percent cut to the corporate income tax.

I’m reminded of the Shel Silverstein poem, “Smart“, in which a son is given a dollar and trades it “up” for five pennies — because five is more than one.  Because without accounting for project “merit” (which TaxWatch purposefully does not do) or expected returns on project investments, there really is no apple-to-apple (or if you will, turkey-to-turkey) comparisons that can be easily made.

Nevertheless there are two TaxWatch trades that seem particularly compelling:

First, they suggest that if $1 million were taken from Turkeys and instead spent on ensuring compliance with the rule of law, 20 more tax auditor or financial fraud investigator positions could be added, both of which would return more to the state than the cost of their employment.

Likewise, TaxWatch suggests that $1 million toward funding 13 new positions in the state court system would help unclog the system and in turn save significant taxpayer dollars.

Or, hey, with that $106.8 million, the Legislature could instead serve a full-course Turkey dinner to … oh, just … exactly half the state. Just saying.

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy consultant, researcher, and mother to three daughters.