SOTU Cheat Sheet: Team Taxpayer Weighs In

How much do you think the proposals in President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address will cost (or save) taxpayers? It’s a question that Team Taxpayer has been asking lawmakers, reporters, and the grassroots over the last two weeks. The response has been varied (you have a chance to give us yours in our SOTU Price Tag game):

More of the Same: Some think that we’re in for a speech filled with big projects and (as NTUF’s Policy Analyst wrote) tax hikes. There is plenty of precedence for this assumption and not just limited to speeches from our current President. As Communications Manager Doug Kellogg and I discussed in an episode of Speaking of Taxpayers, the career SOTU agendas of both Barack Obama and George W. Bush average out to spending increases. Since NTU Foundation started scoring these speeches, only one has been found to reduce spending and that was Obama’s 2012 SOTU.

Known Unknowns: Others think that SOTU has been getting more vague in terms of how much the President wants to spend on the bulk of his agenda. This is also something that NTU Foundation has found in the 15 years that we’ve been scoring the annual speech. As our studies of select Senate and Presidential candidates have shown, it appears that officials at many levels are making more statements without the budget numbers to back up their claims. The State of the Union Address should be a time to offer taxpayers as much information as possible not only so they can fully understand the Chief Executive’s agenda, but also know what to expect in the years ahead. If candidates and serving officials don’t give taxpayers that full story, we will find ourselves in more uncertain times, putting off buying that new home, driving our old car for another year instead of getting a new one, or getting a new credit card instead of paying off the old one. This is one of the areas that NTU Foundation is a leader in, because we have the BillTally database with over 20 years of legislative spending data to help score the “known unknowns” in speeches. Keep the project going with a tax-deductible contribution!

Optimism: A few folks we’ve spoken to cling to the hope that this year’s Address will be what it was for recent Presidents – a venue for inspiring real change and clarifying what the nation’s problems are. I’m sure that many Americans want a policy refocus. As a nation, we’re dealing with foreign threats, internal civil strife, and a mounting debt and entitlement liability that all seem overwhelming in their magnitude. This is where NTU’s work in defense policy could come in because there is plenty that the Pentagon wastes and not a lot of independent organizations laying out exactly what needs reform.

Willful Disregard: In some of my conversations on Facebook, I have also been shaken by some calling for a complete boycott of the speech. They say that the President will merely stay the course in his agenda and Americans shouldn’t give him any attention. Working for a taxpayer education organization, I can’t advise against this more. At NTU and Foundation, we’re working towards a more well-informed citizenry. People need to watch the President to know what he himself wishes for the American people. If they rely on information only from filtered sources, they run the risk of living in an echo chamber, leaving them less informed and potentially less able to accept changes in data, circumstances, and policy ideas.

What’s a taxpayer to do and expect? Luckily, NTU Foundation experts will be on the case tonight. As President Obama delivers his remarks to a joint session of Congress, we will be going line-by-line through the Address and noting how much each measure will cost. If we can’t, we will make it clear what we know about the proposal and how much it might cost. Be sure to join us on Twitter and Facebook!

Most importantly, you should submit your guess of how much this year’s SOTU could cost taxpayers. NTUF’s SOTU Price Tag game lets you voice your opinion for a chance to win some great Team Taxpayer gear or a chance to be interviewed on our blog (think of the bragging rights!). DO THIS NOW BEFORE THE START OF THE SPEECH!

What Team Taxpayer Thinks

I polled the NTU and Foundation staffs to see what we thought SOTU will cost America. Similar to the guesses we’ve received so far, Team Taxpayer also spans the spending spectrum. We averaged a $106.9 billion spending increase cost of the State of the Union. We’ll see how our guesses compare to your estimates after the speech but in the mean time, we can look at some data points of our staff guesses:

Highest Guess: Creative Content Manager Tim Howland was our highest guess at $480 billion. This is an annualized figure as to balance out any initial or later costs and to give taxpayers an idea of how much spending would increase or decrease as time goes on (assuming the SOTU proposals are enacted).

Lowest Guess: Research & Outreach Manager Dan Barrett (Me? Am I an optimist or something?) I made a guess of $11.5 billion, but this is a net spending change so don’t think that I assume the speech will only include marginal spending increases. I’ve read that the military continues to plan budget cuts and it seems unlikely that a politician wouldn’t take credit for that, so President Obama’s proposed tax, community college, and housing plans could be offset by real spending reductions in the Pentagon.

One thing NTUF President Pete Sepp has said to watch for is whether or not President Obama calls for scrapping spending caps, sequestration, or other enacted budget restrictions, which would increase the final SOTU total considerably. In 2013, President Obama called on Congress to roll back the automatic across-the-board spending cuts, which amounted to a $17 billion spending increase at the time. I’d take Pete’s comments to heart, especially if you’re suspicious of the President’s commitment to maintain current budget levels.