Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

February 20, 1997

Trust funds are being robbed, hundreds of billions at stake
With highway funds and Social Security at stake, even a simple Balanced Budget Amendment could hurt

Several years ago my house was broken into, vandalized and burglarized. It was a horrible experience, knowing that someone had entered my family's home and taken those things of ours which had value to us. And then, when the criminal was caught, it was even worse because we found out he broke into homes to steal items to support his drug habit. Our valuables were not only stolen, but stolen to support a vile habit.

While my family and I got over the incident, both emotionally and financially, we as a nation are going though a very similar experience. In Washington the politicians are now riffling through our belongings, stealing from us, and then using the ill-gotten gains for less than honorable purposes. Listen; you can hear another bag being stuffed with your money.

But first some background.

A number of years ago it was decided that establishing trust funds was a good way to earmark money for specific projects. These trust accounts would be paid into by those who use the particular service or project. For example, when a pilot fills up his plane with fuel, the tax on the fuel goes into a special trust fund. Under the law, money from the fund goes only for projects dealing with airport issues - like new runways, control towers, and radar systems. The same holds true for the canal systems, the highways, and, of course, Social Security.

Of course, what the law states, and what really happens are two different things. And that is how the thief has gotten in the door and begun robbing us.

Some politicians realized that there is a lot of money sitting in those accounts - more than hundreds of billions of dollars, in fact. And the same politicians realized the federal deficit was growing by even larger sums of money thanks to unconstitutional spending at home, nation-building abroad, corporate welfare for big political donors, and pork projects.

So they started taking the money from the trust funds and replaced them with what are essentially "IOUs" from the government. Now, this is referred to as using the funds to "contribute" to the "retirement of the debt." That's a lot like the thief saying he was stealing my wife's belongings so she could "contribute" to his filthy habit.

Of course, the even bigger crime is that the deficit is not being lowered and the debt is not being retired. It's like you or me running up our credit card bill in order to pay off a loan. There's no debt reduction, just a shell-game with taxpayer funds.

Take the Highway Trust Fund. Last year the fund brought in close to $26 billion from gas taxes (except for President Clinton's 4.3 cent tax increase of 1993, which goes to the general fund - a whole different discussion). The trust fund spent almost $24 billion on highway-building and related projects. The remainder? Well, according to the bean counters, it was "invested" in Treasury notes, which are now held as an "asset." What does that really mean? It means $2 billion, which could have been used to build the new I-69 or some other highway project, went instead to "cut the federal debt."

The situation with the Social Security and Disability Insurance fund is even worse because the number of dollars is even larger. Close to a half-a-trillion dollars has been taken from the trust fund. Yet the politicians talk about cutting benefits.

Recently, with all the talk of a Balanced Budget Amendment, President Clinton has been edging toward a plan to take Social Security, and possibly other programs, "off-budget." He says he wants Social Security completely off-budget to protect the funds. A ridiculous claim! By allowing the president to off-budget Social Security or anything else, we will see those funds - and indeed our nation - quickly forced into insolvency as the money is used for more and more "non-trust" uses. It is simply unconscionable to allow the president, or a gang of big-spenders in Congress, to take items "off-budget" to artificially lower the publicized cost of government, or hide ill-advised financial fiascoes. And undoubtedly lead to more and more problems in the trust funds fulfilling their missions.

Restoring the integrity of the trust system is of critical importance, especially if Congress passes a weak Balanced Budget Amendment. Billions of dollars are being diverted from their intended purposes (and a weak BBA could make it even worse). So when we hear that a local airport cannot get all the runways fixed this year, or when we're told a new highway project is still sitting on the drawing board, or we have to worry about whether senior citizens' Social Security checks will be secure, remember it is the federal government that is robbing our trust funds to pay for big-spending habits.

It must be a top priority for this new Congress to restore the integrity of the trust system and end the practice of robbing these funds.