Rand Paul speaks often about the need to keep more of Kentucky's tax dollars in the state instead of sending them to Washington, D.C.
In concept, it sounds good. But as is often the case with the Republican U.S. Senate candidate, when his broad concepts meet reality, they are exposed as the spiel of a snake oil salesman.
In reality, Kentucky gets more money back from the federal government than it pays in — somewhere between $1.51 and $1.82 for every tax dollar Kentuckians send to Washington. As one of the poorer states, we get subsidized by wealthier ones.
It is within the context of this reality that Paul's proposal to close the U.S. Department of Education must be considered. (Assuming, of course, closing the department remains his position today. He sometimes hedges on his commitment to this goal.)
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Kentucky gets $429 million, about 10 percent of its education budget, from the federal government. Much of this money goes to programs benefiting children from low-income families — the Head Start pre-school program, Title I funding for schools and districts with high poverty rates, Pell Grants for low-income college students.
Eliminate the Department of Education to reduce federal spending, and these programs probably disappear. Paul doesn't put this consequence in so many words, of course. He sticks to broad concepts.
"It doesn't mean we won't still be involved in education," he told the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. "It would just be done at the local and state level."
Put those words together with his argument for keeping more tax dollars at home, and you get the implication that state and local government will use those extra tax dollars kept at home to pick up the federal programs killed by eliminating the Department of Education.
This is where the Catch-22 kicks in, exposing the lack of logic in his panacea, because Kentucky doesn't save any tax dollars if the department is eliminated. It's a subsidized state, remember? Kentucky just loses the $429 million it's getting now.
Of course, there would be more state and local control over education. So, in the best of all possible worlds, state and local governments would raise the $429 million needed to restore the lost federal programs.
However, this is not the best of all possible worlds. This is Kentucky, where state and local public officials have displayed little or no evidence in many a year of having the courage to fund the schools or other government services the state and its citizens need.
In that failure of leadership and vision, they share much with Rand Paul.