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What do Christmas Trees, Elephants and Tanning Salons Have in Common?

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If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.” –James Madison

That title sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not particularly humorous, unless you believe that the legislation and programs proposed by elected officials and bureaucrats are a joke.  At a time when members of the legislative branch seem unable or unwilling to decrease spending, they are certainly able to propose, and sometimes pass, bills that seem out of touch with today’s dire economic circumstances. Bills that cost money to develop, propose, and become law. The frosting on the cake is an administration that endlessly seeks to institute regulations and programs unless a public relations nightmare ensues. Looking for the punch line to the title of this article? Read on my fellow citizens. Here are some fine examples of your tax dollars at work.

In the state of California, it is now possible for a minor to receive an abortion without parental knowledge or consent, but the same minor is prohibited from using the services offered by her local tanning salon. Earlier this year Governor Jerry Brown signed SB746 which prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using an ultraviolet tanning device at a salon. Who is punished for violating the law? The minor child who visits the salon? His or her parents who should be assuring the child’s safety and well being? No, personal responsibility seems absent from this law. As with alcohol and tobacco, it is the business that is punished without so much as a one dollar fine or a consequence (such as writing a term paper about the unintended consequences of his or her actions) to the minor. SB746 states that the tanning facility, however, could potentially be liable for $2500.00 per day for each violation in addition to any other penalty that may be established by law. That’s a fairly hefty fine for one tanning session. Don’t you think? The penalty seems particularly harsh when you compare it to the consequences for selling tobacco and alcohol to a minor in the same state. California Penal Code 308(a) states that the fine for the server, and or the business, who sells tobacco products to a minor is $200.00 for the first offense.  I found conflicting answers as to the punishment for selling alcohol to a minor, but the first offence for any server or establishment may be as little as a warning or $500.00. If alcohol or tobacco is sold to a minor, and the minor uses a fake identification card during the sale, there may be no penalty at all.[1]

While there may be other penalties I am not familiar with, the initial fine for selling tobacco or alcohol to a minor indicates that exposure to ultraviolet rays is perceived as more of an immediate danger to a minor’s safety, at least in California. It also appears that the majority of the California legislature, as well as the governor, believe that a minor is of sufficient maturity to choose to terminate a pregnancy but not to tan her skin by artificial means. I might add that the child’s parents have been completely removed from both decisions. It is just my opinion, but I believe it would be a far better use of the citizens’ tax dollars for the state legislature to spend its time focusing on the state’s current financial crisis than other, seemingly esoteric, issues.

I know what you are thinking: “That kind of crazy legislation just happens in states like California.” Well, you are wrong. Despite the fiscal crisis on the federal level, it seems that at least one congressman has devoted his time (subsidized by your tax dollars) to undermine something that is somewhat of an American tradition. Do you have fond memories of watching tigers and elephants at the circus? Well, your children won’t share those memories if it is up to Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia. He recently introduced legislation, which if passed, would prevent exotic or wild animals from performing if they had traveled in mobile shelters within 15 days before the performance. That translates to the end of many of the acts that are traditionally included in a traveling circus. Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, stated the prohibition would cost more than 750 jobs at its company alone. That does not begin to address the number of jobs that might be lost at local venues as a result of this proposed law. If you are opposed to this legislation, you can send a letter to your congressman and senators, as emailed to me by Feld Entertainment, by clicking here. Please don’t send me emails about my lack of concern for animal rights. Anyone who knows me can attest to how much I love animals. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus website states that it is involved in the conservation of Asian Elephants. You can visit its website,, to decide for yourself whether or not their efforts are sincere. However, it is unconscionable that this, or any other, congressman puts effort into discussing, designing, and sponsoring such legislation in light of the current budget disaster in Washington. The average salary for a congressman or senator is $174,000.  Add to that the salaries of their staff members, and the cost of a simple piece of federal legislation from conception to being signed as law. How many tax dollars has Congressman Moran, and his staff, spent on this legislation so far? Rather than focusing on how to increase employment in his district, or proposing legislation that will decrease spending, Congressman Moran seems to believe that the best use of his time is spent in shepherding legislation such as this!

Although the executive branch cannot pass legislation, let’s not forget about the Obama Administration’s seemingly endless parade of new regulations and programs that raise the cost of doing business (which is passed along to the consumer), slow economic growth, and otherwise negatively impact the citizenry of America. A notable example last week was the USDA’s publication in the Federal Register (November 8, 2011) of a program that would add a 15 cent assessment on each Christmas tree sold in the United States in order to establish a “national research and promotion program for Christmas trees.” Although not actually a tax, this charge would fund a program that was proposed by the Christmas tree industry to spruce up (so to speak) the image of cut Christmas trees. My question is: why does the federal government need to be involved in such a program at all? The National Christmas Tree Association reportedly worked with the USDA for two years to develop the program. Why did the association believe that the program was necesary? Because some of its members would not voluntarily support the association’s own promotional program. The NCTA could have chosen to increase its yearly membership fee to cover the missing funds for the program. Yet, they sought out governmental assistance to force all of the growers, members or not, to participate. When the USDA becomes involved, the cost is not just 15 cents per tree. I can only imagine the tax dollars that were spent on USDA employee salaries, as well as the cost of each employee’s workspace, work related technology, and other costs related to this program during those two years. Because of the public outcry about the “Christmas Tree Tax,” the USDA announced on November 9th that the program had been placed on hold. If the tax dollars spent developing the program would not have been considered frivolous before, they can now be thought of as wasted completely.[2]

At a time when most consumers are tightening their belts, the good folks in Washington, as well as the state legislatures, are focused on issues other than budgetary matters. I am only one voice, but I have a suggestion for the people who were elected by us, purportedly represent us, and who supposedly have our best interests at heart: it’s time to focus on the basics! Instead of creating new laws and  programs, how about removing or rolling back regulations, programs, and laws that prevent the private sector from expanding and creating jobs? Why not work on restructuring our tax laws so that everyone contributes at a low and reasonable rate via a flat tax? Isn’t it time to cut spending and live within the budget that already exists through ideas such as Connie Mack’s Penny Plan (H.R. 1848)? Please reduce your spending and get out of our way so we grow the economy. It is just a suggestion from a citizen, entrepreneur, and mother of three young Americans….

What do you believe it the worst, most ridiculous, or absolutely offensive law, regulation, or program of 2011? Unfortunately, there are a plethora of examples at the local, state, and federal level. Please email me at, and I’ll post some of the more egregious examples in my patriot blog at:

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