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The Cost Of A Free

College Tuition

By MIKE ZAGATA • Special to

You might read the headline and ask, “How can something that is free have a cost.  First of all, nothing is really free.  That includes the free lunches at school, the free grants the City of Oneonta receives from time to time to pay consultants or deploy flower pots, and free college education.

A public school education is free to the students who attend grades one through 12 yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, New York spent an average of $22,366 per pupil at its public schools in 2016 – 90 percent above the national average.

Are those things really free?  Governor Cuomo is running a $2 billion budget deficit this year alone and the federal government has accumulated a national debt of $82 trillion ($60 trillion of which is tied to unfunded pensions).

Why is the government spending that money?  Much of it goes to fund entitlements – programs whereby people get free money.  Someone has to pay for those expenditures if the government is going to have a balanced budget – revenue coming in must equal money being spent.

Where does that revenue or money the government must take into its coffers come from?  It comes from the taxpayers – you and me.

You see, those free things aren’t really free.  Taxpayers – not always the ones receiving those free things – pay for them.

They pay with various forms of taxes, including, but not limited to, Federal Income Tax (Fed), Corporate Income Tax, Gasoline Tax,  Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA), Property Tax, Social Security Tax, Sales Taxes, Medicare Tax, State Income Tax, State Unemployment Tax (SUTA), Vehicle License Registration Tax, Vehicle Sales Tax, Building Permit Tax, CDL License Tax, Cigarette Tax, Dog License Tax, , Fishing License Tax, Food License Tax, Fuel Permit Tax, Hunting License Tax, Inheritance Tax,  Inventory Tax, IRS Interest, Charges (tax on top of tax), IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax), Liquor Tax, Luxury Tax, Marriage License Tax, Real Estate Tax, Service Charge Taxes, Road Usage Tax, Recreational Vehicle Tax, School Tax, Telephone Federal Excise Tax, Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax, Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Tax, Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax, Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges Tax, Telephone State and Local Tax, Telephone Usage Charge Tax, Utility Tax, Watercraft Registration Tax, Well Permit Tax, Workers Compensation Tax, etc.

As of the June 2019 headcount, there are 392,072,188 people in the U.S.  If you divide that number into the national debt of $82 trillion, the result is $209,145.16.  That’s the debt burden on every US citizen as a result of our government spending more than it takes in.

That debt is “sold” to investors like China and Japan and you and I pay interest to them via income taxes every day they hold the Treasury notes.

What would happen right now if China, our arch competitor, decided to call its notes and demand their value in cash?  The portion of our taxes that is being used to service this debt represents money that is not providing any benefit in the form of infrastructure improvement, better schools, etc.  Providing free college education and health care will only add to that debt and more of our tax dollars will have to go to servicing that higher debt at the expense of better roads, schools, etc.

Sometimes the government decides to use money they promised us would be kept in a special account and invested so that it would grow, and then they break their collective word and spend it.  That’s what happened with our Social Security money.

A prior president decided to impound it and use that money to offset the national debt.  When that was done, the pot of money, our money, was no longer there and growing.

Instead, it is now treated as a debt and we are paying, not collecting but paying, interest on our money because our government “borrowed” it.  No wonder it’s going broke.

Let’s take another look at that free college education being promised by the Democratic candidates for President.  The way it works now, you and your parents decide if you want to spend the time and money it takes to get a college education.  If you decide that it is, you apply to college and, if accepted, agree to pay for tuition, books and room and board.

You may get some help from your family and you may work to help pay part of the costs.  It may be that you will need to borrow some of the money as a student loan that you pay back after you graduate and get a job.  Once you’ve paid it back, you’re done paying for your education.

How does this differ from the free college education being proposed?  The initial differences are slight in that the books and room and board may not be free and thus you may still have to come up with some of the money.  The biggest difference is that once you graduate and pay back whatever money you may have had to borrow for books and room and board, you’re not done paying.

You see, others who will come after you are also getting a free education and it will be the tax dollars the government can extract from you for the rest of your life that will be paying for someone else’s education.  Does that sound like a good deal to you now?  Socialism does have its costs.

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration

and a former environmental executives with

Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.


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