As you may have heard, Charlie Baker announced his “Baker’s Dozen” yesterday – 13 proposals (PDF) that he says will save a billion bucks a year.
One of the funniest of them — honestly, one wonders whether this one is a practical joke — is his proposal to scrutinize in detail not only the income, but also the “lifestyle,” of anyone seeking state benefits.
8. Conduct forensic financial analysis for benefits eligibility – Between $10M to $20M in savings
State agencies need to consider more than just tax returns when determining individuals’ eligibility for public benefits and services. A lifestyle analysis quantifies the living expenses of individuals – such as credit card bills, recreation activities, auto loans, grocery bills – and compares the expenses to known sources of income. If the money spent during the period analyzed exceeds the known funding sources, it is quite possible that there is another source of income. The state should conduct this analysis on a pilot basis for a few services – such as public defendants and public housing – before individuals are deemed eligible for the benefits.
“Lifestyle analysis.” I really love that. The libertarians out there who back Baker must be suffering some nasty heartburn. Governor Patrick issued a statement taking issue with the philosophy of this idea:
[H]is proposal to create a new state bureaucracy to scrutinize people’s ‘lifestyles’ to make sure they are behaving according to his view of how poor people should behave before they can receive state aid is a step way too far.
Aside from the philosophical objection to government-dictated behavior modification that I’d imagine many might feel both on the left and the right, the most obvious practical problem with this proposal is that the cost of administering it will likely exceed the money it saves. It’s easy to enough to look over a tax return and confirm that income falls below a certain threshold. But to conduct a “lifestyle analysis” that takes into account “credit card bills, recreation activities, auto loans, grocery bills,” and God knows what else, you need trained specialists. You need to gather, organize, and analyze a ton of data. You need — a new state agency! Let’s call it the “Bureau of Lifestyle Analysis and Monetary Evaluation,” or BLAME for short.
I guess the way this would work is that, first, the Commissioner of BLAME would issue regulations explaining how, in the view of the all-knowing and beneficent state, a family ought to manage its resources. Then, a family seeking benefits — say, access to public housing — would submit the required dozens (if not hundreds) of documents, whereupon a BLAME analyst would conduct a detailed analysis to determine whether, according to the Commissioner of BLAME’s regulations, the family managed its meagre resources in a state-approved manner such that it could receive benefits. But if, according to the BLAME analysts, the poor family in question took the kids out for ice cream one too many times last month, well, no public housing for them.
Sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare — the nanny state at its absolute worst. Frankly, I’m astonished that someone who considers himself a “conservative” would even consider a monstrosity like this.