It’s Just Money, Right?

A cheeseburger on Amtrak is $9.50. Unfortunately, that’s not enough:

A day after publicly pressing the General Services Administration over its travel and conference spending, a House panel turned its focus on Amtrak, charging that the national rail service regularly loses millions each year on its food service for passengers and has done little to rein in those costs.

“They’ve lost $833 million over the last ten years serving food and beverages,” said Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who labeled those numbers “staggering.”

“We have to end these unbelievable losses to the taxpayers,” Mica added.

At a hearing, Mica went over the simple tally of how much you pay for food, and how much it really costs the taxpayer.

“It costs passengers $9.50 to buy a cheeseburger on Amtrak, but the cost to taxpayers is $16.15,” said Mica. “Riders pay $2.00 for a Pepsi, but each of these sodas costs the U.S. Treasury $3.40.”

Of course, there is a way to bring costs down, but the unions do not wish to consider it. After all, working for Amtrak is a great gig, why would we want to lose any of those lovely jobs just because we wasted over $60k per employee on food cost overages in the last decade?

Speaking of money and the waste thereof, it would seem that tax refunds are like the rain–they fall on the just and the unjust:

The IRS is detecting far fewer fraudulent tax refund claims than actually occur, according to a government audit that warned the widespread problem could undermine public trust in the U.S. tax system. Although the IRS detected about 940,000 fraudulent returns for last year claiming $6.5 billion in refunds, there were potentially another 1.5 million undetected cases of thieves seeking refunds after assuming the identity of a dead person, child or someone else who normally wouldn’t file a tax return.

In one example, investigators found a single address in Lansing, Mich., that was used to file 2,137 separate tax returns. The IRS issued more than $3.3 million in refunds to that address. Three addresses in Florida, the epicenter of the identity theft crisis, filed more than 500 returns totaling more than $1 million in refunds for each address.

In another troubling scenario, hundreds of refunds were deposited into the same bank account — a red flag for investigators searching for ID thieves who may be filing for refunds for multiple people. In one instance, the IRS deposited 590 refunds totaling more than $900,000 into one account.

Impressive, no? The IRS, for all the data it collects on everyone, does not see anything wrong with depositing hundreds of refunds into a single bank account or accepting hundreds of returns from a single address.

If Amtrak had to function like a private entity and make money on products/services or go out of business, then something would give and Amtrak would adapt or die, but the taxpayers wouldn’t be stuck with the cheeseburger. If the IRS had a simple tax code to enforce, without the hundreds (probably thousands, now) of special carve-outs and exceptions and a dozen different ways to fill out the same tax form, all of them equally wrong–then it would be much harder for the system to be exploited by those seeking fraudulent refunds.

Just think of all the benefits we could realize by reducing the complexity of government entities, laws and regulations.