Two cool things buried in President Obama’s budget, which Republicans aren’t even reading

With all eyes turned to New Hampshire yesterday, one could be forgiven for not noticing that President Obama released the final budget proposal of his presidency. Congressional Republicans, fresh off of promises to the American people to get serious about governing, have declined to even take a look at it.

But there are a few items buried in this completely doomed budget that are really pretty cool, even if they don’t have a prayer of being considered. Specifically, it would separate the federal government from two ridiculous practices that should never have been given budgetary preference in the first place.

First up, President Obama’s budget would eliminate the federal tax exemption on the bonds cities and states sell to finance sports stadiums. From the Huffington Post:

President Obama's last State of the Union, via YouTube

President Obama’s last State of the Union, via YouTube

That exemption allows cities and states to pay for stadiums with tax-free bonds that have discounted interest rates, a practice that will cost federal taxpayersnearly $4 billion in tax money on existing stadium debt, according to a 2012 Bloomberg analysis.

Ending that exemption, which the budget would do on bonds issued after the end of 2016, would have a modest fiscal benefit — it would save roughly $542 million over the next decade, according to the budget proposal.

Economists have also suggested that eliminating the exemption would increase the price of stadiums for cities and states in a way that could, in theory, make them more cost-conscious when they enter into public financing deals. The Treasury Department argues that the repeal could reduce costs for local taxpayersin its explanation of the change, saying that “the current use of tax-exempt governmental bonds to finance sports facilities has shifted more of the costs and risks from the private owners to local residents and taxpayers in general.”

While this wouldn’t result in the complete end of publicly-financed stadiums, as cities and states could still raid their education budgets to finance new arenas, it would at least reduce the incentive to do so, which would be a positive development: Prior research has found that, despite the claims of team owners and the politicians who vote to fund their stadiums, the economic stimulus provided by publicly financing sports arenas could just as easily be achieved by dumping the same amount of cash out of a helicopter. If cities and states want to be a part of that, I guess that’s their prerogative because federalism, but it would be great if the federal government dissociated itself from the practice.

Next up, President Obama’s budget would also eliminate the competitive Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) program and the AOUM state grant.

The combined savings for eliminating these programs would be small ($85 million), but that isn’t the point. The point is that abstinence-only sex ed is an unscientific and harmful policy that we should, as a country, be moving away from.

From the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States:

Choosing instead to focus on investing in programs that support youth access to the information and education they need to lead sexually healthy lives, the president’s FY 2017 budget request proposes increased investment in the Office of Adolescent Health’s (OAH) Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and maintains current funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH).

The $4 million requested increase for TPPP would bring funding to $105 million to further support the 81 communities currently being served by TPPP efforts in 33 states across the country. The continuation of the DASH funding level reflects the administration’s determination to support its National HIV/AIDS Strategy Federal Action Plan and improve school-based HIV prevention, research, and evaluation efforts.

It would seem that, to paraphrase Marco Rubio, when it comes to budgeting President Obama does in fact know what he’s doing — moving money away from things that don’t work in favor of things that do. If only Republicans in Congress would pretend that they were interested in letting him.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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