In his Nov. 29 op-ed column on "public investment," Robert Kuttner claimed, "We've gotten used to the idea that things public should be vaguely shabby." He reasoned that "public investment" has declined owing to "greed" on the part of affluent citizens who don't want to pay higher taxes.

Actually, the greedy party is government. Research by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation found that per capita state and local spending increased from $1,900 in 1980 to more than $5,000 in 1995. Clearly, any shabbiness of "public goods" is not the result of insufficient funding but of misplaced priorities.

Mr. Kuttner's choice of Boston's "Big Dig"--a $10.8 billion tunnel that will take 11 years to complete--as a good example of "public investment" is self-indicting. Federal taxpayers are footing much of the bill for this "local" project. According to published reports, more than $3 billion has been earmarked to placate local special-interest groups with additional goodies.

Which is "fairer"--picking the nation's pockets for pork-barrel projects or allowing taxpayers to control spending locally? The private sector would have been far more efficient, sparing taxpayers some of this monstrous expense.

Mr. Kuttner also wrote approvingly of more frivolous examples of "public investment" found in Chicago, such as flower boxes and cow statues. It is nice that Mayor Daley appreciates landscaping, but I doubt this is top priority for city taxpayers. Instead, Mayor Daley should spend tax money on improving public schools, fixing roads and reducing crime.



The writer is a policy associate at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.