It’s not Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s fault that her department has to cut its budget. That’s a mandate coming down from her boss, President Trump.
But DeVos is the one to make specific recommendations about where those cuts should be made. On Tuesday, she appeared on Capitol Hill to defend them — including canceling out federal funding for the Special Olympics in next year’s budget.
“We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget,” DeVos told legislators, in defense of her proposals.
It’s worth putting those difficult decisions in context.
The Education Department budgeted $17,583,000 for the Special Olympics this fiscal year, an amount that obviously exceeds the average American’s annual income. It’s also an amount that constitutes about a tenth of the Special Olympics’ total budget.
It is also an amount that’s about equivalent to the cost of the president’s last five trips to Mar-a-Lago, a period that stretches back to Thanksgiving.
Last month, we reported on new data from the Government Accountability Office which determined that Trump’s trips to his private club in Florida cost taxpayers about $3.4 million apiece, largely as a function of transporting the president and support material to the state. Looking at it another way, the federal government had spent about as much on getting Trump to Mar-a-Lago by his second month in office as DeVos now wants to cut from supporting the Special Olympics.
That total, $17.6 million, is also only a small part of the Education Department budget. The department’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 is about $64 billion. If that total were the height of the world’s tallest building, the 2,722-foot Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the amount spent on the Special Olympics would be an 8-inch-tall stick standing beside it.
Trump’s aim is to cut the federal government broadly to reduce the growing budget deficit — itself in part a function of the 2017 tax bill that slashed corporate tax rates. To cut the budget means to cut a number of programs in a number of places.
But how does the proposed Special Olympics funding compare to the total budget? Let’s say that the federal budget of $4.7 trillion in fiscal year 2020 was a trip from New York City to Los Angeles. How far would the $17.6 million for the Special Olympics get you on that trip?
It would get you a little over 1 percent of the way across the George Washington Bridge in Upper Manhattan. It would get you 48 feet.
When we noted that $17.6 million was far more than the normal American’s income, we didn’t point out that DeVos herself is not an average American. She’s one of the richest women in the country, with an estimated net worth north of $1 billion.
In fact, according to the financial disclosure she filed when taking a job with the government, DeVos herself has no fewer than six investments that are valued at more than $25,000,000. She could sell her stake in the Orlando Magic and fund the Special Olympics for at least two years. (She has another 30 investments that are valued from $5 million to $25 million.)
It took very little time for people — including athletes — to offer their thoughts on DeVos’s proposal. The Washington Post spoke with one athlete, Derek Schottle, who wants to compete in the Special Olympics and said he’s praying for the program.
During fiscal year 2018, corporate tax receipts were down $92 billion from the year prior, a function in part of the tax cuts Trump signed into law in December 2017. By increasing those receipts 0.02 percent, there would be enough to cover the amount DeVos wants to cut from the Special Olympics.