The senior senator from New York, Charles "The Deerslayer" Schumer, has introduced a bill that would "provide tax incentives for the donation of wild game meat." What's really going on here? Mr. Schumer's press release makes it sound like the senator has something against deer. "Every year, overpopulation of deer leads to damaged crops, landscape, and vehicles. Deer contribute to an estimated $250 million worth of damage annually and deer-car accidents consistently outnumber accidents caused by drunken driving," the press release says. But the tax deduction for processing costs in the Schumer Bambi Bill isn't limited to venison; the language in the bill could apply just as easily to elk, ducks, or alligators. So if deer-demonization doesn't explain Mr. Schumer's action, what does? The answer is in the press release: "Up until 2 years ago the Venison Donation Coalition was funded by the state at $100,000 per year, last year it was funded at $75,000, and this year it was funded at $21,000." Since New York State is cutting back, Mr. Schumer wants the federal government, through the tax code, to seize the responsibility for subsidizing venison processing for the hungry.
At least some hunters are unimpressed; one commenter on an upstate New York newspaper site said, "They increase your hunters license fees and then offset it on the back end with a tax credit for your processing fees." The broader point, beyond the absurdity of a senator from Brooklyn long known as a vocal opponent of gun rights emerging to pose as a friend of the hunter, is that the federal government expands to fill responsibilities once left to the states. More broadly, it's an example of the way the tax code is used not solely as a way to raise funds for necessary government activities but, over and over again, as a way to encourage and subsidize various activities. On its own, each activity, like reducing the deer population or feeding the hungry with venison, may seem worthy, but together the result is a sprawling and overly complex tax code. Finally, there's a temptation to do things through the tax code rather than though spending. If Mr. Schumer wanted to hire federal officials to cull the deer herd or purchase more food for meals programs that serve the hungry, that would obviously be spending. The approach he is taking instead allows him to look like a tax cutter. The final observation is that it takes a government program to undo the effects of another government program. Government imposition of limits on deer hunting (hunting seasons, licenses) and government creation of wilderness areas such as the Adirondack and Catskill parks have contributed to growth in the deer population. Now, at least in Mr. Schumer's view, another government initiative is needed to undo the growth.