October 19, 2009 8:52AM

I’m From the Government, and I’m Here to Give You a Golf Cart

How would we be managing if Congress hadn’t voted to subsidize virtually everyone everywhere in the name of stimulating the economy? Well, taxpayers wouldn’t be buying people golf carts. It turns out that golf carts meet the federal criteria for high‐​mileage cars in the stimulus legislation.

Editorializes the Wall Street Journal:

We thought cash for clunkers was the ultimate waste of taxpayer money, but as usual we were too optimistic. Thanks to the federal tax credit to buy high‐​mileage cars that was part of President Obama’s stimulus plan, Uncle Sam is now paying Americans to buy that great necessity of modern life, the golf cart.

The federal credit provides from $4,200 to $5,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle, and when it is combined with similar incentive plans in many states the tax credits can pay for nearly the entire cost of a golf cart. Even in states that don’t have their own tax rebate plans, the federal credit is generous enough to pay for half or even two‐​thirds of the average sticker price of a cart, which is typically in the range of $8,000 to $10,000. “The purchase of some models could be absolutely free,” Roger Gaddis of Ada Electric Cars in Oklahoma said earlier this year. “Is that about the coolest thing you’ve ever heard?”

The golf‐​cart boom has followed an IRS ruling that golf carts qualify for the electric‐​car credit as long as they are also road worthy. These qualifying golf carts are essentially the same as normal golf carts save for adding some safety features, such as side and rearview mirrors and three‐​point seat belts. They typically can go 15 to 25 miles per hour.

In South Carolina, sales of these carts have been soaring as dealerships alert customers to Uncle Sam’s giveaway. “The Golf Cart Man” in the Villages of Lady Lake, Florida is running a banner online ad that declares: “GET A FREE GOLF CART. Or make $2,000 doing absolutely nothing!”

In a normal world this would be shocking, even scandalous news. Taxpayer money wasted buying carts for golfers. Uncle Sam as reverse Robin Hood, stealing from the needy to enrich well‐​heeled golfers. Legislators would be scrambling to change the law.

But the issue has earned barely a peep in Washington. No surprise, those benefiting from Washington’s largesse aren’t complaining. After all, they consider it to be just about “the coolest thing” around.

And with legislators now used to wasting not just billions but trillions of dollars, what are a few thousand wasted dollars on a golf cart or two? This nonsensical tax write‐​off is barely a rounding error in the federal budget today. The 2009 deficit was $1.4 trillion. The federal government is likely to run up another $10 trillion in red ink over the next decade — assuming away a deluge of new bail‐​outs of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration, and the host of other money‐​losing federal subsidy operations. What of golf cart subsidies? Not worth a second look.

The golf cart subsidy gives new meaning to the old line: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you. The only people not on Uncle Sam’s “to help” list are taxpayers.