The scene opens up on an image of the Earth and slowly zooms in down through the clouds while an ominous female narrator declares, “Your name is Tom … You live just off of 5th Street … Nice car, Tom—nice house.”
As the camera sinks lower and lower, it finally stops to hovers over Tom’s house while the narrator warns him to pay his outstanding debt because after all, “we do know who you are.” The scene fades and the words, “Find Us Before We Find You” are flashed on the screen before it goes dark.
Is this a trailer for a new sci-fi movie? A remake of the classic novel 1984? No, the video being described is for a commercial for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue’s new Tax Amnesty campaign. This is the latest effort by the state to close its reportedly $1 billion deficit. (One wonders how much the cash-strapped state spent on this campaign comprised of radio, print and television ads.)
While Pennsylvania is not the first state to try and deal with tax delinquency, nor the first to offer similar tax amnesty programs, this ad’s bizarre tone and implied threats have already garnered it a certain level of infamy online. But while its easy to criticize the ads, it’s important to remember that they aren’t particularly shocking when considering their source. Governments too often—whether on the state or federal level—fail to consider that the bigger and more systemic problem they face is not one of revenue, but rather spending.
As you can see from the chart, state and local spending has consistently risen since WWII, along with federal spending, a topic Heritage’s JD Foster has studied at some length. Until that point is driven home, governments at all levels will continue to focus on short-term fixes and stopgap solutions, leaving the next budget crisis and stagnant economic recovery for the future.