Jeff Ackerman: Let lawmakers be first to feel pain of deficit
The thing I miss most about Nevada is its Legislature. I may have told you once or twice that Silver State lawmakers only get together every other year, and when they do, they only have 120 days to get their work done. Nevadans figure it’s a good idea to keep the damage to a minimum. Samuel Clemens once suggested that Nevada lawmakers meet every 120 years for two days, but his idea never went anywhere.
I bring this up as California struggles to find the $14 billion or so it needs to balance the books this coming year. Lawmakers want more taxes, but the Terminator says we don’t have a tax problem, we have a spending problem. “These budget problems (shortfall) are the result of a budget system where there continues to be no linkage between revenues and spending,” said the Terminator in last month’s message to Californians.
Anyone who has ever tried to balance a checkbook knows what he’s talking about. “Honey,” said my wife just the other day. “There doesn’t seem to be any linkage between the check you wrote and the balance in the bank. You haven’t, by chance, heard from your brain lately, have you?” She confiscated my versa-teller card six years ago for that very same problem.
And without getting into the details, I’d have to say the Terminator is right. Government needs to go on a big time Jenny Craig diet. Before we ask our schools to start firing teachers, I’d like to see some evidence that our lawmakers and their friends, staffers and the guys who polish the Assembly water fountains at $30 per hour are sucking it up, and I don’t mean the stuff inside the trough.
In fact, I’d like to see the California Legislature feel the pain first. As soon as we have a deficit, they should stop getting paid. They don’t get another nickel until the budget is balanced. That includes their staffs, their staffs’ staffs and interns. The only way to get their attention is to cut off their drinking and dining allowance. There is nothing more pitiful than a lawmaker with no stipend, huddled in a corner of Jack In The Box with the rest of us.
Just for kicks, I wonder how much the state would save if our own lawmakers could only meet every other year for 120 days. We close all the offices, turn down the thermostat, park all of the state cars and send them home to mow lawns or do whatever it is lawmakers do when they aren’t passing idiotic laws. We ought to have plenty of laws to keep us busy for at least the next 50 years, and it seems every time they pass a new one, it costs someone more money or pain. Take the proposed spay-and-neuter bill, for example. That bill failed after astute citizens told the bill’s author, “You first.”
Same goes for our local government offices. Why don’t they at least go to a four-day work week? Shut down the Rood Center and respective city halls every Friday. Have them stay open 10 hours Monday through Thursday, except for Groundhog Day and the other 36 government holidays. How much money could we save on utilities alone?
Seriously, does anyone really care if the tax assessor’s office is closed Fridays? We need the cops and firefighters, but do we really need the offices of air quality, purchasing or code compliance open five days per week? What would happen if the purchasing office had to wait until Monday to purchase something? Employees might even determine by Monday that they didn’t need to purchase whatever it was in the first place. And who cares if we have a code or two out of compliance for an extra day?
And would it really matter if Nevada City City Hall wasn’t open on Fridays? It’s not as if they’re spending all day stuffing envelopes with water and sewer bills (couldn’t help it). It might even help recruit a new city manager: “HELP WANTED Ð Tiny town seeks manager who loves three-day weekends, good cheese and burning incense. Successful candidate must have thick skin and be connected to inner spirit child.”
A couple of years ago, many rural school districts in Idaho switched to a four-day school week and started seeing immediate benefits. Enrollment climbed (kids knew they’d have a three-day weekend), and utility costs alone were reduced by as much as $200,000 per year in some districts.
“I’m almost convinced the four-day week is better than chocolate,” one Idaho high school principal told the local newspaper. “Personally, I’d hate to see us go back to a five-day schedule.”
To make up for the lost time, class periods were extended from an hour to 70 minutes during the four days. The lengthened days actually added hours to the school years. I suspect transportation (bus) and special education costs have also been significantly reduced.
“The challenges we face are substantial and the decisions we face are difficult,” said the Terminator. “But if we fail to address them swiftly the problems will only get larger.” Yes … he actually said that.
If I’d been the one writing his budget speech, here’s what the Terminator would have said: “Unless state lawmakers go home for the year, I will have no choice but to shrink their heads and blow up their credit cards with my large bazooka. Ca-lee-for-knee-ah is no place for girly-men in pinstripe suits. It is time to return Ca-lee-for-knee-ah to the people, and I will not rest until our budget is as tight as my man-breasts.”
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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