Thursday, October 08, 2009

Situation Normal: All Lansinged Up

I'm not sure if anyone even knew this little fact or not, but Michigan law requires that legislators pass a balanced budget by September 30th of each year. I think it was on the news.

What this means, of course, is that months before the legally mandated deadline arrives, the well oiled machine of benevolent government will draw closely together and make all the tough decisions necessary to smooth out a budget. All the "t"s should be crossed and all the "i"s dotted in plenty of time for the governor to sign her Jennifer Hancock on the bottom line long before lawmakers run afoul of the Michigan Constitution. Sure. Not since Kwame Kilpatrick was forced to vacate the Manoogian Mansion have so many lawbreakers been housed under one roof.

In any case, after suffering through another almost annual national embarrassment on its failed budget (not to be confused with the monthly Michigan embarrassment that is Carl Levin, the weekly Michigan embarrassment that is Debbie Stabenow, or the daily Michigan embarrassment that is the entire city of Detroit) Michigan legislators have introduced a bill that will require its members to pass a budget by July 1st or have their pay docked.

A bipartisan group of legislators today introduced a constitutional amendment that will require the state's budget to be balanced by July 1 on any given year. Under the plan, Michigan's Senators and Representatives will lose pay for every day the budget remains unbalanced after the deadline.

"Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay legislators who don't get the job done," said State Representative Mike Huckleberry (D-Greenville). "We all took an oath of office to serve the people of Michigan and to always put their interests first. If legislators can't balance the budget in time to avoid a government shutdown, then they shouldn't get paid."
Hey, I have no problem with that sentiment. I don't like to have my tax dollars go to pay for Detroit schools that don't educate, and I don't like to pay benevolent minded bureaucrats for failing on their most basic of assignments.

In fact, if this general sentiment gained a little momentum maybe we could get MDOT bigwigs to pony up a little salary for potholes that don't get filled and who knows, maybe the crowned heads at the DNR/MDOT can toss a few bucks into the kitty for letting deer carcasses stack up alongside the road like firewood before being hauled off. Unfortunately, this is not the way that things work in our world.

You see, MDOT might say that they would love to fix those potholes, but they will also tell you that to fill them all will require more people and more money, not less. The same answer will come to you from the DNR/MDOT as it relates to roadkill. Deer stack up on the road both because the stupid animals refuse to look both directions, and because it is hard to shovel roadkill when budget dollars are instead aimed at trespassing on private property so as to assure that brazen property owners aren't disposing of carrots in a huge pile.

I applaud legislators for their sentiment--maybe we are making a little headway on the common sense shortage down in Lansing. I am frightened, however, by the added incentive that this bill might give to legislators to compromise when similar previous compromises have contributed so greatly to our current disaster. There are worse things than not having a budget in place when the compromise alternative is making a bad choice for the sake of "getting something done" and allowing a representative to collect his full $220 a day with a chin held high.

A few concepts should be understood before legislators even consider compromise.

First, government generates no money of its own. Each and every dollar that it receives it has skimmed off of the private sector. Each and every one of these dollars is therefore removed from a taxpayer that would have found another use for that dollar. This weakens the economy and results in the displacement of workers.

Every. Single. Time.

This is not only true of "new revenues" that the government tries so hard to find every year, but also for the almost forgotten billions of established revenues that it takes from taxpayers out of habit with nary a flutter of the eye.

Secondly, each dollar that is reallocated away from an individual's intent is thrust into a delivery system that is, by definition, inefficient. There is no end motive for government entities to operate efficiently, and there are few ways to measure the effectiveness of a government's delivery of products or services. Where the two can be compared side by side, the government edition suffers.

In education, it is a competitive private sector that offers the lower cost alternative. When it comes to housing prisoners, it is the private sector that offers the least cost. When it comes to delivering health care, would it be the VA hospital or Munson Medical Center that you would rather go to? If allowed to compete in the automobile industry on their own merits, will it be Ford that triumphs in an embattled industry, or will it be government/union owned GM or Chrysler that lives on? Heck, when Katrina had blown ashore and left parts of several states in shambles, it was WalMart that had trucks of bottled water on location the next day for displaced citizens to drink, while local government authorities allowed whole parking lots of empty school buses to succumb to the rising waters while they screamed for the delivery of luxury charter buses to carry people out.

I'm not saying that government is only filled with workers who try hard to do a lousy job every day. That is not my experience. (There are, thankfully, only so many Conyerses.) I am saying that most government workers do what they do within a system that even they recognize is hopelessly choked with regulation and inefficiency, and that government does not have the free market means to recognize when departments should be groomed, combined or separated for efficiency, or eliminated altogether. Throw in a little cronyism, some red tape, the never ending supply of funds that government was reared on, public servants disillusioned by years of banging their slightly flattened heads on the wall, the occasional Kwame Kilpatrick, and soon you have the recipe for a Lansing on your hands.

Which brings me to my final point. Too often government entities are seen as a means of providing good employment for dedicated workers. Private industry looks at employment in exactly the opposite way. To a thriving private business, employment is a necessary byproduct of success. Each worker that draws a paycheck from the company must add more value to the company than he costs or his continued employment is not a legitimate expense. In government this is largely immaterial and the vast growth of government employment in Lansing over the past few years is evidence of this in the face of falling revenues in a hobbled economy.

In light of these facts I believe that budget compromises are not always good.

It appears now, however, that we might at least be at the threshold of a new era where lawmakers are willing to face the fire if they fail to produce in a timely manner. That in itself may be a step in the right direction.
"In the real world if you don't do your work, you don't get paid," said State Representative Dan Scripps (D-Leland). "Legislators should be no different. This plan will help bring fresh air to Lansing and make sure elected officials are truly working on behalf of Michigan's residents."
While I am encouraged that some bureaucrats recognize that there even is a real world out there beyond Lansing with its own set of operative rules, I am not so certain that a salary withheld by the day to the sound of a ticking clock will ensure that all bureaucrats will work in the best interest of Michigan residents.

That will still depend on what it has always depended on; who will compromise, and on what.

cross posted at Right Michigan

1 comment:

Crippy said...

Nice article Rougman!

God help us!