Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Waste Cutting Zealots in Action

Following up on my post below, I am reminded of an actual experience I had with crusading waste-cutters.

Several years ago, I was part of committee assembled to promote the passage of a school referendum that would raise taxes in the district for the operation of the schools. At one public hearing, a group of waste-cutters wanted to go over the budget line item by line item so that they could find the waste they were sure was there and head off any tax increase. The schools district’s superintendent agreed to discuss any budget item. I don’t think they found much of anything until they hit one vaguely-worded item that even the superintendent was unable to explain without looking into it.

It was a fair amount of money but nothing even close to what was going to be needed to close the gap. It didn’t matter, the crusading waste-cutters seized on this –AH, HA, WASTE! So the item immediately went on their list. Turns out, after the superintendent dug into the matter and got back to everyone via e-mail, the vaguely worded line item was something like liability insurance. Not really waste. Oh well.

I guess my only point is, it’s easy to cry “WASTE!” but when it comes down to it, there often isn’t that much there. Add to that, one man’s waste is another man’s indispensable program and you really can’t count on getting rid of “waste” to solve governmental financial problems. Note that the federal budget, I think, has more openings for charges of “waste” (for example, Iraq) than does a local governmental body, but in general I think the same dynamics apply and you are never going to balance the budget through elimination of “waste”. It’s really time to face that fact.

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