Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Government Spending Run Amok ... At All Levels

The Constitution delegates certain explicit enumerated powers to the national government and reserves the rest to the individual states or to the people, respectively. That's clearly spelled out in the 10th Amendment.

But apart from the national government and the individual states, what about the financial health and well being of the cities, school districts, counties, park districts and countless other government entities and agencies?

Who watches out for that? And in the end, who's responsible? The answer is clear: We the People.

Or is such 'grass roots' spending by these government entities not a problem with which We the People need to be concerned?  As a matter of fact, when viewed as a whole, local spending by government entities is a very big problem indeed.

Accordingly, we must be concerned with the rationale behind, and the collective amount of, all government spending. With either getting more bang for our buck or not spending so many of our bucks, in other words. The money that's spent by government on our behalf, all of it, comes from us.

How to Cut Spending at the Grass Roots tells an important and perhaps largely unknown story. It's about the need for an ongoing emphasis on productivity gains in the localities that make up government spending beyond the state and federal levels. It calls for a common sense based MOM approach:

"The cumulative spending of a state's localities—its towns, cities, counties and school districts—typically exceeds that of its legislature, even accounting for considerable variation across states in the provision of regional services. Rhode Island, for example, has no county government, and in many parts of the U.S. school districts operate independently of any municipality.

In 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, states collectively spent $1.45 trillion while their localities spent $1.66 trillion, including monies passed down from their legislatures to supplement K-12 education and other programs. . . .

Three years ago, a taxpayer group . . . in the small town of Redding, Conn. . . . asked a group of residents with business or other financial experience to conduct a line-by-line audit of local expenditures. . . .

Some of the savings we discovered seemed so commonsensical—and if widely adopted, so substantial—that we created a website to report and update them ( Here is our current list of the Top 10 budget reforms that one or more North American localities has successfully implemented without compromising the quality of services:

Use graduate students as substitute teachers and classroom aides. Paying substitutes and aides a salary with benefits is a waste of taxpayer money when there are so many education-school students who would gladly do the same work for academic credit. . . .

Pool services among municipalities. A wide variety of community services, from school repair and the temporary housing of stray animals to firefighting and school curriculum oversight, can be pooled across jurisdictions at significantly lower cost. . . .

Deputize volunteers and retirees to perform simple police functions. Four years ago, Redlands, Calif., Police Chief Jim Bueerman reduced his city's force to 75 from 98 by using more than 300 volunteers to answer phones, cordon off crime scenes, direct traffic, patrol parks, help with crowd control, take reports on routine property crimes, operate DUI checkpoints, and even monitor sex offenders.

Use a cooperative purchasing network. Organizations such as the Cooperative Purchasing Network in Houston allow local government entities to benefit from economies of scale on everything from office and janitorial supplies to roofing and construction.

Thoroughly double-check employment reports. Salaries and benefits account for upward of 80% of municipal budgets. Dr. Armand Fusco, a retired school superintendent from Branford, Conn., who consults with taxpayer groups across the country, says that "even small towns lose millions because part-timers inappropriately receive full-time benefits."

Have students from middle school through high school take one course per semester online. Without threatening the basic structure of public education, teaching salaries and benefits can be trimmed by nearly 20%. In Memphis, Tenn., where every student must take an online course to graduate, the per-pupil cost of Internet instruction is only $164.

Put service contracts for insurance, health care and energy out to bid every few years. Most people know to do this in their private lives, but it is one of the most widely overlooked cost-saving measures available to localities. . . .

Reward early graduation from high school. In most states, offering a community-college scholarship to any student graduating high school in three years actually costs less than paying for his or her senior year. . . .

Collect your own garbage. . . .

Cross-train public employees. The city of Kitchener, in Canada's Ontario province, eliminated contracts for supplemental snow-removal crews and instead trained parks and recreation staff to provide backup. Elsewhere in Canada, firefighters, who often just sit around for long hours between alarms, are required to perform other tasks while they are waiting, such as repairing parking meters."

Summing Up

On the whole, the total spending of local government entities exceeds the spending of the states themselves. That's a mouthful, to be sure.
In any case, there needs to be more of an emphasis on MOM's common sense and less on the "who cares" government knows best OPM approach.

While that's easy to see, it's never wise to confuse simple with easy.

Inserting the simple common sense based MOM approach won't ever be easy to do in the OPM world of all governments --- local, state and national.
That's why We the People must thoroughly support the limited government approach.
It's just that simple.
Thanks. Bob.

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