Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Paperwork is Killing Us

Why the Federal Government Is the Wrong Solution for Local Problems
(c) 2011 by Tom King

We are being told, by them what claim to know, that we have no idea how much out lives will be affected by the proposed Republican cuts to the federal budget. One guy even listed some of the terrible cuts for me so I'd be suitably shocked: This is the actual list

1. Elimination of the "buy local" program (page 173).
  • Okay let me get this straight. This budget item takes tax money from a local community, sends it to Washington, takes out 20 to 40% for admin costs and then sends it back to you to pay for federal employees to go around telling you to buy stuff from yourselves.
2. Fuel inspection (96)
  • And why are we inspecting fuel exactly and what will happen if we don't? No explanation as to why it's bad, it just sounds like it's bad to some folk, so they threw it into the list.
3. Farmland preservation (162)
  • Is this that program that pays people not to build things on their land - like the Congressman who draws tens of thousands of farmland preservation dollars a year for some real estate spec land he bought on the outskirts of Houston or somewhere like that?
4.  Eliminating recycling (96-99)
  • Is this budget item paying for recycling? Whatever happened to the idea the recycling was a cost-effective way to eliminate waste? Or is this just one of those deals where they "educate" people about recycling. Again, no explanation, just sounds bad, so it makes the list.
5.  Repealing school indoor air quality (112)
  • Okay, this sounds horrible. We are doing away with good air in schools. Is that it? And in what way does federal money provide good indoor air quality in schools. Does it replace bean burritos on the school cafeteria menu? Does it provide sixth grade boys with clean socks three times a day and pay them to stop using that pungent cologne they all use?  Can we no longer open a window and if not, shouldn't schools consider that as a possible solution and pay for it themselves?
6.  Transit aids
  • Not sure what that one is either. Are we talking about accessibility features on transit buses. It seems to me that people with disabilities are a primary transit customer. It seems to me that transit providers should provide those aids as a way to attract customers. Wouldn't it be cheaper to have the city pay for those. That way only the city pays admin costs for the program, not the city, the state AND the fed leaving precious little money to actually help more than a handful of transit providers.
7.  Elimnating energy independence office (152)
  • Yeah, boy. Those guys have sure done a bang-up job! If we didn't know they were actually there, will we miss them?
8. Eliminating DPI environmental consultant (173)
  • I looked this one up. DPI is the Department of Public Instruction and this program is environmental education. Basically we're paying for a global warming propagandist.  I think I'd rather not!  We've got school teachers for that.
9. Intercity bus assistance (173-174)
  • It's tought to get intercity buses, unless you realize that rural transit bus providers can do that in a pinch and that if there are actually enough people interested in traveling between cities on a regular basis, you can talk some enterprising private transit provider into providing the service quite easily without holding local public hearings, running a massively expensive feasibilty study and then waiting a year for procurement bidding, setting up the admin structure, rider qualification process and developing a fare structure and federal, state and local co-funding.  Private guys just send one of their buses to pick people up that need a ride.  I know, I'm a local transit advocate and I've seen how effective private providers can be, especially when they are using local government funding to provide rides. They make great partners for local public transit companies.
10. Mass transit (57-58, 175)
  • I seriously doubt the feds are eleminating mass transit entirely. They can't. Most mass transit is funded locally through fares and city, state and county budgets. They get a lot of federal bucks to supplement the cost of weak routes. What a lot of cities discover is that paying for transit can stimulate business in town and build their tax base. Denver's downtown "bus every 15 minutes" service revitalized empty downtown shops because it made it easy for people to park and shop without having to mess with the traffic. These kinds of projects pay for themselves and really don't need federal dollars. Locals will do it if it is cost effective.
11. Creating freeway megaprojects (175-176)
  • Tried that in Texas. We spent more trying to defend the concept than we did in building it. It died. When freeways become so congested with truck traffic that we can't drive on them, we'll build the big through tollway. We probably would have built it already, but someone was going to give the construction to a French company. Texans didn't like that. We'll fix the problem, especially if we can quit sending so much money to other states to pay for their freeway megaprojects.
12. Devastating K12-, technical colleges
  • There's a budget item for devastating K12 and technical colleges.  I suspect they're talking about defunding the Department of Education.  Isn't that the agency Jimmy Carter created which has since presided over a steadily declining American education system? Again, not sure we need "education' about education. Seems inefficient.
14. Eliminating UW supports 
  • Scratched my head over this one till I suddenly realized what UW stood for - undocumented workers! Yeah, there's going to be a lot of folks unhappy about getting rid of those I bet.
13. Eliminating in-state tuition for undocumented students.
  • That's the program where we pay for folks who sneaked over the border to get a discount on their tuition as though they were legal residents while kids who drive across the state line to go to school have to pay more............right?
You know, I do realize some things will have to change if we develop a realistic federal budget. So, I'm actually in favor of eleminating a lot of the things my friend listed above even though I may approve of what the program is trying to accomplish. Recycling is great. Promoting transit is a good thing - one in five Texans, for instance, cannot drive and depend on transit. But the cost in federal paperwork alone is a good reason it should be handled at the state and local level.

I just believe that the federal government is the wrong entity to conduct those programs.

Three reasons:

  1. Central authorities tend to design one-size-fits-all programs which generate poorly adapted program implementation when they are applied at the local level. This generates waste and inefficiency.
  2. Centrally planned programs require huge administrative bureaucracies. Huge bureaucracies generate vast amounts of paperwork for themselves and other bureaucracies which necessitates the hiring of more bureaucrats to handle the flow of paperwork. Federal programs easily spend 50 to 60% on admin costs leaving but a fraction of taxpayer money to do what the program proports to do = generating waste and inefficiency.
  3. Federal program staff have one primary goal - keep their jobs. To do this they must not only appear to be doing what they are supposed to be doing, but must also spend all their entire appropriation doing so. If they don't spend all their money, their budget gets cut the next year. If you ever want to hear weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, cut a federal agenciy's budget. The need to spend all the budgeted funds creates (you guessed it). Waste and inefficiency.
It's far better for states, counties and cities to create programs to address their own problems than for the federal government to try to do it from on high. In my experience, Washington hasn't a clue what East Texas needs and shouldn't make blanket decisions about how to solve our problems. We need to solve our own problems. It's a whole lot cheaper that way.

The way this bloated federal budget does it now, if we send a thousand bucks to the federal government, we get maybe 20% back in usable dollars. The rest they keep for the military (which I understand), stuff they give to other states, and big fat administrative fees. The only way to cut those administrative costs is to cut the amount of money they have to admiinster.

So, yeah, cutting this over-inflated budget is going to hurt. Some congressmen will no longer be able to claim "farmland preservation subsidies" for those real estate investments they bought ion the outskirts of Houston. Denver and Detroit. People will have to decide for themselves whether they want to recycle without being paid to do so.

We'll lose some useful programs in the process. Perhaps if we don't have to send so much money to the federal government to pay for the deficit, maybe later we can bring them back and actually pay for them cash up front. Or, better yet, pay for them at the local level where the bureaucracies would be smaller and thus the admin costs.

The interest is killing us, folks. We could actually fund most of the realy good programs if we could eliminate the interst payments on the debt alone, not to mention the principle. The madness has to stop.

I'm just saying.


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