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As Long as We Remember...

February 7, 2003

Oh, My! The Cry Will Go Up! We Canít Do That!

Alan Imhoff

The time for the annual "Oh! Woe is me!" syndrome is now playing itself out across all levels of government. If we donít get enough money we are going to have to cutÖÖÖ

You can fill in the blank.

It seems we get bombarded every year with the same scare tactics usually centered on cutting those programs most visible to tug at our heartstrings. Governments seem to thrive under the "Oh! Woe is me!" philosophy by cutting back on funding to non-profit organizations because they are not an official part of government.

Yet, in most cases, these non-profits were formed to address a need in the community created when government felt it was no longer their responsibility. Similarly many of the "social services" programs retained by government are also prime targets during budget cutting cycles.

The interesting thing during these "Oh! Woe is me!" times is that these programs are the ones that generally see the biggest increase in demand for their services. It seems government "cuts off its nose to spite its face". The costs will be less in the long run for government to handle all the services required, but we seem to delude ourselves thinking otherwise.

When times really get tough, like those we are going to face this year and next, why not do some creative thinking for government? I know, thatís an oxymoron.

One way might be to exempt the health and safety portions of government, then applying a specific percent cut, straight across the remainder of the budget. Oh, my, the cry will go up! We canít do that!

Why not?

When was the last time you can remember that any level of government really got serious about cutting a budget? Not the cosmetic shell game we have gone through for decades, but real honest to goodness, heart wrenching cuts.

Things like having salaries frozen for a year, in order not to have to cut people. Oh, my, the cry goes up, we canít do that!

Why not?

How many of us have experienced that one. I did for over a year in the early 1980s. Uniformly applied and enforced most people would rather have a job at the same pay rather than not having a job. After the crisis passed, pay increases starting coming again. The interesting part was the bonus we received when we turned the corner financially.

Things like losing a step increase or two in order to keep people. Oh, my, the cry goes up, we canít do that!

Why not?

How many of us have experienced this? I did in the early 1970s, five levels in fact! Again, would not most people rather keep a position than be put out on the street? It took several years, but I regained all the lost steps and then some once we got back to normal.

Instead of asking all to bear the burden equally and equitably, government has this masochistic tendency to inflict upon itself this charade of "Oh! Woe is me!" because it is above the fray of us ordinary mortals. We, who have experienced tough times at intervals that uncannily occur about every 10 years, need to ask government to do the same.

Government has spent so long at the trough of funding from other sources that it does not seem to possess a memory of how it is to exist within their own means.

How many times do we have to listen to statements like: "Well, the state is going to cut back funding by 25% so we canítÖÖÖ." or "We have more competition for a limited pot of funds forÖ.." or "because of the downturn in the national economy we expect less income tax revenues." Duh!

We must to begin to question why we do things the same way over and over again. Every system needs adjustment and fine-tuning. Every process can benefit from a simple question, "How can we make it better?" These principals are at the heart of every quality control program.

If we are going to improve the quality of life in Frederick County we must constantly ask that question. Government is not exempt from quality control; ask questions of all elected officials if something is not right. Ask now!

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