Nation rebuilding starts at home

February 21, 2011

Roger Freberg

OPINION By Roger Freberg

Around the world there are plans, strategies and formulas for nation rebuilding. Some of the basic questions are best addressed by setting priorities, not so much for what we want as for what is really needed. For example, there are basic formulas for how many police and firemen are needed per number of people living in a given area. Unfortunately, we have far too many leaders playing to small influential groups and trying to sustain a public sector structure for which funds – sometimes called revenue enhancement – cannot be obtained.

For the first time in many years, Pew Research found that Americans do NOT want the government to spend more.  They don’t necessarily want spending cuts either, but they are becoming strongly opposed to raising taxes.  When the food you buy at the supermarket costs more each time you shop and the price of gas seems to have no limits, nobody wants to see their taxes going up, too.

Let’s look at Wisconsin, which has been at the top of the news. The public unions are on a rampage! Do they really think that their jobs are more important than the many private sector jobs that have been lost in Wisconsin? To be honest, Wisconsin’s financial troubles are not going to be solved by politicians whose partying has gone wild. I read that some of the state’s politicians were found hiding out in a resort to avoid having to anger either their union constituencies or the voters at large by voting on budget reductions. “Just say NO!” isn’t going to work in the long term.

We are not too far away from a day of reckoning ourselves in lovely San Luis Obispo. Do you know which has a greater projected financial shortfall, the City of San Luis Obispo or our county? The answer is that both are in terrible shape, but the city is far worse off, spilling red ink like a drunken sailor. Some fairly drastic decisions will be made – probably without public input – when it all comes to a crashing halt. Here are a few things that we should think about:

1)    The unfunded public pension liabilities hang over the city; but this can be addressed by not exacerbating the issue by continuing to promise what can’t be delivered.  Take action today to ensure that the tsunami doesn’t grow any farther.

2)    A little lesson from environmentalists might help here: reduce, reuse and recycle. The city should immediately reevaluate everything they do based on the current realities and eliminate all obvious extravagancies: executive cars, city credit cards, travel and nonessential purchasing. Any business person who survived the 70’s and early 80’s can help provide direction here. This isn’t complicated.

3)    Consolidation is the key to public sector survival. Everyone is going to be asked to do more with less. Why can’t we combine police and fire department administration? Why do we need the fire department responding to every heart attack when we have ambulances with trained EMTs?

4)    Let’s face it, all the pet projects will probably have to go. It doesn’t matter whose ‘ox is going to be gored’ because everything should be put on the table for consideration. Money for open space needs, senior centers, skateboard parks, soccer fields and all those charitable donations to environmental groups and such need to be re-evaluated. Charity starts at home, but only if you have the money.

5)    It’s an old concept, but “Zero Based Budgeting” seems a good starting point for city planning. We need to ask, “If all we have is a dollar, how do we spend it?” I understand how hard it is for politicians to make the tough calls, especially if their economic understanding is minimal; but it is time to figure it out. I think putting together a group of experienced business people (no politicians, no public employees) and give them the authority to act and make changes might be like budgeting by machete, but it would be a good starting point.

6)    Another concept passed around a lot was measuring by ‘results.’ Are we getting what we are paying for? Okay, now let me pick on the school system. Remember that big Measure A assessment we voted on? Did that new tower at Laguna Middle School help children learn and grow?

7)    I don’t think the public sector has figured this out yet, but ‘technology’ allows you to do more with less. Why do we need so many clerks and secretaries (who hide behind barriers when anyone comes by for ‘service’) when most people write their own emails and do most of what was formerly done by staff for themselves?  My Ph.D. wife has to take the time to look up the ISBN numbers of the textbooks she’s ordering for her classes, because the bookstore staff won’t do it anymore. Is that a good use of an expensive employee?  Technology allows for increased management ‘span of control,’ yet school district, city and county, and Cal Poly administrations (just look at the growth in ‘Student Life’ over the past two decades) have all grown unabated. Lots and lots of fat to trim.

8)    Cuts shouldn’t be across the board, but logical.  Why cut teachers (who actually do the work), without dealing with the vast armies of administrators first?  One administrator job can pay for a bunch of teachers.  Remember when your school had a principal, a janitor, a nurse, a librarian, and a secretary?  The student-faculty ratio at Cal Poly hasn’t changed in 30 years, but administrative costs in the CSU have gone up 5 times more than faculty costs during the same period.  Does anyone know what a Vice Provost does?

Let me say that I am not an anti-union person or against public employees, per se; after all, I am married to one. I have always been a strong supporter of unionized workers, specifically private unions like the Teamsters that know the value of proper representation but ensure that the golden goose can survive. Public unions are not only a threat to business and the economy, but also to the rest of us who are the ‘goose’ ripe for plucking! Changes are coming and it’s better to look at things honestly today or face – as business folks say — a very ugly correction.

Instead of talking about “cutting” government programs, let’s ask each one to justify its existence from the ground up.  Why is your program more important than another one or should it exist at all?

Nation rebuilding starts at home and it starts locally.

Roger Freberg is a San Luis Obispo resident who is using his retirement to write a culinary-inspired blog, comment on important local events and occasionally enjoy getting sued for his journalistic excellence.


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14 Comments

  1. rogerfreberg says:

    Funny, I find it amusing that anyone thinks I am somebody’s puppet… I even post on the Huffington Report and two of my friends write for it… lefties have such limited vision and are so poorly read.

    Oh, I think it is interesting if you watch the race for the hearts and minds in Wisconsin between the ‘don’t cut my salary’ public employees and those who see a grim future and want to do something about it right now. Facts, my friends are troubling things. I tend to read — what most of Washington DC reads — the Drudge Report first thing in the morning… CNN and the rest are so limiting. BTW, most Americans today support the Wisconsin Governor… get used to it.

    So, all the savings that the governor of Wisconsin is proposing amounts to a puny $300 mill when the projected deficit over the same time is in the billions! From what I read it sounds like their governor is trying to save some jobs… but again… it’s the ‘Just say NO’ crowd at it. They just lost a lot of General Motors workers last month in Wisconsin and isn’t it funny that the media isn’t talking about that?

    I know how to save half a million in our county budget… don’t replace the top two administrators! It might mean a lot less canoodling and fun reading, but it didn’t seem like they were really doing anything but having a good time. Here is another question, why do county or city employees need phones… and why the iPhone? Why do they seem to have the most expensive of everything?

    There is plenty of waste in ‘private’ bureaucracies as well… I am sure that PG & E is not beyond reproach; however, for those who have to make a private living by making or providing a service … frivolities usually follow paying rent, utilities, salaries and the usual luxuries of food and shelter. The life of many ‘public employees’ is far less demanding…. except those who risk life and limb for us.

    Actually, history buffs, it was the greatest Democrat of all time who shifted the tax burden to the average Joe… he was Franklin D. Roosevelt. When I taught Federal Income Tax accounting, I would pull out a 1927 Tax return as an example of taxes before the great awakening. It was one sheet of paper and basically the only folks who paid taxes were the rich. Farmers didn’t pay taxes and those making less than $5000 a year didn’t as well. ( That was a huge amount of money in those days)

    What does trouble me is some of the private unions siding with the public unions in Wisconsi. If the public unions win, they will definitely lose. It’s sad.

    Anyway, I have another fun topic that should stirr things up next week….

    Roger Freberg

    (4) 14 Total Votes - 9 up - 5 down
    • bobfromsanluis says:

      Roger: The situation in Wisconsin is far from simple; some of the proposals put forth by Governor Walker are pure giveaways to potential campaign donors, to wit:
      16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

      So a short term gain in selling those plants is not a certainty due to the “no-bid” clause; once the plants are privately owned, what keeps the new owners from raising the rates and charging more? How does that save money?
      The state employee unions have offered to take pay cuts and pay more for their insurance if the governor will take away the demand to strip collective bargaining from the bill currently before the state senate; the governor is steadfastly refusing to negotiate in any form with the unions. How is that democracy? I always thought that politics is the art of compromise, and that a leader, a chief executive who takes on the thought process that only he can determine what is best and does not feel that he needs to communicate with the opposition is basically behaving like a dictator. Why won’t Governor Walker consider the offer by the state employee unions ?

      (2) 14 Total Votes - 8 up - 6 down
    • slomike says:

      Your daily news source is revealing and troubling. No slant, bias or “echo” with Drudge. My lefty site tells me Governor Walker created $117 million in corporate tax breaks. That closely matches the immediate shortfall. http://robertreich.org/post/3422645385 Take some responsibility here. Unions did not cause this mess. The most recent villain was your boy Bush and the tax cuts he rode in on. Glad we lefties of limited vision can keep you amused.

      (3) 13 Total Votes - 8 up - 5 down
    • Typoqueen says:

      I agree with slomike and bobfromSLO. Walker is one step from a dictator. I remember reading somewhere that he is attempting to take over their states Medicare/Seniorcare. He himself wants to run it so he can do away with it. He’s horrible, he knows nothing about diplomacy and working together.

      Roger since you write for the Huffingtom Post then perhaps you read this relating to his union busting debacle:

      “some questioned whether his proposal is really financially necessary. The governor himself claims that Wisconsin can save $165 million by the end of next June simply by restructuring existing debt. Additionally, the share of corporate tax revenue funding the state government has fallen by half since 1981 and, according to Wisconsin Department of Revenue, two-thirds of corporations pay no taxes”

      Two thirds of corps pay NO taxes,,now that’s the republican way. Let the middle and lower class eat cake. I have an idea,,,how about making the wealthy pay their fair share so the teachers of Wi. can pay their bills and educate children.

      ” lefties have such limited vision and are so poorly read”. That’s rich,,,speaking of poorly read perhaps you had better read why the Wi. 14 really left the state. Because you have such vision and are so well read perhaps you should read what they actually said as to why they left, hint,,,it has nothing to do with what you said. The Wi. 14 left because he refused to compromise at all, as typical of the right these days he pretty much refused to work with them to come up with compromises. It’s the dictators way or no way.

      (3) 13 Total Votes - 8 up - 5 down
      • dswinter says:

        Where to start. Do you realize that all taxes on successful businesses are hiden taxes on their customers. Only people can pay taxes and business must pass this expense onto it’s customers.

        The left wants compromise when it loses elections. I guess when Obama wants Obamacare and the people don’t he is not a dictator.

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
    • zaphod says:

      “Devastating facts on the results of GOP policies on America. Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal.
      Their ranking on ACT/SAT scores:
      South Carolina – 50th
      North Carolina – 49th
      Georgia – 48th
      Texas – 47th
      Virginia – 44th

      Wisconsin is currently ranked #2.
      Is it really a mystery why people are fighting this?”
      Guy in Milwaukee

      (6) 14 Total Votes - 10 up - 4 down
  2. slomike says:

    Well embroidered talking points. Fox and Koch trickle down to SLO via this path. First they came for the abortion doctors, then gays wanting to marry, then illegal immigrants. Etc, etc, etc. Public employees are the latest scapegoat. People “want” what propaganda tells them to want. Check out Detroit schools http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/21/detroit-schools-closing_n_826007.html

    (10) 20 Total Votes - 15 up - 5 down
  3. CitizenB says:

    It’s not just in government and schools that administrative costs have gone through the roof. Large private corporations have seen the same trend. For example, PG&E now has fewer employees than at any time since 1985, yet the number of management employees (especially Vice-presidents) has actually increased every year. Some departments have one manager for 5 employees. This despite some very expensive software and hardware purchases intended to automate a lot of day-to-day tracking and management. In addition, the salaries of said management types have also gone through the roof. Currently a total of 50 managers account for 20% of PG&E’s total salary burden, out of a total of some 20,000 employees. Oh, yeah, private industry is so efficient compared to government!

    (12) 14 Total Votes - 13 up - 1 down
    • easymoney says:

      “So, all the savings that the governor of Wisconsin is proposing amounts to a puny $300 mill when the projected deficit over the same time is in the billions! From what I read it sounds like their governor is trying to save some jobs… but again… it’s the ‘Just say NO’ crowd at it. They just lost a lot of General Motors workers last month in Wisconsin and isn’t it funny that the media isn’t talking about that?”

      “I know how to save half a million in our county budget… don’t replace the top two administrators! It might mean a lot less canoodling and fun reading, but it didn’t seem like they were really doing anything but having a good time. Here is another question, why do county or city employees need phones… and why the iPhone? Why do they seem to have the most expensive of everything?”

      Well said Roger…

      ” yet the number of management employees (especially Vice-presidents) has actually increased every year. Some departments have one manager for 5 employees. This despite some very expensive software and hardware purchases intended to automate a lot of day-to-day tracking and management. In addition, the salaries of said management types have also gone through the roof. Currently a total of 50 managers account for 20% of PG&E’s total salary burden, out of a total of some 20,000 employees. Oh, yeah, private industry is so efficient compared to government!”

      Home run citizen…

      “Changes are coming and it’s better to look at things honestly today or face – as business folks say — a very ugly correction.”

      No matter which state doing the cutting or which programs on the block, no one will be happy with losing any perks or bennies. Governor Moonbeam really has a tough row to hoe because he is was part and parcel setting this into play back in the 70’s, now must face the voters and reality today…

      (-5) 9 Total Votes - 2 up - 7 down
  4. SnakePliskin says:

    What a waste of space.

    (-5) 23 Total Votes - 9 up - 14 down
  5. Typoqueen says:

    9) Raise taxes back up to pre Bush levels for the wealthy as they were when Clintion had the economy in check. Some of Roger’s solutions once again adversely effect the majority 90%+ working stiffs and once again lets the wealthy off the hook.

    10) Stop busting med. marijuana and encourage it as the taxes from MJ could easily solve our financial issues.

    Although I rarely agree with Roger F, he does raise a good point. There is so much waste, it’s crazy. The waste doesn’t seem to go away. Our county doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it.

    (3) 23 Total Votes - 13 up - 10 down

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