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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Will the last person out please...

At the state government level we seem to be headed inevitably in a direction that will lead to the situation pictured to the left. The following imaginary dialogue between two citizen visitors to the state capitol might help explain.

Citizen #1 – Who’s that?

Citizen #2 – He’s our state worker.

Citizen #1 – We have only one worker?

Citizen #2 – Yeah, we had to lay the rest off due to budget and tax cuts.

Citizen #1 – What’s he doing?

Citizen #2 – Nothing. The state can’t afford to give him any tools or materials to work with, so he just sits there.

Citizen #1 – Well if he’s not doing anything, why not lay him off, too?

Citizen #2 – Oh, they can’t do that. All of the state's government departments share this worker. There are 2,432 state paid supervisors and managers above him and 742 state legislators and staff who depend upon him being there to justify their jobs; so, they can’t just lay him off.

Citizen #1 – If he’s the only one left, how come we still pay so much in taxes?

Citizen #2 – Well there is the management overhead that I just mentioned. And, of course we have to continue funding the retirement plan for all of them and there’s their medical plan; too; and, well, you know how these things go. It works out to be about $2,000,000.00 per hour to keep him on the payroll; so, the legislators and their staffs have to meet constantly to make sure that they monitor the activities of the worker and the budget.

Citizen # 1 – Wouldn’t it be better just to shut the lights off and close this state up?

Citizen # 2 – That’s the worker’s job, but they couldn’t afford a light switch. Besides, what would the supervisors and management and legislators do then?

As ridiculous as that sounds, we are hurtling headlong towards a scene that will be similar at most levels of government. The biggest single item in most budgets at all levels is the people costs – salaries and benefits (or retirement costs and benefits for the retired workers). There are many reasons for that – rising health care costs and generous (to a fault) retirement plans and pay structures. Add to that waste and corruption (at most levels, again) and you have a system that is out of control. The worst part is that the only supposed “control mechanism” is the oversight and management by the very people who benefit from blocking any change in the system – the politicians.

At the national level, I was amused by the recent uproar about no one protecting us from Chinese toys and other threats from imported products. More than once the national news shows ran the video of the one Consumer Product Safety Product Tester left in the United States (that’s worth repeating – the ONE product safety tester left IN THE WHOLE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA), in his little one-room “lab” dropping a toy to see if small, chocking hazard parts broke off when it hit the floor. This one guy is just a part of the huge bureaucracy called the Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA). Everyone else in the product testing labs has been laid off due to Bush budget cuts, yet there are likely 5-6 layers of EPA management above this guy. And, you thought the dialogue above was crazy.

So, some day, in the not too distant future, maybe the evening news will have a picture of our one state worker, sitting there. He won’t even have a toy to drop on the floor. He’ll be lucky to have the chair. I wonder, if we could see his face, if he’d be smiling – remember that he’s got a great medical plan and a great retirement ahead of him and he can’t be fired. Where do I apply for that job?

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