By Reggie Roberson
The local, state and national politicians are all worrying and fighting about how to solve “their” budget problems. The same thinking that got them all into this problem is the same thinking that will keep them there for a long, long time. I’m talking about short-term thinking. Government officials at all levels only think about this year and next year’s budgets, and the next election. They want to spend up to and over the budget rather than save for a rainy day. But it’s raining. They seldom think about a vision for the city, county, state or United States pertaining to the future.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week added an amnesty bill to the military appropriations bill so he could get the Hispanic vote for the purpose of getting re-elected. That’s a great example of throwing our entire government process and the will of the majority of the citizens under the bus for one person’s political gain. That is one example of thousands.
The fund created by the local “MetroCentre tax” is $5 million in the hole, and the Rockford City Council has used this money for their pet projects over the last 30 years. It is irresponsible.
In the private sector, most decisions are made for the financial health of a company for the long term. The general mentality is not “How do I keep my job or how will this affect my next review?” (compared to the managing until the next election).
The other problem is that legislators only pass laws to make the citizens happy on a short-term basis. A good example of this is the pension “reform” signed in Springfield this year. It mandates later retirement times and some other vanilla reform, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The goal is to make us feel like the problem is solved. Why does President Barack Obama’s agenda push everything into 2014? It looks like he is doing something, but he won’t be in the position to be accountable when the pain sets in.
When we discuss budget issues, we think in terms of numbers, but we seem to never put people and their transgressions into these “numbers.” How do we change or educate society? We seem to always need more money for jails, social services, Medicare, Medicaid and so on. What is the root cause for crowded jails, low test scores and graduation rates, and the middle class getting poorer? Like the school system, our mentality is to just throw more money at it.
Why does it take more than $10,000 per student in the Rockford public schools to educate, but less than $5,000 to go to private schools? When are we going to attack the root causes of taxpayer expenditures being out of control? We can cite bloated payrolls, fraud in Medicare/Medicaid and in general, silly funding of pet projects, overpaying for services, pensions and so on in government entities. But what about the cost of divorce, single-family homes, lack of parental influence and caring, and entitlements being a way of life, not a short-term parachute? What about no financial accountability for being unhealthy? Smoking?
Well, guess what, the money train has jumped the tracks, and it’s been looted. Across the country, you see tremendous people with tremendous will making tremendous changes. Look at the city in California that outsourced all departments and found everything running better than it was before—and cheaper. Use the governors of New Jersey and Louisiana in two of the most corrupt states in the union as an example of someone putting the people before the special interests. Look at the governor in Montana going to the citizens and asking them how to save money AND not only asking, but listening to them and implementing their ideas. What a leader! He’s a Democrat, by the way.
The problem with change is that it comes to different government entities at different times. Some citizens are lucky to have genuine leadership (New Jersey and Louisiana) as a body, and some aren’t (Illinois). Some elected officials get it, and some are just dug in hoping to win another election so the furor will go away. I don’t, however, think it will. I think the change we all can believe in is called citizenry involvement. I believe Americans are proud of their heritage and their country, and they feel it has been hijacked, and they are being held up for ransom. Obama’s call to offer change will manifest its way into the average American, but not in the way he thought. Soon, he will be gone, reasonable legislators will get rid of his agenda, and we will return to the values we believe in. But the citizens will remember for a long time that politicians and government officials work for them and, more importantly, are paid by them.
More and more at the end of these types of conversations, people are asking the question, “So, where do we go from here?” It’s a great question, and the average citizen can’t answer that. The average citizen doesn’t have $400,000 to run for mayor, $500,000-$2 million to run for Congress or $6 million to run for the Senate. The average citizen not only doesn’t have the cash, but they don’t have the friends to put up the cash. Engrained politicians have the parties and the special-interest groups to bankroll them, and for most, their souls were the trade-off.
Instead of shaking my head and saying, “What can I do?”, I will offer some changes that will help us in the long run to solve some of our financial and societal issues. Here we go:
1. Mandate by law that a mother and a father be named and verified by DNA on every birth certificate. Think this through—accountability!
2. Bring all the social services together in the county to one building in Rockford to serve the needs better, consolidate back-office coordination, save on overhead. This is not my idea, but a group in Rockford is trying to do this with little traction. Other communities are doing it.
3. Make it mandatory in the county that you will go to prison for life if you use a handgun in a crime. That will be ugly in the short term, but will substantially reduce problems in the future.
4. Create a fine “holiday” for three months for everyone to pay their fines owed to the courts ($45 million in Winnebago County alone). If you don’t pay, a bench warrant will be issued, and you will not be released from jail until all fines are paid.
5. Create a database where all social services can coordinate the benefits received by anybody if you receive help for housing, a Link card, unemployment, Social Security, Medicaid, community hospitals, welfare or any other help. It is my belief that people are gaming the system. These folks know the system better than any of us.
6. If you are receiving one dime of help from a government agency, you must pass a drug test. This includes unemployment. Many people are working just long enough to get eligible for their next unemployment cycle. Ask any employer that mandates drug testing. Anybody who has hired a lot of people has stories of this type of employee. If you fail a drug test once, lose any benefit you receive, including getting kicked out of public housing.
7. Pass a law to get rid of ALL pensions paid for by taxes. I think that if you were hired under the present system, you need to be compensated per the agreement, but all new hires must go into a 401K like every other American.
8. Allow anybody with a college degree to teach in schools. Other states do it. Plenty of pros who have lost their jobs would make very good teachers. They would also bring in maturity and real-world expertise.
9. Cut all state and federal department budgets by 15 percent.
10. If your child misses five days in school in a month, the parent must attend parenting classes—one hour for each day missed in a month. Classes will be available days, nights and weekends.
11. Arrest any drug buyer, and alert their parents if they are a minor and publish in the media if they are an adult.
12. Mandate drug testing for all new job hires. This is being done cheaper and cheaper now, as low as $35 per test. Allow employers to disclose a failed drug test when they are called for references.
13. Make the national language American English and quit wasting money on signs in Spanish.
14. Politicians remember that they are public servants and should be humble servants of the people, for the people—not against the people. Change this thinking, and all will get better.
Reggie Roberson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Sept. 22-28, 2010 issue