Ruffalo: It’s time to get real about our real money crisis

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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While trying to find that last piece of dark meat to complete the umpteenth turkey sandwich, it occurs to me despite all of the paring and carving we’ve seen from our various governmental entities, it just isn’t enough. Of course, part of the problem is many of the cuts are either cosmetic, or just plain disingenuous. Meanwhile, some of the others are ill-advised, especially when you take even a cursory look at what went untouched. Need an example? Well, start with our educational system. Currently that part of the state budget gets more than half of every tax dollar taken in, which means either the ones getting the money are misspending it, or it’s way too overpriced to begin with. We’ve all heard from local school districts claiming they’re only one election away from bankruptcy, and only another mass transfusion of taxpayers’ funds can save them. However, if you’re getting at least half of every tax dollar, then when is enough enough? Unfortunately, the way various officials try to rectify the schools’ funding crises also speaks volumes about how the system is completely rigged. After all, when is the last time you saw a district lay off an administrator? Happens about once every Ice Age or so, although it appears they decided to forgo the effort during this most recent cold snap. Instead, the guy who sweeps up the classroom gets laid off, truly competent young teachers are the first to go while union-protected sluggards keep their gigs, and if you’re a school-bus driver, you are a part of an endangered species. And it doesn’t get any easier in other budgetary areas. It seems as fast as one thing is cut, it’s replaced by at least two even more expensive programs. Things which began as a helping hand soon evolved into an entitlement. Meanwhile, governmental staffs continue to enjoy a healthy growth rate. Perhaps my pet peeve along these lines is the survivability of governmental press agents. Those flacks seem to have the half-life of enriched plutonium. Don’t believe me? Check around Placer County. The City of Lincoln lays off cops, but keeps the city press agent. The highly competent Anita Yoder announces her retirement, and now we hear that there’s a stampede of would-be replacements. That’s odd if you remember that Yoder has two assistants, the Sheriff’s Office has a dedicated sworn officer as well as a full-time PR person, and the District Attorney’s Office has its own mouthpiece. As much as I respect the job most of those PR folks turn in, I also think that if the choice comes down to a DA’s file clerk and a flack, then by all means let my people go. Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not calling for anybody else to be shown the door, especially at this time of the year. It’s just that with taxpayers trying to pay for life’s luxuries such as food, rent and clothing, perhaps it’s past time that our elected officials start getting serious about budgets. In the meantime other entities continue to kick the pension dilemma down the road, preferring to promise big retirement bucks decades from now in exchange for some budgetary sleight of hand allowing it to show a decrease in current salaries. This bill eventually becomes payable, and somebody better start realizing that. The Board of Supervisors seemingly deals with this never-ending proposed cut, or that promised slice of a budgetary item, yet retains in full measure its slush fund. Do any of those five realize that every week, a $200 contribution to this service club, or another C-note to that school’s graduation-night party aren’t sitting well with us folks who really provide those funds. Granted, in the giant scheme of things, the BOD’s $200,000 annual handout is small potatoes in the current budgetary realm. Nevertheless, as the late, great Everett Dirksen was fond of saying, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Guess what! We are now at the point where we need to start a conversation about real money. We are not out of the woods during this financial panic. Bad times are here, but maybe worse times are headed our way. The brighter minds I talk to insist that all governmental agencies have done so far is get through the easies of the difficult times. The odds are very good that the more difficult times are about to stare us in the face. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at