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Ruffalo: Recovery imminent if government would get out of way

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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There are at least three ways to look at how things are going economically these days. Republicans would have us believe the only reason we’re not going to Hell in a hand-basket is because nobody can afford a hand-basket. Meanwhile, Democrats insist everything is peachy, but only because the government purchased a hand-basket for every man, woman and otherwise in the Republic. Then, there’s a third way; namely in which a thoughtful individual weighs observations and evidence and comes up with an opinion. For many, that third way is about as passé as paying two bucks for a gallon of gasoline, but there are some of those thoughtful souls in our neck of the woods. To those worthy few, I posed a question this week as to whether or not things were getting better, and if they weren’t, then give me an ETA on when they would. Among the ones we checked in with are those who put together governmental budgets. Why them? Because they leave the day-to-day stuff to their department heads, while they focus on the future. And, as Mort Sahl used to remind us, the future lies ahead. Placer County CEO Tom Miller just cobbled together a three-quarters of a billion dollars budget, which the supes rubber-stamped Tuesday, and he feels “we’re just about bottoming out right now.” He says his evidence is that county property and sales tax declines have ended their avalanche period and now are dropping at more of a glacial pace. Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson reads the same tea leaves and comes to about the same conclusion. “Year-to-year city business sales figures are up 13, 30 and 20 percent (respectively), and that doesn’t include new businesses,” he said. Although some of the anonymous commenters who trail this column weekly may not like this good news, I’ll compare Auburn’s figure with statewide hikes of 5, 7.5 and 10 percent, respectively. “What seems to be happening is local businesses are able to restructure themselves to be competitive in the current business environment,” he added. Local Chamber of Commerce exec Bruce Cosgrove didn’t cite a bunch of statistics, but nevertheless insists there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not caused by an oncoming train wreck. “Maybe it’s just optimism, but I see and hear more and more positive things when I talk with the local businesspeople,” he says. “The successful businesses here are being run by people who know how to cope. They’re the ones making changes when needed. They’re the ones running specials, or innovating service, or trying different things. Successful business people are always willing to do whatever needs to be done,” he added. Cosgrove said things could improve if “there were some rules in place. “People who run businesses aren’t looking for a whole bunch of breaks from the government, but what they do want is a set of rules that don’t change almost weekly. They usually make their business decisions on expectations, and that’s very difficult when those rules continually change because of uncertainty caused by political leadership.” Miller also expressed a desire for government to get out of the way of the economy. “My personal opinion is there’s definitely an anti-business climate in California. If things keep going this way, we’ll get out of (the recession) in three to four years, but it will be a flat-lined recovery.” Nobody with any sense is prepared to sit by and wait for things to get better on their own. Proactive people always have, and will, show us the way to end recessions. According to Miller, one way out is to keep an eye on continuing costs, but insists “there are remedies for those. One example, he says, is to look to outsourcing. He has an interesting theory along those lines, pointing out that the recession’s myriad job losses means there are some very talented people who’ve put together new businesses that can handle just about any type of outsourcing. When properly prodded, Miller said there is also an attempt to change the pension-cost platform, but adds there’s difficulty there because “the state legislature makes it harder to do so. We need some meaningful reform there.” Miller also expressed a hope that the country’s economy wouldn’t be so service-oriented. “There’s only so much we can sell each other and even China will run out of money to lend us,” he said. What I got out of speaking with those three people was that Americans can always adapt, and then overcome problems. However, when you have state and federal governments working against recoveries, then the trip takes a bit more time. Say until just after the next election. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs on Sundays. Reach him at jimruffalo@yahoo.com.