So, a group of people down in Indianapolis came out with suggestions for how local governments can be downsized to save money. Okay. I’m up with the idea of saving money. Governments, like people, should live within their means, especially when they’re spending someone else’s dough.
However, I’m bothered by this sinking feeling that many of those making these decisions seldom let their thoughts stray outside the Indianapolis metropolitan area.
I take issue with their insistence that local governments are responsible for overspending, while state government is lily white clean. Can you say, “Unfunded mandates”?
The state and federal governments have come up with a brilliant way to make it seem like they’re spending less money: They simply order local governments to do what big government and/or lawyers say needs to be done, without bothering to pay for it. Much spending at the local level is because of state and federal requirements. Next time you hear someone call a county jail a “Taj Mahal”, remember that 90% of the cost is out of the hands of counties.
The state has been edging toward taking even more control from local governments. Look at the recommendations, and you’ll see several instances in which the state “volunteers” to take over funding for various government responsibilities. Isn’t that nice of them? It means they’ll handle all those annoying little details of paperwork and distribution.
It also means they’ll control the purse strings.
Some of the recommendations make sense. Others make sense in theory, but aren’t likely to work in reality. Some save money only on paper. And some will result in still more big government intrusion into what should be matters of local government, where the citizens live.
Can state government do things more efficiently?
Only if you’re blind. Or, to continue the vision comparison, in a pig’s eye. Let me give you an example.
About a decade ago, I got divorced. Let me hasten to point out that the state government was not at fault for this. We had an amicable split, which is another way of saying we didn’t see the point of throwing cutlery at each other, or fighting over our collection of really neat stuff. You get divorced to stop fighting over stuff, don’t you?
We agreed that I would pay child support directly to her. It made no sense to go through the courts: We shared kids, who I would have with me on all my days off, so it was a simple matter to just hand her a check. So it was written into the divorce decree, and I proceeded to do just that. The amount was less than usual, because I had the kids for every one of my days off, vacations, personal days, and so on – they were with me well over a third of the time, and close to half. I even cooked for them, until the welfare people ordered me to start getting takeout.
Now, when my oldest daughter got out of high school, she moved in with me for awhile, then moved away completely. My ex-wife suggested we go up and see about getting the support amount adjusted, which made sense because there was only one kid involved now, rather than two.
We went together to see the nice people at the child support office (I’m not being sarcastic, they really were nice), where they proceeded to tell me that I’d never paid a dime of child support. That surprised me, because, well, I was poor.
But we were at a county office; they knew us, we knew them, a few phone calls and it all got straightened out. Then the fun began.
First, despite the fact that we’d agreed on the amount of child support, when I went from paying for two kids to paying for one my child support payments went UP. It seems our friends in Indianapolis had decreed that everyone must follow their little bureaucratic tables, and I couldn’t change that even if my ex agreed; I’d have to take her to court.
Then I learned my child support was now to be taken directly out of my paycheck. Okay, no problem; it saved me writing a check. But the county wasn’t handling it – the money would be taken out, sent 150 miles to Indianapolis, processed, and sent 150 miles back, to my ex-wife – who lives 12 miles away, and to whom I had been simply handing a check before.
For this I would be charged thirty dollars a year.
Fast forward a couple of years. I get a call from the county courthouse, where they’d been instructed by the good folks at Indianapolis to dock $30 from my paycheck. That hadn’t seemed right to them. I work for county government myself, and I’d fooled them into thinking I was more or less trustworthy, so they gave me a call. Did I have a check number?
Sure I did, in one of the five boxes full of paperwork on my back porch.
But the good luck fairy was hovering over me that day, and by pure chance the check register was right at the top of the first box I opened. I gave that number to the people at the courthouse, who called Indianapolis. A few minutes later, a faceless drone somewhere in the area of the statehouse found my check about two inches from their left hand, where apparently it had lain during their entire evil plan to suck my paycheck dry.
So, let’s review: Noble County discovers problem but quickly solves it; then discovers another they can’t solve, because the state says so. Then, State of Indiana causes problem by losing one piece of the tons of paperwork they push every day. Noble County then solves problem, so I can continue to send my totally unnecessary $30 so the state can slap themselves on the back and say what a great job they’re doing.
It’s not exactly an unfunded mandate, since I’m paying the bill instead of local government. Just the same, are you starting to see why I believe the politicians in Indianapolis are causing the very problems they claim they can solve?
Whether at state or federal level, being bloated and powerful doesn’t make them good, efficient, or right.
Here’s a little post script: Not long after I wrote this column I received a letter from the State of Indiana, informing me I no longer have to pay them that $30 a year. Nope. Now it’s $55 a year.