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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Balancing the Budget with Common Sense

Budget cuts need to SOLVE problems - not make new ones.

By Vesta Copestakes

I understand the need to balance the budget - and I also understand the urgency. And I even understand that by now legistors are swamped with people making pleas for what is important to them personally.

In the case of our state parks, although there are millions of people who use them, there are equally millions who never set foot on park land.

Millions never need food stamps. Millions never need in-home care. Millions never need alcohol and drug detox programs. Millions never need prison support services.

Pick a subject where cutting costs will save money and you will hurt some severely, while not touching the lives of others.

It seems that much can be accomplished by trimming fat out of every part of the state budget. Yes, that takes time and a profound attention to detail, but broad strokes may have immediate results, then in the long run, will probably cost more money. We can't think only in the NOW any more. We have to consider our future, plan well for it, and ponder the consequences of our actions before we embark on a path.

Closing parks won't keep people from using them anyway, but there will not be enough personnel to police and maintain the land. Partying youngsters on a hot summer night could easily start fires. Close restrooms and people will use the forest floor. Do you actually think that a gate and fence will keep people out?

Rather than harp on all the reasons to keep parks open without offering a solution, I'd like to suggest a few ways to accomplish our goals for balancing the budget - or at least keep it from collapsing, while making improvements on how our state handles money.

One of the facts that came out of last year's proposal to close state parks, is that every $1 that funds the state park system returns $2.35 to the state's General Fund, largely through economic activities in communities surrounding state parks.

I happen to live in one of those communities that would be negatively impacted. I can't think of a community in our state that wouldn't feel a negative impact. Los Angeles? If people can't come to the parks, they also won't be stopping at stores for gear and supplies, and that means they won't be paying sales taxes. So individuals save money but the state, and communities, lose money! This is a lose/lose.

I honestly think that there are ways to cut costs without sinking any one ship. For example, Government jobs and retirement plans are notorious for employing people over many years, with automatic pay raises whether they work to deserve them or not. Government also pays retirement pensions at remarkably high levels and then gets no work in return for that money. If the governments were run like a business, people would only keep their jobs if they worked hard, and well, and if the company couldn't afford raises, no one would get one. Retirement? That's up to the individual to take care of. Beyond Social Security, people need to be responsible for their own lives. It's like that in the private sector - why not government?

Mini-budget cuts that add up. How many departments could be streamlined through changing how things are done. There's hardly an aspect of life where you couldn't look at a situation and make it more efficient. Working efficiently costs less. Some government programs cost more than if the same task were performed by a private sector company. People are still employed but all the benefits, pensions, etc. are not a government expense. Many government jobs are no different from people on entitlement programs. There's a lot of money going out for very little energy and effort coming in. No private sector business could survive this way.

Generate income through legalizing marijuana and taxing it the same way alcohol is taxed. People like to get high. It's silly to allow one form of inebriation and not another. Tax revenues generated though addictive substances is part of our income stream. Pot is considerably less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes yet both are highly additive, as well as costly to society. Not only would the state have increased revenue, it would also have drastically reduced costs fighting this losing battle. This one item could go a long way toward actually balancing the budget.

I believe strongly that there are many ways to come to terms with this financial crisis. Treating the state the same way we treat our home and family budgets, and our private sector business budgets, would help tremendously. It may take time, but in the long run, we have a solution that could change the way we function for the better.

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