Tablet Computer Takeover, The Plight of Small Counties, and Ethics Laws
Focusing on the budget minutiae, and more management news
Take two tablets and call us in the morning. A recent article in Government Health IT magazine pointed out that tablets like the iPad are spreading like wildfire in governments across the country. One question struck us: Are IT departments prepared to maintain these fast-evolving machines in health care and any number of other government services? It doesn't feel like there's much chance — particularly given budgetary pressures over the last few years — that they could be.
Meanwhile, these tablets bring up squadrons of issues: How do you provide interconnectivity with a broader computer system? If you do link them to other technology, how do you protect your entity from security threats? The list goes on and on.
It feels to us like this is a genuinely important area on which governments should focus. Legislatures that don't make some money available to prepare for the impact of tablets will pay manifold times in years to come, either in productivity loss or elsewhere.
Small counties, beware! According to a recent report from the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University, counties with the lowest populations tend to be the heaviest users of the property tax. Larger counties tend to have access to a broader range of revenue streams. (The report focuses on counties in Florida, but we're confident the same holds true in other states.) Meanwhile, according to the report, not only have property taxes suffered as a result of the nation's economic problems, there are a number of measures on the November 2012 ballot in Florida that have the potential to dramatically lower property tax levies.
Do ethics laws really work in legislatures? It's a good question. And here's one point of view from Carol W. Lewis, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut, as quoted in State Legislatures: "Ethics laws are misnamed. These laws forbid you from doing the last thing that someone else did. They come into play 'post-hoc,' after the fact. They're a list to clean up dirty laundry."
In the fervor to cut spending, folks can get pretty heated about minor expenditures. Exhibit A: This recent piece in The Connecticut Mirror describing concerns over repairs to the governor's mansion. In fairness, such debates have a long and storied history in the Nutmeg State. According to the Mirror, "Care and upkeep of the residence has been a sensitive issue for many governors since it was acquired by the state in 1943 and occupied by Gov. Raymond Baldwin and his family on Sept. 14, 1945."
Former Gov. William A. O'Neill spent no money on it during the 10 years he served. His successor, Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., did order repairs — after Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was almost bashed by a falling chunk of ceiling plaster. Now there appears to be concern over money spent on an air-handling unit, a water heater and refinishing of hardwood floors. The price tag? $57,000.
A few weeks ago, we asked B&G readers to share their feelings about stress in the workplace. Thus far, the responses we've received have given us a sense that the tension levels are even higher than we had anticipated. We'll provide a sampling in the next edition of the B&G Report. But in the meantime, we thought we'd share one note that drew strong sympathy from us. It comes from a city employee in a western state. She writes:
"In addition to having twice the workload from those who were laid off two years ago, our City Council decided to accelerate adoption of a major program so that there are now three of us who have between six and nine public meetings at night each month for the next three months. That's six to nine detailed information packets, Web work, handouts, and other meeting materials, not to mention the hours we're spending under fire from the public. It'll be a miracle if we all survive it."
With ever-growing emphasis on the value of broadband, Virginia is taking a clever and innovative approach. As you can easily see online, the state has requested that citizens take a little test to determine the speed of their broadband access. It will then incorporate this data on its broadband map. That, in turn, will give officials a great source of information about gaps in service. This feels like one of the more concrete realizations of the kind of citizen outreach via the Internet that many cities and states have been talking about for years.
The Florida Monitor Weekly is our latest must-read recommendation for B&G Report readers. It is jammed with interesting studies, along with short summaries. While some of its offerings are specific to Florida, many are of more general interest. For example, the most recent edition included reports on jail-to-community re-entry, the salary payoff of getting a college degree and info about personal income in different metropolitan areas.
We came across this in a post from the Council of State Governments Knowledge Center, which, by the way, has developed a couple of helpful graphic representations to show what's happened to state government employment since 2008.
Here's another great resource, which could be invaluable for information about each state's economy and could vastly ease the kind of economic development benchmarking that takes place all the time. Understanding the Economy: State by State Snapshots was developed by the Joint Economic Committee, a House-Senate committee focused on the U.S. national economy. It provides summaries of state economic conditions and covers data on unemployment, earnings and housing.
This quote is more than a few years old, but it still holds true: "We're in the hands of the state legislature and God, but at the moment, the state Legislature has more to say than God." — former New York Mayor Ed Koch
How can law-enforcement agencies cut back on costs? The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has just come out with a strong report suggesting approaches leaders can use. Of course, for many of the NIJ's recommendations, having strong leadership in the first place can make a dramatic difference. Here are some of the "lessons learned from the past," according to the NIJ:
- Avoid across-the-board cuts.
- Utilize the crisis-environment provoked by budget cuts in order to make changes that would be useful under any circumstances.
- Utilize a strategic plan with a multiyear time frame, and stick with it.
- Do not just cut costs. Look for revenue opportunities, such as user fees.
- If reductions in force are necessary, targeted layoffs are more effective than hiring freezes.