Unruly Rules, Preaching Against Government Waste, And Legislating Inoculations

Plus: City Budget Cuts, Stimulus Strains, And More Management News
by | October 21, 2010

What rule, requirement or procedural step do you most wish would dry up and go away? It seems to us that, at some point, everyone involved in any large organization — public and private sectors — is required to follow at least one policy that they believe benefits no one, but just costs them time, effort and stomach lining. Anything come to mind for you? Please email us and let us know. If we get sufficient responses, we're going to tally them up and let you know which was the most commonly cited. So, not only is this your chance to contribute to the B&G Report — it's also an opportunity to vote!


A quote we wish we'd said: "You can't expect to support and finance political candidates who preach that government is menacing and wasteful, that public employees are incompetent and corrupt, that taxes are always too high and destroy jobs, and then turn around and expect that the government will respond to your demands to hold down the cost of health care, or fund basic research, or provide good schools, efficient courts and reliable transportation systems."

— Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post columnist


Until recently, California was one of 11 states that didn't require school children to get immunization against whooping cough and pertussis. Legislation to make the shots a requirement "had been stalled for several years amid concerns that California would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for vaccinations for children on Medi-Cal, the government insurance program for the poor," according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

States, cities and counties make decisions like this every day. But California's leaders decided to change their minds and mandate the inoculations early this month when they were confronted with the real-world results of their non-decision: Some 5,272 people in the state came down with whooping cough — more than any year since 1950. Nine babies died. Health officials argued that "teens who have not been immunized have been a factor in the spread of the disease."

Nothing like some real-world deaths and illnesses to get a legislature moving.


The National League of Cities' annual City Fiscal Conditions report is always of interest. The most recent one, which came out a couple of weeks ago, breaks down the ways in which cities have been trying to cope with revenue streams (property, sales and income taxes) that are projected to have declined some 3.2 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, in a single year.

So what have the nation's cities done? "Financial pressures are forcing cities to layoff workers (79 percent), delay or cancel capital infrastructure projects (69 percent), and modify health benefits (34 percent). There were also significant increases in the number of officers reporting across-the-board services cuts (25 percent) and public safety cuts (25 percent). Public safety is usually reduced only as a last-resort option."


"ARRA displacement." That's what we're calling an unfortunate phenomenon that stifles the capacity of government management to do its job. As we described it in a post we wrote for the IBM Center for the Business of Government blog about the stimulus act, "With limited administrative capacity in governments, when there's need for more effort on the Recovery Act, it displaces other work. For example, we've heard complaints from state and local auditors that they can't manage the new requirements for auditing and oversight and get their regular work done. Inevitably, some long-standing evaluation plans have wound up on the cutting room floor."

Despite this phenomenon, we continue to hear about states and localities cutting deeper and deeper into administrative capacity in order to save much-needed cash.


Fun fact: Of the 50 states, Vermont is the only one that doesn't have a balanced-budget requirement of some kind. Meanwhile, the state just got a triple-A bond rating from Moody's Investors Service, which commented on the state's "history of strong financial management and fiscal policies indicated by conservative budgeting practices."


How many times have you heard that one of the problems leading to fiscal crisis in the states has been that they simply employ too many people? We've heard it plenty, and inadvertently came across an October 2008 list of states with the least number of employees per capita. The timing, we'd point out, was only about 10 months into the new recession, and wouldn't reflect cuts made since then. The five states with the least employees per capita were Illinois, California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada. Despite relatively low state-personnel numbers, none of these states is remotely close to being a positive model. And at least a couple of the states are poster children for hideous budgetary problems.


"Voters in 37 states will consider a total of 160 statewide ballot measures this November," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Of the total, 42 come from the citizen initiative process." This is relatively small number compared to recent major election years. We'll admit a bias here: We think fiscally-related measures in a number of states have caused more harm than good. Think California, Colorado and Oregon. So, maybe fewer is better.

One theory as to why there aren't more: These measures aren't cheap. And there's not a lot of money around now for this kind of legislative activism.


What motivates action? Based on a June survey of all of America's counties, the National Association of Counties discovered that more than two-thirds had sustainability strategies, like energy efficiency, renewable energy generation and improved waste management. This work could help make the air cleaner, reduce the use of carbon fuels that come from other parts of the world and so on.

But here's the kicker: Nearly half of the respondents didn't cite one of those things as the most important benefit their county was getting from sustainability efforts. No. 1 on their lists of reasons? Cost-savings.


Public Civility Corner. This recurring featuring in the B&G Report frequently bemoans the ways in which citizens treat elected and appointed government employees, and the way those employees treat one another. It just hit us that all these folks are getting a lesson in acceptable public discourse every night on television. The vicious campaign ads (some of which leave us feeling like deer caught in the headlights when we watch them) can't help but demonstrate that some of the most powerful elected officials in the land talk about opponents in a way that would get a teenager two weeks of detention, if applied to a classmate.

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