Saturday, October 6, 2012

Passing the Buck

Governor Romney says, "I'll solve the federal budget crisis by passing the responsibility for ... to the states.  After all, that's the responsibility of the states."    That has left me pondering questions about responsibility and problem solving.

How many of you live in a cash-strapped state?  Is your state meeting its own budget crisis by passing funding responsibility down to the counties?

Where are your state's priorities?  Does your county have law enforcement personnel and fire fighters who earn more than your teachers?  My county does.  California prison guards start as apprentices at substantially higher wages than a new teacher currently earns in the first district I worked for, but cap out at about the same level.  Wages are a little higher in historically high income communities, about the same or a little lower the Central Valley, even lower in rural areas.  In San Francisco, journeyman plumbers start at a higher wage than most teachers in small to medium-sized California school districts can ever hope to earn.

When I  graduated from college, the best public schools in the nation were in California.  Now, a good many years later, California public schools are somewhere very near the bottom of the educational barrel.  Instead of educating our children, we provide more places to incarcerate our adults -- and give them better educational opportunities and tools than most of our public schools can afford to provide.

Do you find any of that troubling?

But this isn't meant to be a rant about teacher salaries.  In my county, I'm told, as much as 10 years ago the county was lagging years behind -- something like 2 to 5 years behind -- in paying the salaries of part time public defenders.  They are private attorneys appointed for those who are arrested and told, "...if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you."  They fill in when a county-employed PD is not available.  The attorneys keep doing the work,.  I don't think they stand a prayer of getting paid.  Any why was the county not paying?  Because funding was actually from the State, but the State was not paying their invoices.

So how do states solve the problem?  They ultimately throw up their hands and transfer to the already cash-strapped counties the whole responsibility for whatever it is that the State budget can no longer afford.  Or they dig in and make very hard decisions.

The same pass-the-buck tactic is being suggested at the federal level.  Those Medicare and Social Security programs that eat up a huge percentage of the federal budget?  Get rid of them! Send them down to the states to worry about.  States that are already cutting welfare and mental health program to sub-minimum levels.  States that cannot afford their existing social burdens.  It's not just California.  I'd guess that your state has similar issues.  They may not be out on the table in the same way as California's, but I'll bet you can find them.  You just have to  look.  

I don't know the solution.  But I do know it does not lie in shifting responsibility, in pointing a finger at a younger sibling or a more vulnerable neighbor saying, "It's his fault."  It doesn't lie in hiding by virtue of distance from the center of activity, by putting the problem out of sight and therefore out of mind.  Nor does it lie in looking longingly at past glories or jealously at someone else's good fortune.  Digging in to really fix a problem is never easy, seldom fun, never accomplished quickly.  How do we get there?  I'm reasonably sure that changing horses at this point will fix anything.

Don't forget to pray ....
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