State, county and city governments are all facing jaw-dropping, stomach-wrenching, what-in-the-hell-are-we-going-to-do budget deficits. We have 12 percent unemployment. There is no solution in sight.
“Business as usual” practices will not fix this. To solve these problems, with our limited resources, we have to do some things differently. We have to realize how interconnected we are to each other. When a business lays off employees, the lost wages cycle through the economy affecting other businesses, schools and the government. When one government entity cuts costs, it often increases another public agency’s budget. Our budget problems will not be solved unless all of governmental bodies cooperate to find more creative solutions.
For example, you’ve probably heard about the high-calorie, nutritionally poor breakfasts and lunches served at our local schools, state cafeterias and prisons. These cost less than healthy meals. However, they contribute to bad health among our children, state workers and the prison population. If we look at the big picture, we might find that by using locally produced food, we would pay a little more out of one budget, while saving money in another budget, due to increased jobs and lowered health costs. If our elected officials were working together, better choices might be made.
The city of Sacramento currently hauls its trash via gas-guzzling, smog-producing trucks up to Reno, paying fees to a private company in Nevada. If instead the city paid a little more to dump our trash within the county, it could meet the state’s more stringent environmental regulations and save transportation costs, and the dumping fees would go to Sacramento County, which really needs the dough. There are other areas where the county and city can work together, such as law enforcement, assisting the homeless and economic development.
When each governmental entity sees itself as operating independently from the others, these types of creative options will never be considered. If elected officials look only at the cafeteria budget, then the smart decision appears to be the lower-cost meal. But if they are looking at regional health costs, potential income from payroll taxes and the cafeteria budget, then they might just arrive at a truly smart conclusion.
How can we encourage this? We have to require that governments at all levels—state, county and city—work together, looking at the big picture rather than the individual components. We need to give our officials more flexibility to make better decisions. As the Rolling Stones once said, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find you get what you need.”