Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
At more than 63,000 square miles, California has plenty of room to hide stuff.
One of my favorite stories is of a state survey requiring all departments to report the number of buildings – everything from offices to garages – they owned. Back came the survey, and it was revealed that the state owned 10,000 buildings.
OK, said state administrators. We’re giving you one more crack at this. If you have buildings you aren’t reporting, and something goes wrong with them, you can’t use state funds to fix them.
Again the survey came back. This time the state owned 20,000 buildings.
There also is plenty of room to hide stuff in its $91 billion budget. For example, you can see how a state agency might forget it had $54 million in reserve. After all, this isn’t even one-tenth of a percent of the total budget. It is easy to see how easily it might be mislaid. Nevertheless, the Golden State’s parks director had to “resign,” and her chief deputy was fired for underreporting the department’s cash on hand by that amount.
It was bad enough that the funds were mislaid. But the big problem was the department threatened to close 70 parks due to lack of funds. This would have saved about $22 million over two years. Local organizations throughout the state mobilized to raise funds to keep their parks open, and members were understandably sore when the department piggy bank was discovered.
“You don’t go around coercing community groups and nonprofits to solve your problems while you’re sitting on reserves that size,” said one activist.
But California’s government long has been in the coercion business. Rather than prioritizing spending and cutting fat, the Legislature and governor demand tax increases, threatening to end vital or popular programs if they don’t get their way.
Right now, they’re brandishing crippling tuition increases at the state universities and colleges if their latest tax initiative isn’t approved by the voters.
But we aren’t here just to criticize. We have some positive suggestions for saving a million here, a million there:
Privatize state printing. Currently, the Office of the State Printer holds a monopoly on the state’s printing business and is a huge production bottleneck. I knew of one department’s quarterly newsletter (eight standard pages) that was two quarters behind schedule because of a system akin to hand setting type. Some state agencies, frustrated by the system, set up their own, bootleg print shops. Private print shops can do the work cheaper and faster.
Get rid of First Five California. This outfit, created by initiative, sucks millions out of taxpayers to advise parents how to raise their kids. Call it “Son of Self-Esteem.” It’s a tremendous money waster. A new initiative campaign is needed to repeal this boondoggle.
Cut patronage jobs. Clearly, this is wishful thinking. But there are uncounted political appointees, squirreled away in every burg from Calexico to Crescent City, who do noting for their pay. Well, they do keep an eye on things for the speaker of the assembly, the governor, the president pro tempore of the state Senate and multiple powerful committee chairmen.
Rein in the Air Resources Board and the Water Resources Board. Much of what these virtual legislatures do is duplicative. Much of what they do stifles economic growth. Concerned about burdensome government regulation? Take a look at these bodies, to which the Legislature has ceded authority.
The above would be a start, but don’t hold your breath.
Our pusillanimous press: When I was just a rookie reporter on a small-town daily, a civic leader told me I should let him examine a story before it was published. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, but I retained my composure and said, “We don’t do that.”
That’s what all reporters used to say. Now we find out, via the New York Times, that they do “do that,” not only for the White House and the Obama re-election campaign, but for the Romney campaign as well. It seems the folks speaking for Obama and Romney want to be able to – and are enabled to – censor their own remarks.
They don’t want to be “off message.” Frequently, however, off-message comments reveal the truth in politics.
The First Amendment says government may not abridge the rights of a free press, but it doesn’t proscribe self-abridgment. Members of the Washington press corps, in caving in to the demands of politicians and administrators, have, like the Bible’s Esau, despised their birthright.