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March 1, 2009 / jimnv

The Duck Billed Platypus and Frankenstein’s Monster

I wrote the following “letter to the editor” about 18 years ago for the Nevada Appeal. The comments I made then are true now. Unfortunately, the Legislature has done little since then to provide a sane way to keep Nevada governments running. Shame on them. Shame!

No more exuses and ficscal band-aids. Nevadan’s deserve better, they really do.

Maybe we need to start over, immediately replace the whole “Gang of 63” and the Governor too. It might be the only way.

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The Duck Billed Platypus and Frankenstein’s Monster

Nevada’s fiscal program is a collection of funding sources that has no coherency or consistency. It relies heavily on gaming and sales taxes and to make up shortfalls, uses fees and Federal grants. The result, is a system that has many funny looking funding parts stuck together that we call “The Budget”.

Who knows what it really is and how it got that way? Like the duckbilled platypus, it confounds everyone who sees it. Even state employees who work in this mess, don’t know what it is, much less the legislative and executive branches that created it.

There are problems, big problems. Our fiscal platypus is also a Frankenstein’s monster. It is out of control with a warped mind with little or no direction, other than feed itself, by raising fees and asking for more Federal money.

The federal money to run state government is an entitlement. Unfortunately, Nevada is now a duckbilled platypus on welfare.

Our reliance on federal money is very disturbing in both practicality and fiscal morality. For a state that takes pride in its independence, it is at the federal entitlement trough more and more.

Let’s not brag that taxes paid by Nevadans is very low, afterall, we have transferred much of our tax burden to the Federal government. Taxes created by Nevada are within our control, but Federal monies are unreliable, with strings attached and at the political whims of Washington. Reliance on them is stupid.

Here is why Nevada turned away from a sane fiscal path:

The leaders in our state government have no guts and during the past two decades have turned away from resolving these serious issues.

They have also created a budget process that shields them from accountability and makes them look good. It goes like this:

State appropriations to state agencies, funded from gaming and sales taxes are routinely cut each Legislative session. This makes the Legislature look good yet those agencies are directed to provide the same level of service with an increase in demand.

In reaction to the cuts, agencies must request more federal grants. If that doesn’t work, it creates or raises fees. Then, when more appropriations are cut at the next legislative session, fees and grants again, make up the difference. This fiscal stupidity is spiraling to a collapse.

Nevada must develop a plan for self reliance. This is a tall order. The path will be long, but the fiscal evolution that got us here today took decades.

First, we must admit Nevada is a duckbilled platypus on welfare with an evolutionary dead end. Until then, nothing will change. No matter how politically comfortable it is, a dead end is still a dead end. We must act now.

Second, we need honesty from the state executives and legislators who created this monster. They must have the guts to tell Nevadans that if you want something from state government, then you must pay for it with taxes and if you don’t want more taxes, then you won’t get services, schools, roads or whatever. This will be a very big hurdle.

Third, we must restructure state government from the bottom up and not from the top down as was done the past two years. State employees were not involved in the last reorganization. The result was a plan forced upon a rigid and deformed system that was only superficially changed. It has probably cost more to set up and will cost more to operate than it will ever save.

Fourth, we must listen to the employees who know about how everything works and most important, how it doesn’t work. State executives and legislators have very little idea about what is going on, yet they make fundamental budget decisions based on ignorance. Stop it!

Fifth, legislators and the executive branch must stop their micro management of agencies. The system doesn’t work because it is flawed and poorly thought out, not because an agency doesn’t know what it is doing. Micro management and harassing employees at budget hearings will soothe guilty consciences because it looks like something is being done, but the fundamental problems remain. The legislature and executive branches must accept the blame for our fiscal platypus and become responsible and accountable.

Finally, we need to create fiscal goals that encompass at least the next 50 years. Unfortunately, politicians have a hard time looking beyond the next election but we need to pick leaders who can see that far ahead. Voters must accept responsibility for this.

Immediate action is the first step toward a state government that uses less money, works efficiently and evolves away from a platypus. Let’s kill our budget monster now, while we still have a chance.

 

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