Wasting Others Time by pendragon David Whelan I had the opportunity the other day to attend hearings by a state legislative committee on funding cuts that imperil all manner of programs, ranging from fire and police departments to public and special libraries to healthcare and medical support. The committee was large and the many citizens and lobbyists providing testimony were impassioned and, for the most part well-informed. And yet it became apparent quickly that one thing was missing: any solution. Each person testified to the effects of the budget cuts to their political subdivision, and many of the effects are going to be devastating. Each asked not only for the funding mechanism to remain untouched this year, but also that a new formula be created to enable a “stable” income in the future.
Before too much time passed, the legislators began to ask the speakers to suggest alternatives. It’s a fundamental of finance, I think, that if you have $100 and $150 in possible expenditures, you’ve got to find someway to cut $50 in expenditures. Am I incorrect in that? But the requests were always to retain the $150, not to suggest a way to get to the $100 without goring one particular ox instead of another. I felt for the legislators, who clearly were frustrated at the very narrow perspective most of the speakers brought to bear on the funding issue. Despite that each speaker felt these cuts were crippling (which was clearly not true in some cases), few to none could suggest alternatives.
The libraries were the entities closest to my heart and interest. It was clear, though, that they perhaps most eloquently spelled out that the cuts were going to hurt libraries as they were accustomed to being operated. Same for our own law libraries. The question the legislators did not put too much emphasis on, although I think they were touching on it, was, given the funding, aren’t there ways to alter operations that can provide new opportunities for providing services, and modernizing, that the organizations hadn’t attempted in the past. And perhaps hadn’t attempted in the past because the funding didn’t require their analysis of those changes.
All in all, it was a valuable experience as anyone working for a political or quasi-political subdivision is going to face regular challenges for funding and will need to be able to explain clearly the value of their services, and that the funding currently being provided is justified. Or, in the worst case when a cut is going to happen, to suggest specific alternatives that offset the cut, through reduction of other burdens or requirements or other changes.