I served in a financial position with the U.S. Army some 30+ years ago. In essence, I fought the Vietnam War from behind a typewriter in Washington, D.C. Certainly no claim to hero status, but I went where they sent me and did what I was told to do.
Part of my responsibility was spending all of the funds available to us every year so that we could justify increased funding the next year.
Since we had more money than we needed, this task produced some bizarre outcomes. One year we bought the chaplain a fully-furnished tool box as part of our year-end financial finagling, complete with a wrench for removing the tracks from tanks and armored personnel carriers. I seriously doubt that a U.S. Army chaplain has ever been called upon to remove the tracks from an armored vehicle but should the occasion arise, our guy was ready.
Right there in downtown Washington, D.C.
The point of this story is that I am an expert on how government spending works. You can fool some of the people some of the time about government spending, but you can’t fool this ol’ soldier any of the time. I have been in the trenches of fiscal manipulation. There is no incentive in government to save the taxpayer’s money. Actually, there is a disincentive since savings result in lower funding in future years. Lower funding equals a smaller kingdom, the worst case scenario for any bureaucrat.
That brings us to the recent discovery that our Department of Human Services was paying $1.71 per mile to haul folks to job interviews and to work. A recent series of stories in the The Clarion-Ledger was enlightening — and disappointing. One woman was given a ride to work for nine days at state expense at a cost of more than $10,000. The obvious was quickly pointed out: the state could have bought the woman a car for about the same amount.
To put this in perspective, the $1.71 would have covered the cost of operating an 18-wheeler. Presumably, the vehicle actually used to transport this poor woman was not an 18-wheeler and therefore, the reimbursement rate was outrageous. This comes at a particularly unfortunate time when the state’s coffers are empty.
Or are they? Recent statistics indicate that one of the few employment sectors to grow over the past year was government. We now have 3,400 more government employees in our state today than we did a year ago. Using the assumption that it costs about $25,000 to pay and benefit an employee, the cost of these additional workers would be about $87 million. That amount could have helped build roads, repair bridges or perhaps put a dent in the $125-million Medicaid deficit the Legislature is trying to overcome. Instead, straight it went to more bureaucrats.
Do we really need more government employees? Has the population grown? Am I missing something here? Our population growth has been so modest we are losing a congressional seat. Try as I might, I can’t seem to arrive at a logical explanation.
Or can I?
Government grew last year because bureaucrats want bigger empires, fiscal responsibility be damned! The needs and desires of taxpayers are routinely subordinated for the bolstering of egos and consolidating personal power. Sad, but true — and highly unlikely to change.
Here’s the irony in all this. While the Legislature is telling the community colleges that their funding must be cut for the third year running, we have plenty of money to haul welfare “clients” around the state at an unconscionable cost.
Politics being what it is, the future will mirror the past. Our state has no viable strategic plan for providing Mississippians with needed services at reasonable costs. Each year about this time, agency heads submit their inflated budget requests and pressure the legislators to fund their increases ahead of everybody else’s.
That’s why the media’s investigations into government waste, like the Ledger’s recent series, is valuable. The press is the closest thing the public has to a watchdog, nipping away at the heels of the worst abusers and wasters in government. We should be thankful for the blessings of a free press in America.
And that’s the way this ol’ typewriting soldier sees it.
Thought for the Moment — Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. — Lyndon B. Johnson
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.