Budgeting For Dummies

My wife and I were so excited when we bought our first home back in the 1970s, just a few miles west of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls.   We hadn’t been there more than a month and were outside in the yard, raking leaves.  Suddenly we saw a huge plume of thick, black smoke rolling out of the base.

“What the heck is that?”  We looked at each other, and guessed that a plane must have crashed and exploded.

We looked in the newspaper the next day, and watched the TV news, anticipating a story about the mystery explosion at the base.  But there was no report.

Still curious, a few days later I asked a friend who worked at Malmstrom, “What was that big cloud of smoke at the base all about?  Was there a plane crash?”

Puzzled, he said nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.  Then he said, “Wait a minute, was that Friday?”  I said yes.  He said, “Oh, that’s normal.  On the last day of the month, they always pour their excess jet fuel on the ground and burn it so they get their full allocation for the next period.  They call it fire fighter training.”

It’s common knowledge.  The way budgeting works in every government department is thus:  you get what you got before, plus a little more.  Whether you need it or not.  Whether your department is functional or not.  Whether the program is still needed or not.  Whether we have the money or not.

Is it any wonder our governments are bloated, inefficient, and ineffective?  Can you imagine any family or business running like this?

Our US Senate has not even bothered to write a budget for over three years.  Didn’t seem to matter much, did it?

I can give countless other examples of the idiocy of our government budget process, but I’m sure you have plenty of your own.

Rick Hill, Montana candidate for governor, really got my attention when he said he would work to implement “Priority Based Budgeting” if elected.  It didn’t get much of a reaction in the press, but I think it is the singular most significant promise I have heard this year by any candidate for any office.

Imagine if Hill’s common-sense idea were implemented at all levels of government.  We would find thousands of government buildings and other assets no longer needed, agencies who compete inefficiently with each other to provide the same services, and buildings full of desks full of people whose purpose became obsolete long ago.

There is no excuse for the laziness of our elected officials, who shirk their oversight responsibilities for the myriad of government agencies and departments.

If elected, Rick Hill and Mitt Romney and other elected executives have a golden opportunity before them: they can press the RESET button.  It might work like this:

  • CITIZEN RESET – Every citizen who receives an entitlement (other than social security) has one year to re-apply for program qualification.  Are you receiving disability?  Let’s make sure you are still disabled (or ever were).  Are you on unemployment?  You will be required to show that you are actively making yourself available and employable.
  • GOVERNMENT RESET – Every department has one year to justify its existence, demonstrate and quantify the value it offers taxpayers, and request its first zero-based budget.  The executive will require legislative oversight that is meaningful, detailed, and transparent.  And all payments made by the government will be audited against the budget.

Using the data management capabilities that are commonplace in business today, fraud and waste in government are easily preventable.  In spite of their promises, our elected officials have never even tried, and there is no time like the present.

Oh, and all government employees will be required to read “Budgeting for Dummies.”  There will be a quiz.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Zero-based budgeting,
according to Billy Preston
(gotta love the hair!)

Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’
You gotta have somethin’
If you wanna be with me

Nothin’ From Nothin’ – Billy Preston

How Stupid Do They Think We Are?

Last night I got an amusing “push poll” telephone call from the Democrats about the Montana governor’s race.

From Wikipedia: A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll. Little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll.

The use of push polls as a political tactic has grown tremendously in recent years, as campaigns have realized that direct marketing calls on behalf of their candidates just don’t work.  Depending on the political orientation of the receiver, honest political messages either “preach to the choir” or are summarily rejected.  So the campaigns must rely on deceit to win votes.

I rather enjoy receiving a push poll call, especially from “the other side”, because it gives me insight into how stupid the political organizations think we are.

Would you say this call makes you annoyed, disgusted, or homicidal?

I always ask the telemarketer (usually a young, oh-so-polite female) if she can identify who commissioned the poll, knowing that the answer will be:  “I’m sorry, but I am not allowed to know who is requesting this information – I just work for the XYZ Research Company.”

This call started out with the usual classification queries: do I consider myself a Democrat, Republican, or Independent?  If I had to vote today, would I vote for Hill (the Republican) or Bullock (the Democrat)?   Then came the obligatory effort to feign neutrality by asking a few mildly provocative questions about each party’s candidate.

And then the fun began.  “Please state the level of your concern when you hear the following question:  It has been reported that Rick Hill has supported euthanizing all senior citizens and wants to cut education budgets by eliminating cafeterias and making children eat insects for lunch in the school restrooms.  Would you say you are very concerned, somewhat concerned, concerned, not very concerned, or not at all concerned?”

It’s tempting to “mess with” the caller.  “Well, it depends on how much we have to spend on those insects . . .”   But the girl on the other end of the phone is just a kid making minimum wage, totally oblivious to what she is doing, or why.  I usually try to gently educate, but I can’t claim much success.

The “poll” questions are always multiple-choice.  Just once I wish I could answer fill-in-the-blank.  My answer would be:  “How stupid do you think we are?”

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

What kind of fool
(What kind of fool do you think I am)
Do you think I am now
(What kind of fool do you think I am)

What Kind Of Fool (Do You Think I Am) – the Tams