Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Fri, Jul 07 2006

Counting the cost—and the number of tools it will take to count

At least one website invites Californians to put their budget skills to the test by creating a state budget that would apply 5 years into the future. The site, Next Ten, also has fact sheets and other educational tools to help us understand more about what goes into planning for the state's financial needs.

You'll have to disable your pop-up window stopper to take the Budget Challenge. And when it does come up it will maximize the window to fill your monitor screen. There are also PowerPoint presentatins and Word document files here and there on the site. The whole thing is a great idea, but it seems to me that they may be assuming a lot when they say they hope to encourage more of us to get involved to see that budgets can happen with less stress and with better outcomes for future generations. One has to have quite a few different software programs and some skills in navigating all those links to different files. Maybe they're just trying to get us all into the correctly frustrated frame of mind so that we can sympathize with those who make actual budget choices for Californians.

I'm thinking that an actual state budget is formed something a little like this:

All current budget information is first stored/buried deeply inside a myriad of convoluted documents with which lawmakers must contend in order to obtain a clear picture of exactly where the money has been going. This is, of course, next to impossible, because most government spending is also hidden beneath other layers of a myriad of documents, most of which sprang from whatever legislation would have resulted in its demise.

Next, a completely new set of convoluted graphs are created from this data in the form of a very moving presentation that is enhanced with full-color graphics that were created with a computer that is capable of producing beautiful work, but with outdated software, to let everyone know the budget for software got cut last round, that is capable of producing about 4 pixels to the inch. This requires tremendous leaps of faith on the part of whoever interprets the charts.

An attempt is then made to match each color chart with older black-and-white charts, in order to determine which chart produces results that will gain favor with the majority of voters in a majority of districts.

New charts are created. These indicate where money would be of optimum use in the coming year.

After a period of official mourning, the newest charts are then run through a set of statistics that indicate to lawmakers just how far apart the actual needs of the people are from those of special-interest groups and cronies.

Panic ensues. This delicate mix of data is then mashed into a pie chart about the size of the head of a pin.

Lawmakers flog the pie chart until it produces data that stretches into a document that, laid end-to-end, would reach from the Capitol steps in Sacramento to the innermost shrubbery of the White House lawn.

Dehydrated and near complete exhaustion, lawmakers then go on break for a period of days not to exceed that which would invite public wrath and recall elections.

They return, refreshed and eager to nick, if not eliminate, every other district's local pork links, while keeping their own intact.

When the budget has been sufficiently reduced to a set of figures that might possibly be presented on 2 full pallets of recycled paper, lawmakers choose one or more budget points. These points may be used for one or more of the following: to stir up union members, to harrass small businesses, to inflame public sentiment for (or against) one or more perceived minority groups, to facilitate further corporate flight from the state, to incite campus riots or to needle the current governor.

They have 2 choices. They can shove through a budget on-time and run the risk of being told they aren't fully doing their job. Or they can be late with a budget and run the risk of being told they aren't fully doing their job. I think they have a lot more fun and excitement, and feel a lot more important and appreciated, by being late.

posted at: 13:00 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
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