Friday, April 4, 2014

The Game Afoot!

It was late March. Naturally it was snowing. I stared out the window at the black and white world in front of 221B Baker Street, contemplating the swirling patterns as my friend read his newspaper.

I heard the paper rustle as it dropped to the floor.

The piercing eyes fixed on me.

"The game is afoot, Watson!" he said with excitement.

"Game, Holmes?" said I. "Of what game are you speaking? Surely you are not caught up in the March Madness."

"Not that game," said he. "I speak of the great game, the game of funding local government."

"But certainly, Holmes, our Board of Supervisors consider their annual funding exercise much too serious for it ever to be a game," said I.

"Nonetheless, Watson, it is a game." said he, "Regardless of the dedication of our esteemed Supervisors, establishing the annual spending plan and setting the tax rate is all one great game. There are rules and objectives, moves and counter moves, winners and losers."

I raised an eyebrow and was rewarded with a pained expression. An explanation would be given.

"The game is played are as follows:

County agencies submit funding requests based on what they spent last year plus reasonable growth. The objective of each agency is to maximize funding so their requests are always inflated but never so much as to be rejected out of hand."

"Staff consolidates, clarifies, and rationalizes the requests to produce a draft spending plan."

"The Board meets in a series of long, grueling and sometimes acrimonious working sessions to adjust the budget and establish the tax rate."

"Projected revenues seldom meet requested spending so the Board requests agencies trim their budgets to within some specified target."

"Then the fun begins. Agencies propose draconian cuts to popular programs and make bold appeals for public support to restore funding. Supervisors gravely warn of a crushing tax burden. Both then eagerly await the outcry of impassioned pleas from an outraged citizenry begging 'Please don't cut funding to my pet program,' and 'I will gladly pay higher taxes.'"

The Board smiles. They have achieved the victory they seek -- increased tax revenue under the political cover of an overwhelming volume of citizen requests."

"Agencies smile too. They have achieved their victory -- maximum funding with which to finance bureaucratic bloat."

"Only the taxpaying public loses."

"Egad, Holmes," said I, "That is positively sinister and cynical."

"Yes," said he. "Sinister and cynical though it be, that is how the game is played."

I looked at his paper. The headlines read. "Department of Public Education Proposes Closing Four Schools, Eliminating Freshman Sports, and Curtailing Fine Arts Programs. Appeals to Public for Support."

I was forced to agree. It's how the game is played.

How is the game played in your city, county or state?

What are the rules and objectives of the participants?

What is the sequence of moves?

Who wins and who loses?