Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bill Crawford: Controlling the spending kudzu

One of my many anonymous critics on the Jackson Jambalaya blog zapped me last week over my column "A Peek behind Legislative Leaders' Rhetoric." In particular, he/she said I lack "a coherent alternate plan" of my own.
Well, I never guessed it might be a columnist's job to propose a whole budget plan. But, an avid reader could find elements of such a plan already published. Let's take a peek.
 
Last month I suggested rightsizing the Legislature by cutting it in half. That step alone would signify legislators are serious about cutting non-essential programs.
 
In February I wrote about rightsizing universities. By raising admission standards, moving all remediation to community colleges, and eliminating subsidies for out-of-state tuition, enrollment would fall, thereby reducing IHL's need for more state funding, higher tuition, and more bond money. Previously I supported consolidating university back-office and administrative functions.
 
Back in 2010, I wrote, "There are no operating or financial reasons for eight universities and 15 community colleges – or 142 state agencies, 152 school districts, 82 counties, and 200 plus municipalities for that matter – to maintain separate back room operations." Since, I have written favorably about limiting school districts to one per county, thereby consolidating financial, administrative, transportation and other non-classroom services to reduce costs.
 
I agreed with Governors Phil Bryant and Haley Barbour on their proposals to allow state agencies exemptions from personnel regulations to rightsize their workforces. I supported Barbour's calls to consolidate school districts and to reduce tax-dollar support for school athletics and community college sports.
 
I have written numerous times about the excessive costs of our broken PERS system. Charging employers 15.75% of wages is exorbitant. That's at least $350 million too much per year, most of it coming from state funds. Reducing this burden on taxpayers should be a priority.
 
There's more, but maybe you and my critic can sense what I think a coherent spending plan should include.
 
The key is this – to effectively reduce and control government spending, legislatively mandated changes in targeted agency/institution operations must occur in tandem with budget cuts. Just squeezing budgets won't work. 
 
As I have written many times over the years, businesses can readily merge and/or shut down unproductive operations, but not government. That’s because government behaves more like kudzu than business. Despite attempts to prune it back, it just grows and grows.    
 
Experts say control of kudzu requires a process to kill or remove the kudzu “root crown” and all “rooting runners.”  
 
That’s legislators' great dilemma. Every agency has a “root crown” – a powerful legislator, state official, or business group. All have “rooting runners:" take on university funding and you take on the alumni; Cooperative Extension Service funding and you take on the county agents and their friendly farmers, foresters, tomato growers, and quilters; school funding and you take on parents, teachers, and their formidable allies; and so on. 
 
Squeezing agency/institution budgets isn't so hard. But, a focused plan that takes on root crowns and rooting runners to consolidate/eliminate targeted operations is too hard for most politicians.
 
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

So there! Excellent response Bill.

Anonymous said...

Sounds pretty coherent to me. Awaiting response from paid political lackey assistant of one of our esteemed republican leaders.

Anonymous said...

As bad as you are at math, I don't recommend that you take this one on KF.

Anonymous said...

Whoever just got called a he/she is probably pissed.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Bill -- Just curious: What are the "backroom operations" at universities you would consolidate?

I'd agree there are some routine functions like employee benefits that could be done from Jackson. But for most of these jobs, if you're going to have eight campuses, you're going to need a person on each campus.

I guess what I'm getting at is, why do you rely on these unnecessarily complicated plans to spread the pain to our strongest universities, which also are our strongest economic drivers?

Mississippi State, for example, produces enough highly qualified STEM employees to turn our economy around in one generation, if only the rest of the state could figure out how to attract companies to employ them. And yet you'd treat them no differently (perhaps worse) than Valley or Alcorn.

It's odd that you talk about "focused plans," say that you oppose indiscriminate cuts without measuring performance, and decry political favoritism keeping programs alive. But in the next breath, you're afraid to just state the obvious, politically-inconvenient fact: that we have some very good universities and some terrible ones, and that we should fully support the former and eliminate the latter.

Anonymous said...

Good job Crawford. Anybody that has followed you at all have known better than to try to call you out on not having put forth solutions. This is a good start, and if you had not been limited to the number of words in a column you could have doubled down and listed this many proposals again.

Pappy Odaniel said...

There is ample room to save money in this state. 1) Cap all salaries at 200k. (Without going into great detail, screw your arguments about CEOs of corporations in the public sector that manage similar people and funds...does a nurse, biologist, accountant, engineer, or any other position paid their civilian equivalent...hell no, and maybe we may get some actual public servants in positions) 2) No other salary within a department can equal 3/4's of the Executive Director. 3) 1 year moratorium on any new construction...all funds to maintenance of existing roads and structures 4) All arts, blues festival, puppetering conference funding limited to matching direct revenue produced...i.e. Show Me The Money. Blues Museum in BFE show me what money you made and are actually generating and then we can talk public funds. 5) Lottery...people are already taking their cash to Louisiana or buying Natty Light and malt liquor...look at our state... You can take your morality arguments and kiss my ass at Danny's or out front of one of the thousands of economic wonders that are the liquor store check cashing abandoned strip mall. 6) Get rid of MDOT law enforcement period and consolidate under the state troopers, let them own the highway law enforcement and let MDOT stick to what they do best...graft and truck cab sleeping...and Transportation Commissioners...get rid of them, duplicative and pointless. 7) End duplicative programs at state schools, not every school can resource highly technical courses of instruction without a cost...and on that note, there should be a couple of schools in this state where you can get a no frills college education at a reasonable cost. Not every school needs a lazy river and rock climbing wall. I could go on and on, but my point is at least stop paying for that idiot to go to the puppetering conference.

Anonymous said...

6:44, obviously a little late to the party. Check Crawford's record during his one term in the legislature and then later when he was a member of IHL. He did propose the consolidation of our Universities; suffered some politically for taking the stand, but didn't stop him from proposing and pushing for the obvious.

Anonymous said...

Pappy, you have one or two good recommendations in your spewing, but most of your ideas either (1) don't save any significant money, i.e. capping salaries at $200k, only a handful of individuals making more than that and frankly we need to be paying them that to get someone competent to do the job; (2) etc. etc. (3) lottery may raise $50 million, maybe just $30 mil. Nice change, but it is only 1% of the total state budget so while it sounds nice it doesn't solve anything but accounting errors. You didn't touch where the real money is in the state budget. Just like the feds, you can go to only three or four categories to discuss over three fourths of the expenditures - Medicaid, education, debt service. Nothing bad with tackling the stuff like merging MDOT with DPS, but that does little for dollars either. Come back to the plate with suggestions like closing universities, or stopping Medicaid payments for specific services that affect grandmother, not just the poor.

Anonymous said...

8:38 -- I suppose consolidation is a little less obtuse than what he's been saying more recently. But it's also worse. We don't want to average our B+ universities with our F universities, for a bunch of D+ schools. We don't want the reasonably competent employees at Ole Miss and State spending half their time babysitting the clowns from Valley and Alcorn, or their 17 ACT students.

We want to close the bad schools, period. People just need to start saying this publicly, without any sugar coating, if it's ever going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Want to balance the budget in a year? Legalize recreational marijuana and sports betting. Tax them heavily

Watch the money flow.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Order of Mutual Admiration Political Columnists has turned out to slap ol' Crawford on the back.

Anonymous said...

9:57pm You should bother to look at consolidation in other states. It does not have the results you ( and all those who have opposed consolidation) suggest. You are appealing to the racism here. And, while we need junior /community colleges, we do not need campuses in close proximity. Also, there are hidden costs to taxpayers in the junior /community colleges because the boards of trustees can increase millage rates without legislative approval. It is actually taxation without representation.

While I seldom agree with Pappy since he doesn't bother with learning critical details, when it comes to salaries, we need to look at hidden perks that make actual salaries much higher. Free housing, auto and insurance does translate into " real" dollars.

And while the savings aren't but a " couple of million" for some of cuts suggested, the fact is that a million here and a million there start adding up to billions after a while and can go a long way to reduce debt.

I wanted to reduce a waste of $40000 35 years ago. You do the math.

At the end of every fiscal year in this state, every department is spending foolishly to use up all the money in their budget. Zero base budgeting would stop this yearly waste. That's also a side effect of across the board cuts as it helps pad a budget to make it look like an agency or department in an agency actually needed all the funds it received in the previous year.

But, few of our esteemed legislators even know where the money actually goes . They don't require details either.

Anonymous said...

9:57pm You should bother to look at consolidation in other states. It does not have the results you ( and all those who have opposed consolidation) suggest.

Link?

Anonymous said...

8:13 -- Feel free to cite specifics on consolidation in other states. In particular, cite states where nearly 1/2 of public universities have average ACTs of 18 or below and graduation rates below 40%. Basically, tell me how UM, MSU, and USM absorb that without a substantial decline in rankings, quality of education, financial solvency, etc.

If you want to call me racist, go ahead. That trump card doesn't work anymore. These universities are objectively terrible. They're terrible because racial bias made them terrible, yes, but that doesn't change the fact that they're terrible. And it's marginal African-American students who bear the brunt of their ongoing ponzi scheme for near-worthless degrees.

The students at Alcorn, Valley, etc. who belong at four year universities are more than welcome to apply to the big three. But no part of those schools' failed administration, faculty, policies, or practices should be absorbed by them.

Again, sorry if this hurts your feelings. But I'm more interested in actual outcomes, for minority students especially.

Anonymous said...

No fan of Crawford, but at least he put forward a specific plan. Much more than our so called political leaders have accomplished in multiple legislative sessions. Quit bitching about his plan and offer your own. Oh wait, that requires real thinking and analysis rather than sniping.

Anonymous said...

Nobody will be willing to actually tame the river. All we'll ever manage to do is put down some concrete mats and shore up around the breakers so we look like we're trying. And when the river forms a new lake (little fiefdom or untouchable bureaucracy) we will, as always, treat it as a scenic treasure, gift it with a new building and suggest people visit, and we'll attach the necessary intubation so it's fed for another hundred years.

You'd think after two hundred years of practice we could do something more than offer suggestions. These suggestions that have been made hundreds of times....what the hell good are they?

Anonymous said...

9:43 am You are using a false assumption of what consolidation is. It is not immediately shutting down campuses but rather changing the mission and removing duplication of programs and changing the admittance.
Those with low ACT scores will end up at the remaining junior college campuses whose mission will be remedial.
If you will look at Texas and North Carolina , you'll see that the student body becomes more diverse and proximity begins to trump race and the students and faculties improve.
You might want to revisit the ACT scores of the universities you mentioned. You will find that white students with low scores are admitted to some of the universities you admire and it keeps them from having the ranking nationally they might otherwise enjoy.
Also, you might not know that community colleges and technical schools don't have dorms in other states and junior colleges are a separate entity.
And, you may not know that if a student passes a course with a C at a junior college and transfers, they might not get credit for that course and pay for it twice. You may not know that junior college student who do transfer do better at IHLs than those who started as freshman.
The reason for that is our very poor educational system that doesn't prepare students well. And, our private schools are not competitive nationally either. You might want to find out what weights are given to private schools here in college admittance formulas. You should ask any private schools what the college/university graduation rates of their graduates are. It's not whether you are accepted at a university or which universities but whether or not you are prepared to compete. And, every school will have a few exceptional students that would do well anywhere to use to promote themselves.
Consolidation is a process and at the end of it, you have more access to technical and remedial programs for your population and a better higher education system for your best and brightest.
In the end, it should be about meeting the needs of our citizens and educating our children so that in the future we can be competitive in attracting business.

Anonymous said...

"And, you may not know that if a student passes a course with a C at a junior college and transfers, they might not get credit for that course and pay for it twice. You may not know that junior college student who do transfer do better at IHLs than those who started as freshman.

But, really...Is it the goal of educational programs (paid for by taxpayers) to roll the dice on these social experiments and second guess outcomes, hoping that this or that student will propel himself further if he makes this or that choice? How far is the reparations/entitlement paradigm designed to take us into the future?

You may not know it, 7:44, but it's not my responsibility to fund all this crap and hope for projected outcomes based on hopeful theories. Post Secondary Educational Programs should be reserved for students who have demonstrated ability and goal setting. Period.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).


Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.


In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.


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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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