John Laird: Political piranhas cut funds, then criticize performance

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

Many people ask why anyone who hates government would ever want to actually work in government as an elected official. The answer comes so easily, a columnist need only rest his hands on the keyboard and wait for the explanation to magically materialize on the monitor.

Politicians fixated on gutting government tend to follow a predictable strategy: Cut funding to a particular agency, then point with feigned surprise at how poorly the agency performs, and finally — and hopefully, in their minds — privatize it.

Voila! Touchdown Tea Party!

On the national stage, this strategy is used by those who are trying to dismantle the U.S. Postal Service.

Step 1: Require the Postal Service to prefund pensions 75 years in advance, a mandate forced upon no other agency.

Step 2: Create such gridlock in Congress that dozens of viable savings proposals — including an end to Saturday mail delivery — are held hostage. (Which reminds me, don't miss this letter to the editor by local middle-school student and future marketing guru Jimmy Muse.)

Step 3: Then, after kicking the legs out from under the Postal Service, scoff at its inability to walk. Cite the agency as yet another example that government IS the problem. Golly, ol' Grover Norquist must've been right all along. We really DO need to make government so small we can drown it in a bathtub.

Perpetuating this crusade is this reality: When you're addicted to making government look bad, gridlock is your crack cocaine.

Nothing gets done? Voila! Tea Party scores again!

Immigration reform gets stalled, progress is thwarted and status quo amnesty is preserved? Great! Another heapin' helping of gridlock, please!

A new farm bill is blocked? Perfect! We told those farmers and food-stamp welfare queens to stop picking the taxpayers' pockets!

Social services for the poor and disabled are withdrawn? Hey, how 'bout they stop mooching off our cradle-to-grave, nanny-state government and flex some of that rugged individualism and American exceptionalism!

Step into the tub, please

Locally, we see this death-by-denial strategy — this attrition-through-atrophy — deployed in Clark County government. Times are tough and getting tougher over at the Public Service Center. Talented, highly respected department leaders are leaving in droves. Morale among rank-and-file workers is at rock bottom.

During this awful Great Recession, since about 2007, our county has cut its budget by more than $60 million and laid off about 100 people. For the political piranhas, though, that's not enough. The bathtub awaits, and they've got the water running. So they implement the plan:

Step 1: Remove parking fees at six local parks at a cost to the cash-strapped county's general fund of about $325,000.

Step 2: Act shocked — shocked! — when vandalism and littering increases at some of those same parks.

Step 3: Blame the overworked and understaffed county parks department. Fire off condescending emails to the bureaucrats demanding that they solve the problem you created. Remind them that, if they can't repair the damage to your political career, the consequences just might include a dunking in Grover's tub.

Some public services, though, aren't so willing to climb into the bath water. When the county withheld funding to the job-creating Columbia River Economic Development Council, the CREDC decided fine, we'll just open the floodgates to jobs without the county's help.

And when the county tried to cut funding to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, the HSSW stood its ground and announced the precise terms that are needed in a new contract.

Still, the government-plundering pirates will hold to their strategy: Cut funding, then angrily criticize performance.

All of these preordained problems forced by funding cuts remind me of playing baseball with my brother back in the '50s. He used to love walking me on four pitches — all fastballs at my head — and then yelling, "See? I told you you couldn't hit!"