Monday, September 21, 2009


A behind the scenes look at the budget process of local government in these “interesting times”.

When the pirates on Wall Street and their friends
in goverment finished raping and pillaging the economy, they left an ugly trail of despair and desperation in their wake. Their victims are showing up at shelters, soup kitchens, emergency
rooms and tent cities that are mushrooming across the nation. They include the well educated and the victims of our more recent military adventures. The job market, never robust during the Bush years, is shrinking at an alarming rate. All this is happening at a time when States, Counties, Cities and Communities, charged with their care, are experiencing huge revenue shortfalls.
In King County WA, which includes the city of Seattle, Council Members are trying to solve the shortfall by channeling Ronald Reagan. Close parks, shut down 911 emergency services and allocate zero dollars for human services. Give law enforcement a raise and hope for the best. The ugly phrase “public/private partnerships’ was bandied about by one council member. A smug euphemism for transferring even more of the public wealth to the private sector.

The shortsightedness and brazen inhumanity of these budget decisions are incomprehensible. How can one human being say to another that their need is of no consequence? When people are granted power, is it a requirement to have one’s humanity surgically removed?
Dismantling welfare programs (400+vendors) always ends up costing more than any short-term savings. The ensuing chaos created by slashing vital services costs is exponentially more expensive than maintaining current levels of service. The social costs continue far beyond the temporary budget crisis.
When the people making these proposals take home $120,000 of taxpayer’s dollars every year, the process becomes obscene.

The sad and sorry fact is that even in good times King Country has never allocated a set amount to HHS. Law enforcement and the Courts are mandated expenses but not the simple, sensible act of helping those in need. The desperate and adrift have always had to rely on the crumbs from short-term revenues.
In the same budget session King Country managed to find federal dollars to help “stabilize” real estate prices by offering first time homebuyers down payment assistance but no one even mentioned looking for federal dollars to help with the HHS shortfall.

A group of determined citizens showed up a recent budget meeting to voice their displeasure at their cold-hearted approach to the victims of Wall Street’s unchecked greed. Church leaders spoke about being cognizant of their own vulnerability and mindful of the suffering of others. Others questioned 73% of the general fund going to law enforcement and courts, demanding that a paltry 3% be allocated to helping the most vulnerable.
While the council members were “feeling our pain” and fretting about how difficult it was to solve this problem, the man next to me silently held a sign aloft; “tax the rich”.
This common sense message failed to penetrate the consciousness of the Council. There are many profiting from "disaster capitalism".
There are systemic problems in the tax structure that are impacting the current crisis. Too many responsibilities have been off loaded onto local government and too few Federal dollars are returned to the States.
In the end, Council members recommended a 1% mandate HHS, about six million dollars. That leaves law enforcement about 438 million to scrape by on.
The King County Council called their paltry recommendation a “political victory” for us. It was a telling phrase. When Council Members have to make choices they don’t consider the problem, they consider the politics of the problem. What interest groups will make the most noise if they negatively impacted and which populations have little or no power? That is why politicians instinctively reach for the worst possible solution in a crisis, screw the poor and vulnerable.
That is precisely how the powerful become separated from their humanity.
That is how people who exercise power become dangerous to the society they live in.
Carol DW

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