Distinguishing leadership from politicianship
By Michael R. Shannon
web posted November 26, 2012
The feds aren't alone in dealing with budgets this time of year. Although "dealing" is somewhat generous, since Uncle Sam doesn't have to balance his. Congress and the President are content to blame unforeseen circumstances — George Bush, climate change or a spontaneous reaction to an anti–Mohammed video — for causing deficit spending, while they wait in the ‘withdrawals only' line at the National Bank of China.
State and local governments don't have that luxury and how your local elected officials deal with budgets can provide a useful benchmark in evaluating the performance of Republicans in Congress during discussions designed to avoid the fiscal cliff. (There is no need to evaluate Spendacrats. They will spend as much as possible and mislead gullible Republicans when it comes to budget "cuts.")
Where I live in Virginia, Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, takes an approach to cutting the budget that I wish Congressional Republicans would emulate. Stewart has actually marked individual programs for termination or severe cuts. This alone qualifies as leadership.
Lazy, gutless politicians avoid being pinned down on which programs to cut. And this failure includes both conservatives and liberals. Instead they advocate "equitable, across–the–board cuts." This budget–cutting socialism is a gift to the lazy at the expense of the competent. In this way the Intergovernmental Steering Group for Immediate Climate Action and Icecap Outreach gets the same ten percent cut as the police department.
This is politicianship and elected "leaders" do it so they won't be blamed for eliminating a program a handful of "community activists" support. Come election time the shameless pol can even claim he "saved the program from drastic cuts that would have imperiled its mission."
Arlington County, VA politicians use another dodge. They direct the county executive to choose the budget cuts. When outraged poodle owners want to know why working–women–doggie–daycare was cut from the parks and recreation budget, the spineless "leader" blames a heartless, cat–owning bureaucrat.
Skeptics will say Stewart had to cut the budget because he's running for Lt. Governor and a tax increase would make it impossible for him to win the nomination. But Stewart could just as easily call for across–the-board cuts or delegate to the county executive like Arlington Democrats. Not doing so is an important point in his favor.
Stewart wants to cut $9 million from the 2014 budget so property tax bills will remain flat. Some of his larger cuts include eliminating $3.6 million from the Health Department and $626,000 from the Juvenile Court Services Unit.
Stewart courageously advocates ending $941,000 in feel–good donations to non–profits. If he succeeds, supervisors will no longer be able to use public tax dollars to subsidize their private charitable preferences. Stewart also vetoes "arts" grant donations, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, Northern Virginia Family Services and Legal Services of Northern VA.
An almost $2 million cut comes from the Transportation & Roadway Improvement Program — another public money kitty that allows individual supervisors to spend our taxes on traffic light installations and road improvements in their district.
In addition to fellow board members, Stewart is willing to take on friends of the library, seniors and the school board. He would close neighborhood libraries two days a week, make senior recreational tours self–supporting and remove four middle school police officers.
This is why leadership is hard. Decisions to cut spending are unpopular, particularly with those who were doing or receiving the spending. The vast majority of politicians in Washington just want to be loved and re–elected, without being bothered to make decisions that produce discord at town meetings. One of the few exceptions is Sen. Tom Coburn (R–OK) and you can imagine how popular he is.
If you ask me, it makes more sense to keep the libraries open and save $500,000 by abolishing the Prince William County Human Rights Commission. This pretentious engine of local moral posturing has been wasting money since 1993. Our own little Nuremburg duplicates federal and state programs, while entertaining a punishing 145 cases a year, most of which have — according to the executive director — "no probable cause." Which is a nice way of saying the plaintiff is either lying, delusional or a board member of Mexicans Without Borders.
When asked by reporter Graelyn Brashear if the commission is effective, the director said that's a tough question because there are no measures of success. Translated for taxpayers, it means this job is almost as good as being a diversity bureaucrat in the school system.
Budget cutting, like liberty, requires constant vigilance. According to Stewart the PWC budget more than doubled between 2000 and 2006, while during his seven years as chairman it only increased a total of 6.6 percent.
Stewart's budget cutting won't win him friends on the board or get him invited to speak at annual banquets put on by non–profits to flatter the politicians who distribute tax dollars. But it is leadership and it is a standard conservatives should apply to politicians at all levels.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.