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Monday, August 09, 2010 8:30 PM

Hawaii Furloughs Its Children; Extreme City Moves; Who Is To Blame?

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Cities and states are running out of cash. In response Governments Go to Extremes as the Downturn Wears On. Here are few examples from the article.

Hawaii Furloughs Its Children

Four-day weeks have been used by a small number of rural school districts in the United States, especially since the oil shortage of the 1970s. During the current downturn, their ranks have swelled to more than 120 districts, and more are weighing the change.

But Hawaii is an extreme case. It shut schools not only in rural areas but also in high-rise neighborhoods in Honolulu. Suffering from steep declines in tourism and construction, and owing billions of dollars to a pension system that has only 68.8 percent of the money it needs to cover its promises to state workers, Hawaii instituted the furloughs even after getting $110 million in stimulus money for schools.

Unlike most districts with four-day weeks, Hawaii did not lengthen the hours of its remaining school days: its 163-day school year was the shortest in the nation.

Children, meanwhile, adjusted to a new reality of T.G.I.T. Getting them up for school on Mondays grew harder. Fridays were filled with trips to pools and beaches, hours of television and Wii, long stretches alone for older children, and, occasionally, successful attempts to get them to do their homework early.

But if three-day-weekends in Hawaii sound appealing in theory, many children said that they wound up missing school.

“I’m really not a big fan of furloughs,” said Nira Marte, a fifth grader, explaining that she missed the time with her friends and her teacher.

County Shuts Down Its Bus System

Clayton County [Georgia] decided to balance its budget by shutting down C-Tran, the bus system, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

The county — hit hard by the subprime mortgage crisis and the wave of foreclosures that followed — decided it could no longer afford spending roughly $8 million a year on its bus system, which started in 2001. It hoped that some other entity — like the state — would pick up the cost.

If the threat to shut the system down was a game of chicken, no one blinked.

Now all five bus routes are gone, and riders are trying to adjust.

Jennifer McDaniel, a hostess at a Chili’s in the airport, was forced to spend her tax refund, and take out a big loan, to buy a car. Jaime Tejada, 36, a Delta flight attendant, wondered why transit was so much better in the countries he flies to.

And Tierra Clark, 19, who studies dental hygiene and works five nights a week at the Au Bon Pain at the airport, was left with an unwanted new expense. “I’ll have to call a taxi from now on — $13.75 every night,” Ms. Clark said, as she rode the very last C-Tran bus home.

Lights Out In Colorado Springs

Ever since Colorado Springs shut off a third of its 24,512 streetlights this winter to save $1.2 million on electricity — while reducing the size of its police force — many residents have said that they feel less safe.

To close a budget gap — the city’s voters, many of whom favor smaller government, turned down a property tax increase in November, and a taxpayer’s bill of rights makes it hard for city officials to raise taxes — Colorado Springs has stopped collecting trash in its parks, stopped watering many medians on its roads and reduced its police force.

The sprawling city of roughly 400,000 at the foot of Pike’s Peak — which covers 194 square miles — made national news when it auctioned off its police helicopters. But less-heralded police cuts could have more impact: the force, which had 687 officers two years ago, is down to 643 and dropping. At any given time, the department estimates that there is a 23 percent chance that all units will be busy.

So it has reduced the number of detectives who investigate property crimes, cut the number of officers assigned to the schools and eliminated units that tracked juvenile offenders and caught fugitives. Officers no longer respond to the scene of most burglaries, at least if they are not in progress.
Common Themes

One thing these stories all have in common is public unions and high public union costs. There did not need to be police layoffs in Colorado Springs, nor does there need to be teacher furloughs in Hawaii.

To save jobs and services, all the unions had to do is agree to lower salaries and benefits. But the unions won't do it. In response, cities like Colorado Springs should outsource their police departments to the local sheriffs' association. They should also outsource every other city service as well, all to the low cost bidder.

The city's reaction was to stop collecting trash in its parks. Such actions are tantamount to blackmail, hoping to get voters to approve tax hikes.

Who Is To Blame?

Corrupt politicians willing to buy union votes in conjunction with corrupt unions willing to bribe politicians are the primary parties to blame.

However, lazy voters do not get off scot-free. Voters can and should act responsibly.

This puts the ball back in the voter's court.

In general terms, not just in relation to Colorado Springs, the correct response from citizens should be to get rid of the mayor and any council members who are unwilling to take on the real problem confronting the city: police and firefighter wages and benefits.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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