Even though I work in politics, I find myself shying away from great spectacles like the State of the Union address. Ever since I got into this business, I find myself focusing on the strangest things. (Who let him on stage in that tie? Who decided that that schmuck should be in the camera shot? That flag/banner/whatever is not straight.) With events like the SOTU in particular, all the posturing and whatnot gets old pretty fast. For the most part, I much prefer to skim a transcript the next day and be done with it.
If you bothered to click on this post, I’m sure you read Selena and Meghan’s generally hilarious live blog the other day. I love that Meghan’s prediction about salmon being the takeaway message of the whole speech was all too accurate.
Although it’s kind of funny to see SALMON so prominent on those word clouds, his underlying point is a serious one. Our government can be incredibly wasteful. Now, I’m one of those pinko socialist bastards that the Tea Party is always warning you about, but I think it’s so important for folks on the left and the right to come together to address problems of administrative inefficiency. We may have very different goals in mind. I want to free up government money that we’re just flushing down the drain so we can better fund important social programs; others want lower taxes, refunds, and other individual gains. But at the end of the day, the process for getting to those goals are the same.
President Obama was being a little hyperbolic, but his point was that when you have several different state and federal agencies all expending efforts to regulate the same thing, you end up with a lot of wasted time, energy, and money. Here in New York, there is little coordination between the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health, despite the fact that many Medicaid patients receive both. It’s not as if people who suffer from mental illnesses don’t also often require care for other ailments; it’s simply a problem of administrative silos.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface of agencies that are duplicative or have outlived their usefulness. New York State still maintains and funds an Olympic Commission based out of Lake Placid. The Lake Placid Winter Olympics took place in 1980. Counties might have multiple Industrial Development Agencies* that encourage businesses to pick up and move within the same metro area, sometimes literally across the street to another jurisdiction, once the benefits from one run out. One of the suburbs of my hometown has five separate school districts, despite having a total population of only about 80,000 people.
The president’s joke about salmon was pretty funny, and the word’s place on the “most talked about points” from this SOTU will be an odd little blip in history. But it underlies a clear problem that our country is going to have to deal with at all levels of government ““ federal, state, and local ““ if we have any hope of getting our budgets under control
*Industrial Development Agencies (or IDAs) are probably worth a whole post of their own, but the short version is that they’re organizations with a stated goal of encouraging economic development in a certain area. They’ll vary from place to place in terms of size and what they can do. Ireland has a national one, New York State has lots of little ones. Generally, they are able to offer tax breaks and other incentives to encourage the growth of new businesses. They’re usually a good idea in theory, but implementation has had varied levels of success.