The Bureaucratic Office Has the Last Light to Go Out

Riffing on the anachronism of train transportation, James Lileks (whose fans know him, in other contexts, to be a fan of anachronism) applies his talents to phrasing the incredulity that we all ought to be feeling about the onward plod of government expansion (subscription required):

Here’s another thing that’s not enlightened: city streets. An article in the New York Times notes that cities are turning off the streetlights to balance the budget — if copper vampires haven’t already sucked out the light’s wiring, that is. One of the cities cited in the Times piece has a jobs page on its website, and you’re sure it says “Check back when we’re not so broke we’re returning our citizens to the 17th century,” but no. They’re hiring a city planner, who will coordinate facilitation of the comprehensive strategies — meaning, apply for federal grants for bike trails paved with recycled car tires — and a bilingual preschool teacher, who can answer little kids in their native tongue when they ask why the streets are so dark.

My working theory (inadequately developed for more confident articulation) is that a large proportion of RI cities and towns’ current financial troubles originated with President Obama’s stimulus gifts to the schools.  Districts used it to prop up their budgets and to expand their staffs and, as the money has evaporated, have been striving to build the windfall into their budgets.

To be sure, it will happen more often in government than in a household budget that dedicated funding requires spending on non-essentials even as essentials run dry.  Still, the incongruity of hiring and padding budgets, even as local taxpayers pushed back against increases and the state government reduced aid should have served as a warning that more had to be done in preparation for the day that the windfall dissipated.