The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Washington Monument Syndrome

How it played in Springfield.

I'm too busy today for preparing much original material, however here's something worth re-reading from January of 2005.

I was down at City Hall in Springfield the other day, accompanying my sister Beverly as she got a copy of her birth certificate. The city workers we encountered were nice, efficient and helpful in every way. It was a sharp contrast to the time in 2003, during the Albano Administration, when I went to City Hall to get something. It wasn't that anyone was mean or unhelpful to me, it was that I couldn't see anyone at all. The place was closed because of the then recent budget cuts.

Now there is one thing you've got to remember about budget cuts and politicians. When required to cut spending they follow a simple rule: Always cut essential services first! Why? Because that's how you get the suckers, I mean taxpayers, to cough up the cash for more spending. If you cut the fat, why would they give you more money?

This scam is called "The Washington Monument Syndrome" and the term dates back to the Reagan Administration. When President Reagan heard media reports of widespread waste and fraud in the National Park Service, such as employees at national parks playing cards all day, he slashed their budget in order to force them to fire the unneeded employees. However the Park Service responded not by firing the card players, but by closing the Washington Monument, one of the most popular attractions in the capitol, causing such an angry outcry from tourists that Congress quickly restored all the budget cuts.

Here's a nice short definition of The Washington Monument Syndrome from Michael Williams:

Symptoms of Washington Monument Syndrome are generally manifested by legislators who feel under political pressure to cut taxes, cut spending, and stop wasting public money (WMS can also be displayed when legislators want to raise taxes). Regardless of what bloated programs and superfluous bureaucracy is available to be slashed, politicians will pretend there's no fat to cut and insist to the public that if one single penny is taken away from the government budget they'll have no choice but to shut down the Washington Monument.

Such pleas and threats can take many forms. Some of the most popular services that greedy politicians like to line up first for the chopping block are police, firefighters, and education. These services are important to the average voter, and politicians hope that when the public is faced with the false choice of either losing police officers and teachers or raising taxes, people will meekly hand over their paychecks.

The best treatment for WMS is to simply ignore the politicians' apocalyptic warnings. The threats are empty, and there are always lots of expenses that can be cut before the Washington Monument will have to be closed.

So what Mayor Albano did when faced with a fiscal crisis was resort to using the Washington Monument Syndrome by cutting police, firefighters and teachers and reducing the hours at City Hall. He did not attempt any of the multi-million dollar savings since instituted by the Springfield Financial Control Board which have not required any lay-offs. Instead he hoped the long-suffering citizens would dig deep and hand over the money so he and his cronies could have another round of payraises and hiring.

Others in the city have used the same technique. Remember how the old Library and Museums Association used to constantly scream that they were in financial crisis and that the libraries would have to close? But once Charlie Ryan, Sheila McElwaine and other activists finally succeeded in prying the libraries away from the SLMA, they discovered that it was possible to keep all the libraries open, increase their hours and do it all with less money than the SLMA used to spend. Once Charlie Ryan was elected mayor, he saw the reduced hours at City Hall and realized that by simply assigning people's schedules differently so that employees could fill in for each other, he could restore all of the reduced hours without spending one extra penny.

Albano liked to resort to the Washington Monument Syndrome. Charlie Ryan likes to get things done.

Speaking of these changes as we left City Hall, I turned to my sister and said, "God Bless Charlie Ryan," to which she replied, "Amen."

Have you seen the newly revamped Channel 40 website? It's a thousand percent improvement over the embarrassingly bad one they had until recently. Check it out by clicking here.

UMass is putting a new roof on the Goodell building.

Now used as an office building, Goodell used to be the school library before the current skyscraper library was built.

This painting in the UMass Blue Wall should be in a dictionary under the heading, "Lousy Art."

Finally, everybody thinks of a specific person whenever they hear this song.

A man appears before St. Peter at the pearly gates.

"Have you ever done anything of particular merit?" St. Peter asks.

"Well, I can think of one thing," the man offers. "On a trip to the Black Hills, out in South Dakota, I came upon a gang of bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn't listen. So I approached the largest, meanest and most heavily tattooed biker. I smacked him on the head, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, threw it on the ground, and told him, "Leave her alone now or you'll answer to me".

St. Peter was impressed. "Wow, when did this happen?"

"Just a couple of minutes ago."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Washington Monument Syndrome sounds like the current crop of Republicans saying the price of fuel will go down if we do some off-shore drilling.