Thursday, May 26, 2011

Something Memorable

Memorial Day just around the corner, a time when he reflect on those who are no longer with us. It's based on the end of the Civil War, but has come to mean more as we give thanks for the men and women of all stripes who protect, serve, and nurture.

It's the "nurture" part I'd like to keep in mind this weekend.

Probably lost in the shuffle of all the storm and usual "don't speed or drive drunk" stories we'll see this weekend is this news release from the Fund for Our Economic Future.

Northeast Ohio's Rate of Local Government Spending is 70 Times the Region's Population Growth, 2.8 Times its Inflation Rate and 2.4 Times its Economic Output

This is a very depressing read.

The Fund is the group made up of 100 or so foundations and public-interest groups concerned that we in Northeast Ohio have lost sight of what kind of world we're leaving for the next round. They've actively engaged in talking about what it costs to live the NEO life, and in particular the really crappy deal we seem to be getting for our money.

Mainly because it isn't our money. It's the money from our kids. And the money from their kids. The bottom line is we are sucking the well dry, digging deep to take what might sustain the next generation, and sucking that to the bone too.

Mpst reasonable folks will understand the need for government to spend more on safety net programs during tough times, but it's also reasonable to expect the money isn't being flushed down the rat hole. The report notes, in northeast Ohio's 17 counties alone, there are "...868 separate entities spend $20 billion dollars to run themselves..." -- a poster child for new thinking and pressure to advance smarter government management if ever there was one.

At a time when Ohio is among the nation's leaders in losing people -- know any families where young people are begging to stay here for their economic prosperity? -- the Fund's report notes local government spending outstrips the rate of population growth by 70 percent. This is what we mean when we talk about unsustainable. Fewer people, more spending. More "public investment" paid for by fewer customers.

In the private sector, this means the company is on a fast track to go out of business. In the public sector, it means the next generation would be crazy to stick around and pay the bill for our feckless behavior, lack of accountability and inability to choose leaders who focus on the future.

We are a region of fiscal crack addicts, and the pusher is the government we elect at the most local level. These foundations making up the Fund have been making the case over the past few years for the need for radical change in the way northeast Ohio does its public business. At a time when Ohio is clearly no longer the driver for economic growth it once was, and at a time when northeast Ohio seems to be engaged in a spiral of mediocrity and leadership paralysis largely devoid of innovative thought, the burden falls more and more to these foundations to help fill the need.

Remember this when it's your time to vote for the future. Decisions you remember to make now become the conditions the next round has to live with. Maybe that should be this year's lesson for Memorial Day: remembering not only those who's sacrifice we honor, but what we actually used to be.

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