Don't just cut spending, prioritize it

Be willing to eliminate programs or agencies so essential areas can be preserved.

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It's traditional at the end of the year to look back to see what has been accomplished and what didn't get done.

Government at all levels - city, county, state and nation - can say with some relief that they survived. In tough economic times that is an accomplishment.

Unfortunately, a golden opportunity to reshape and refocus government has been frittered away, blocked by partisan tactics and politicians' efforts to safeguard their re-election chances.

There is a constituency for every program and every agency funded by taxpayer dollars whether it is the local aviary or the national Department of Education.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that. When times were good and money flowed freely it was easy to find new ways to spend it. We created this bloated beast of a government because we, the public, continued to say gimme, gimme, gimme but then balked when the time came to pay.

Governments, especially at the city, county and state levels, have been slicing and dicing to try to make ends meet. That's part of the problem. Instead of doing a systemic evaluation as to whether the programs or agencies are really essential and whether they are the responsibility of government, politicians have done everything they can to keep everything going.

Now all programs and agencies, no matter how vital or how optional, are suffering because of this avoidance of prioritizing. Many cannot truly do their jobs well and some have been reduced to a level that jeopardizes safety.

This is less about whether you believe in big government or limited government than it is about whether you want effective government.

When funds are drained away from essential areas the engine of government responds like a motor deprived of sufficient oil. It locks up and stalls.

Yes, it is nice to have a first-rate stereo system in your vehicle, leather seats, moon roof, custom paint job and other add ons. But they don't do you much good when you throw a rod, burn out the transmission or have three flat tires.

Instead of deciding to live without some of the extras and taking care of the essential parts, governments are still trying to have it all.

If governments were to prioritize everything into four categories with the top two being "a matter of life or death" and "essential but not life or death," and the bottom two being "useful but not essential" and "not the responsibility of government," funding would logically follow.

The money would go first to the top two categories. If any money is left, things ranked as "useful but not essential" would be funded until the money is gone. Everything else would be eliminated.

It's a simple concept practiced in households across the country.

Then, anything that is added to the budget, either by lawmakers or through the initiative process, would have to include a funding mechanism (tax, toll, user fee). You want it, you pay for it. Otherwise, forget it.

We will give examples of priorities in Tuesday's editorial.

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