Not quite wired for policy problems


I have been worried for a long time that I may never be able to land that cushy government job I have been after because a) I don't have the mind for it, and b) I have a hard time sleeping at work.

My friends have often told me I wouldn't actually have to sleep on the job, of course. Reading a book or playing games online works just as well, but that always left the first problem.

My brain is a pretty basic "guy" issue, with the basic guy priorities: food, sex, sleep, rinse and repeat. It makes gift shopping easy. All my wife has to do is buy clothes for herself and then never ask me what I think of them.

She gets new clothes and I avoid the ever-perilous Response to a Clothes Question. It's a pretty straightforward way to live, and I like it.

The problem is that it doesn't lend itself to the sort of high-level problem solving required for government work.

For example, if I were in charge of setting licensing office hours, I would have them open around 10 a.m., take an hour lunch at 2 p.m., when no customers are in the office, and close at 7 p.m., giving the after-work crowd a chance to swing through.

But as the system is set up now, it increases revenue through poor service.

A man, say, enters the licensing office full of hope and optimism. After sitting in line for three hours, he finally reaches the front desk, only to realize all but one of the staff has gone on lunch break.

By the time our hero actually sees a clerk, both are about as friendly as a black bear with irritable bowel syndrome. The man leaves without getting his license renewed, buys a case of beer on his way home and is forced to drive back to the licensing office every day for the next week until he finally has all the paperwork in order.

In this scenario, state profits are increased through beer and fuel taxes.

The upcoming push to legalize marijuana through Washington's Initiative 502 is another example of the superior mind at work. As tobacco sales decline due to rising taxation and new labeling requirements, state programs funded through those taxes are in jeopardy.

Here is where marijuana comes in.

Revenues raised through taxation of cannabis would offset the revenues lost to reduced tobacco sales. Then lawmakers and lobbyists can fund studies to look at how the elevated levels of tar and carcinogens in marijuana smoke affect the general public: voil, job creation.

Left on my own, I never would have come up with that kind of solution to raise state income and create jobs.

If it had been up to me, I would have suggested something silly like reducing spending on non-essential functions like, for example, the Caseload Forecast Council, an agency that, no kidding, forecasts entitlement caseloads for Washington state.

Despite my record of not being able to keep up with the big thinkers in government, I did have a sort of brainstorm the other day. In my daily effort to look busy I stumbled across a news item by Liz Goodwin of Yahoo News.

According to Goodwin, the U.S. government's fence along the U.S.-Mexico border is "riddled with miles-long gaps, seemingly placed at random."

Goodwin seemed to find this odd, but our government is one step ahead, as usual. The U.S. Border Patrol said the gaps in the fence help funnel illegal immigrants, making them easier to catch.

The fence is also more than a mile north of the "actual border," trapping roughly 200 people between the U.S. and Mexico in a sort of no-man's land. What purpose this serves is open for discussion, though it could be a clever ploy to tire the illegal immigrants, making them even easier to catch.

Anyway, here is my idea: We could put up coin-operated turnstiles in the fence gaps and charge illegal immigrants like we charge commuters for the subway.

Further revenues could be raised by requiring illegal immigrants to carry a ticket stub, proving they actually paid the toll. Those caught without the stubs would be fined. I think this could be the big breakthrough we've needed toward reducing the national debt.

In the meantime, I'd like to volunteer to be on the committee to design the first marijuana package warning label. WARNING: While this product could be harmful, it may not be. We're not sure, but we're paying scientists an unseemly amount of money to find out, though they seem to be a little paranoid lately ...

Luke Hegdal can be reached at or 526-8326.


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