When I worked for the College Board, I represented them for a year or so to the National Governors Conference. I was never terribly impressed by the group, but they were men and women who tried to deal with the major problems facing their states and localities, especially education. Every governor wants to be called “the education governor” just like every president wants to be known as the education president. There have been governors like Hunt in North Carolina and Caperton in West Virginia who genuinely tried to move ahead on the issue; and of course the great education president was Lyndon Johnson, although one must in fairness acknowledge the efforts of the Bush presidents. But this month in Philadelphia, the NGA met hat in hand to plead with Obama for more money from the Feds. Unlike the states, the federal government can simply print money and run deficit budgets.
Obama was polite and listened and promised them input. I found it odd that Governor Palin was there asking for money and then denouncing the idea of bailouts. When asked about contradiction she went into a Daffy Duck routine saying that she was concerned about the ideology of spending. When even she realized she made no sense, she then referred the reporters to the Republican governors of Texas and South Carolina. When those reporters noted their views on bailouts, the governors were asked which ones would not ask the feds for the money. Not a single one responded in the affirmative, which may explain why these states are in the condition they are.
There are terrible economic times, for families and for governments. But these states are really unable or unwilling to alienate constituencies by making tough decisions. That reluctance predated the collapse of Wall Street.
Our own state of New Jersey is a prime example. We have talked about the need to rebuild infrastructure in this old state, but our fees and bonding commitments do not reflect putting money aside. We are investing billions in Abbott districts without any accountability; we have approved $1.2 billion for new schools from an agency that has already shown it can not deal with construction. We have the highest property taxes in the nation, but have not dealt with cost containment in fire, municipal services, and education. Our pension system is seriously underfunded (see the new Hall Institute study on its website, www.hallnj.org) and yet we are adding employees. In a bad economic climate, state officials made promises to Rutgers University to build a new stadium, commitments that can not be kept by the politicians and which will fall on the students. In the last fifteen years, tuition and fees across the nation have gone up over 400%–a virtual death knell for the middle class. Boards of trustees and presidents walk away from their responsibilities. The answer will be, I am sure, not to cut costs and personnel in colleges, but ask President Obama to come up with more student aid to pay for those escalating costs.
I wonder, just wonder, what would happen if we asked all levels of government to live within their means. I wonder what would happen if we adopted classical capitalism and told the financial institutions and the car makers that they are responsible for their own businesses – rise or fall.
Good God, I am sounding like Milton Friedman!!!! Maybe I need a bailout to retool. “Dear President Obama……”
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