Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Vermont Budget > Better results from public services – or just more cuts?

Better results from public services – or just more cuts?

It was good to see this week’s government efficiency report focusing on better outcomes from essential public services. Challenges for Change: Results for Vermonters held out the promise of saving $38 million in fiscal 2011 and nearly twice that much in fiscal 2012—all while delivering “the same or better result.”

If it comes to pass, it will be a welcome change from across-the-board budget-cutting the state has suffered the past two years. Services have become an afterthought; the bottom line has ruled.

It’s hard to argue with the goal of better public services at lower cost. But Challenges for Change is thin on details, so it’s also hard to gauge how effective the plan will be.

The cuts—or rather “savings”—appear to be a given:  “The savings are taken in the FY11 and FY12 budget process. There is no argument about money. The money isn’t there to spend.” it says.

Then the report repeats the challenge: “deliver the same or better result with the money available.” It doesn’t say how we’ll know we’ve gotten that better result.

In fact, the section on “challenges” in human services suggests we can expect worse outcomes: “Aging demographics and reduced public resources may be requiring Vermont to reconsider its expectations about whom it can afford to serve.”

In other words, elderly Vermonters and Vermonters with disabilities may get less. This doesn’t sound like a better outcome, unless you think cutting services to vulnerable people is efficient and likely to improve their quality of life.

Efficiency and better outcomes are one thing, cutting services to vulnerable people is quite another.  Vermonters clearly support the former.  There will be pushback – and there should be – about the latter.

Posted by Paul Cillo on January 8, 2010 at 7:59 pm

One Response to “Better results from public services – or just more cuts?”

  1. Ralph W Howe says:

    There is a little sign that is posted around which basically states that poor planning on your part does not constitute and emergency on my part. The politicians who have brought us to where we are today, should not expect the people to see the emergency that they have helped to create.
    One of the reasons that we are having these massive revenue shortfalls has to do with the poor investment strategy of the past 10+ years. We invested in prisons and mandatory jail time, corporate welfare that rarely produces jobs and revenue, while we inadequately funded programs for the poor, disabled and low skilled, and paid for schools designed to pass the No Child Left Behind scam. The alternative that is so easily forgotten is that we could and should invest in front end asset appreciation investments. If we invested in the actual means known to transform households from addiction,generational poverty, violence, low economic ability,not to mention hunger, we would build human assets for Vermont that would a. reduce back end costs and b.make Vermont a more economically enterprising population ready to innovate, create and grow, which will raise state revenues in the long run.
    It astounds me that people who think of themselves as business minded, do not see that asset growth in the human population is what is necessary to reduce costs of government and increase economic activity.
    A simple example of a front end program that Vermont has largely ignored is the micro loan program of CVCAC. Instead of aiding really small business efforts, we focus hundreds of millions on luring the big companies here–with little long term benefit.
    Another example is investment in teens–recreation, disciplined service, more aggressive intervention in dysfunctional situations, to name a few things that we cannot do well now, because we can’t even keep up with the caseload of investigations the DCF faces.
    Secondly, why are we now cutting the asset building investments we do have, when the effect of doing so will unquestionably mean reducing future state revenues. Just as when the state cut staff, it appears that our leaders refused to look at the revenue effect of doing so—it is a predictable amount—so we are now again about to cut funding that will only increase the loss of revenue. Statistically, dollars spent on the poor, who must spend the money quickly to survive, produces in some programs more in tax revenues for the state than the programs cost in the first place, while others have lesser, but significant revenue enhancing effects that are now being ignored.
    Third, the state is not a business that must cut programs (needed by the most needy) in times of economic trouble. The government exists in our capitalist system to prevent the externalized costs of business from causing revolution among those hurt by those costs—and, we hope, to make our society humane and civilized. Having the government follow the business world in externalizing the costs of economic crises (as they afflict the poor)which were caused by the very richest people, is dangerous and immoral.
    Fourth, several years ago the wealthiest Vermonters were asking to have their taxes raised to help the poorest. It is about time we took them up on this offer.
    For the state to simply assume that the “shortfall” is inevitable is to move forward with blinders on. Stimulating the improvement of human lives–actually doing this, rather than keeping the poor from revolution with bread and circuses–is how we can rise out of this depression and thrive. The path some leaders seem to have chosen will pull us down and leave us too weak to move when the rest of the world begins recovery.