Monday, September 29, 2014

Week of 09/29/2014

Ex Post Facto Theft
Imagine one day getting a knock on your front door.  It’s the owner of the local gas station that you’ve been going to since forever to fill up your car’s gas tank.  He tells you that one of his attendants had been making a horrendous error when authorizing gas purchases.  It turned out that he’s been hitting the “discount” key for every customer instead of the ones that pay with a certain credit card, so all the customers have been paying less in gas than they should have.  And this had been going on for at least a year, if not longer, but nobody said anything about it until he found out about it just the other day.
The gas station owner tells you that he’s promptly fired the attendant that was making the mistake and that he’s “awfully sorry” for the “mistake” that was made, and then says that you now need to pay him $24,000 for the difference that was lost for all of those transactions made during that time.  Oh, don’t worry, he says, you can make a series of payments over the next year to make up the difference, but, either way, he wants his $24,000 that he believes you owe him.
Now I know some of you will say “But, David, the real world doesn’t work like that!  The deal was made at the point of sale.  The price was set, payment made, the exchange was completed… it was a done deal!  If there was a screw-up in the price, then that was the gas station’s fault; he has no right to demand extra money from you for a mistake that his own people made!”
And you would be right to say that.  That is how the business world is supposed to operate!
But we’re not talking about a business here.
We’re talking about government.
Specifically, local government.  You know, the mom-and-pop career politicians that double as your next-door neighbors that all pretend that they can run local government just like they could run a business, and then turn around and expect their state and federal counterparts to do the same thing.
Well it turns out not all of them are such “stellar experts” in how the real world works.
In Barrow County, northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, their local Board of Education came across a rather embarrassing discrepancy with their revenue.  It seems the county government has been giving out a $10,000 homestead exemption for taxpayers instead of the usual $2000.  That’s an $8000 difference per household.
And we’re not talking about just a mistake for a year or two.  We’re talking this $8000-per-homestead discrepancy going on for about sixteen years!
Someone crunched some numbers and came up with a rough number of $24,000,000 that the Board of Education did not get because of this screw-up by the Barrow County government.  Twenty-four million! 
That’s a pretty big “Oops!”
So the BoE have two questions…
One, how the hell could the county make this kind of screw-up for sixteen years and nobody stepped up and said “Hey, wait a minute, isn’t this number wrong?”  Do these people not own homes?  Do they not read their own tax bills when they show up in the mail?  Are these the same “creative accountants” that were behind Enron?
But apparently that line of questioning takes a backseat to the next one…
“Where’s our money?”
Now, the Barrow County government have acknowledged that they screwed up in the past and have agreed to make up the difference for what was missed this past year.  And obviously they won’t want to make the mistake the next time around.
But then the BoE asked “Where’s the rest of our money?”
Yes, members of the Barrow County Board of Education don’t just want the money that was missed this past year.  They want the whole twenty-four million!  Every penny of it.
I’ve read Barrow County’s budget for 2013-2014, and at most their revenue was $34 million.  They couldn’t even pay their police officers with what would be left.  But according to one BoE member, they’re willing to let the County pay it off in 16-year increments.
Yeah, well here’s the problem, BoE member Lynn Stevens and anyone else in the group that thinks the same way: it’s not your money!  It never was!
Let’s get brutally honest here… the Barrow County Board of Education has absolutely no right whatsoever to claim any of the money that they theorize they have “missed” because of mistakes over the past sixteen years.  In fact they should be lucky they will get what was missed last year.
Yes, Barrow County screwed up, and they should have caught that.  But so should have the members of the Board of Education!  They’re supposed to be the “smart” ones in the bunch, right?  If they didn’t catch the discrepancy in over sixteen years, then it’s really their fault as well.  And they can’t blame “Common Core” or the “New Math” either.
The so-called “missing money” is not the Board of Education’s to claim.  It’s not even Barrow County’s money.  It is the taxpayers’ money.  It comes out of their pockets.  Even if Barrow County government were to somehow pay every penny, it would still have to come from the taxpayers.
The whole purpose of education is to prepare children for the real world.  But if those in charge of that education cannot deal with the real world, then they certainly cannot fulfill that purpose.  One of those realities happens to be the reality that you cannot “re-do” a done deal if you overlook a mistake.  If the members of the Barrow County Board of Education cannot accept that, then they need to be replaced at the earliest opportunity with those that do understand how the real world works.

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