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Friday, April 15, 2005

Just in time

What would life be without those wonderful mailings that we get from our local governments to let us know that, yes, everything is just fine, and all that money we're paying in taxes is being spent wisely? The latest came in the mail the other day from something called the "School Efficiency and Quality Advisory Council." On the back, you see who that is -- Diane Linn, Tom Potter, Bill Scott, some other folks. They were appointed to a county board a couple of years ago, back when we passed the Multnomah County income tax, most of which goes to public schools. (I guess then-Mayor Katz was the original City of Portland appointee, and her successor has taken over her seat.)

Well, gol dang, wouldn't you know it? The school districts around the county are doing a bang-up job. They're "allocating" 98 percent of that county tax money to "instruction and school-based support." Only 2 percent of it is being "allocated" to "central support." Every single one of the districts is using the money to "maintain a full school year." No waste at all!

Now, I don't begrudge the schools the money, but to me, these figures are kind of comical. If they wanted to, the school districts could probably say with a straight face that they spend 100 percent of the county tax on "teaching and learning," and none of it on overhead. It's all just a paper number made up by an accountant. Since their classroom budgets are more than what the county contributes from the income tax, the districts can reason that they're using the income tax revenues for the classroom. But meanwhile, they can pay for the "central support" out of other money, like property taxes and state contributions.

How well the schools "use" the income tax ought to be judged by how well they "use" all of the funds they get. Because the last time I checked, it was all money. Yours and mine.

Anyway, the full report of this august panel is here.

You wonder how much it cost to send this little four-pager to every address in the county. Professional photos and all, although the "graphic design" was said to be donated. Was that expense really necessary? I would have bought textbooks for some kids in a poor school instead.

And the timing? To coincide with tax day, of course. To try to calm the rage. Will it? Not likely.

Comments (8)

Quite seriously, how much did this mailer cost?

Right now somebody out there's gotta be running the numbers, even if in their minds, let Jack 'n the rest of us know what you come up with.

So you say money is fungible. The US Supreme Court agrees in this May 17, 2004, case.

Sabri v. United States.

If the federal government provides $10,000 for a program, can corrupt local officials escape the reach of the federal laws through claims that the particular $10,000 were not used improperly? There had been a split in the circuits, but not any more.

"Liquidity is not a financial term for nothing; money can be drained off here because a federal grant is pouring in there."

Well, of course, I made a point of pointing this out to our local school board and to the board's general counsel, and the DA. I did not want them to be able to plead ignorance or something; that is to make it crystal clear that deceptive accounting was treated as, well, deceptive accounting so that our DA could act in the public interest to end accounting gamesmanship. But the question now is whether someone can compel the DA to take affirmative action against corrupt public officials or whether his prosecutorial discretion equates to the lawful right to turn a blind eye to blatant corruption.

If the DA won't act, would an ELECTED city attorney act in his stead? See the Portland Auditor's web site for submitted petitions, look for number 2.

Should the Citizens of the City of Portland Elect Their City Attorney? [ELECT PORTLAND CITY ATTORNEY]

Be sure to read this bit of wording in the proposal:

"He/She shall have the same power to that provided by state law to a county District Attorney to protect the public interest from official misconduct by City officials and employees and other public and private parties ancillary to such enforcement actions involving City officials and employees."

This was not inserted accidentally. This really is like sending a weasel into a rat's burrow. Nature doesn't think of weasels as bad when they attack, it is natural, it is just like . . . say . . . accountability.

Hooray for government advertising to compelled citizens.

The US Postal Service's advertising is even more brazen. They spend many, many millions on print and broadcast ads saying what a great job they're doing and--for the vast majority of mail people send--we're legally required to use them! Mail regs say we have to use the USPS unless the item and its urgency allow us to not use them. The USPS can, and does, fine companies for using FedEx/UPS/etc when it's not sufficiently urgent to warrant their usage under the regs. And, of course, the USPS doesn't allow competition for regular first-class mail. It's good to be the king.

It's especially great when they image advertise and don't push a particular service. Luckily tax-flushing systems like Lance Armstrong's USPS-sponsored bicycling team exist. More French need to know just how great that USPS logo looks. Whoops, did I say "French"? I meant "Freedom Francs".

I can hardly wait for gigantic murals of John E. Potter (www.usps.com/communications/organization/pmg.htm) and Tom Potter on every city block. Hopefully they'll be holding hands.


Lars Larson read your statement on the radio on Friday, April 15.


Remember kids, if you are Vicki Phillips' boyfriend, you can get a lucrative ($9,000 per month) consulting job to make material like this.

Hi, Joel. Lars is always reading my stuff on the air. Makes me nervous to think that he and I agree often. Guess I'm turning Republican in my old age.

The printing for the mailing cost $10,600. The County is still waiting to hear what the mailing costs are; back-of-the-envelope: 280,000 households, about 10 cents a shot, give it $28,000 (to $35,000, if mailing costs are higher).

So, $38-$45,000 (give or take) to educate citizens about where its tax money is being spent. Worth it, when your County has a billion-dollar annual budget (and the income tax is $128 million/year)?

I think so. Accountability includes giving people information directly. Public involvement efforts need to include reaching out to people; and yes, it takes financial resources to do that.

Yeah, well please don't send me any more, especially if it's going to be some propaganda fueled by an accounting trick. Use the thousands saved to pay for something real.

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