Cut with caution

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Many politicians run for office vowing to run the government as a business is run - with a careful eye on the profit and loss statement. If Gov. Bob Riley follows through on his plan to slash government spending, specifically in areas of waste and duplication, he may well be among the first of those politicians to follow through on that promise.

The fact that he began "at home" - cutting 30 percent of his own staff, bodes well for his intentions. In his state of the state address, Riley outlined that and other plans, all designed to combat the $500 million deficit looming in Alabama's future.

Many of his suggestions were bitingly accurate and well considered. The amount of traveling costs incurred by the Siegelman and other previous administrations is staggering. By limiting that travel to "vital" missions only, the governor is well on his way to decreasing that particular line item. Reducing the number of cars in the state fleet is also a good idea, but not as good as replacing the larger, gas guzzling status cars with smaller economy versions.

His subtle suggestion that the government will take the "Mobile" solution toward education was also effective. Like that city did, when it had trouble passing a tax hike, Riley implied that the first programs would be cut in the school programs if necessary would be the athletic ones - a painful blow to a state which prizes its high school teams.

But a government is not a business, and the governor needs to remember that it is there to serve the people, not just provide services for the people. There is a difference. A businessman can cut his losses and eliminate deadwood without being obligated to consider the overall impact his actions will have on those losses. In government, those losses are human beings who rely on the government. The concept of closing mental health centers and consolidating others means that the service is removed, yes, but also that those in dire need of the services are left without. He wants each department - including the Department of Corrections and the Judicial Department, to cut back by five percent. This will only slow down an already bogged court system and stress an already overcrowded prison system, and may well create more problems than it solves.

Riley wants to prevent drastic losses in personnel with his slash and burn technique, but that plan will also cause dramatic losses in personnel.

He must be careful in his method, lest it become a matter of cutting off his nose to spite his face.

There are no easy answers

- if there were, they would have been found by now. No amount of rhetoric can disguise the fact that the state is in dire financial trouble. No amount of rhetoric can disguise the fact that whether the governor cuts jobs to eliminate waste and duplication, or the governor eliminates jobs simply because the funds aren't there - those jobs are gone.