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Across-the-board layoffs do not create savings


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POSTED: Thursday, September 24, 2009

The economic winds are blowing hard against the bow of our state and stirring up a fierce and apparently relentless storm. The answer is to paddle together, not simply toss people out of the canoe.

Yes, we have to live within our means and, yes, government services must be delivered as efficiently as possible. However the governor's proposal for across-the-board layoffs, if allowed, will have significant and far-reaching negative impacts greatly exceeding any savings that might occur as a result.

We need to balance our state budget with a long-term perspective — using all of the tools at our disposal. Early retirement, attrition, deferred payments, special funds and user fees are just a few of the tools at hand. Technology to modernize the delivery of services must also be utilized.

To do the job properly takes time. It is the nature of long-term planning.

The governor, unfortunately, believes the task must be accomplished immediately and therein lies the problem. Decisions made in a panic mode are by nature conducted without adequate information and proper discussion, resulting in a plethora of unintended consequences.

The current situation with regards to agricultural inspectors is but one example of this. In the case of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the proposed layoffs effectively cut millions of dollars in federal funds in order to achieve a $500,000 savings to the state budget.

Fear-based decision-making is just plain wrong.

The state administration must take a deep breath, gather community leaders from around the islands, then plan a strategy that will take our state forward in a measured and thoughtful manner.

There must be a broad-based community discussion and a consensus built on what type of government we want and are willing to pay for.

Our community must decide what services we believe are essential and face up to the responsibility of paying for them.

Is it acceptable to have our children attend 17 fewer days of school per year? Is it OK to leave our farmers stranded high and dry through layoffs of critical agricultural inspectors? Can we live without health inspectors checking our water and our food, or do we believe this is important and should be paid for?

What about invasive species control? What about parks, airport and highway maintenance? Are libraries really important to us or should we simply shut them down?

Would businesses rather pay the cost of higher unemployment rates or would they prefer a tax increase shared by everyone?

The big fallacy about layoffs is that they create savings. In almost all situations they do not create savings; they merely shift and often increase costs.

Clearly there is a price to pay, one way or another. And clearly, simply throwing some of our friends and neighbors out of the canoe, is not the answer.

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Gary Hooser is majority leader of the state Senate.