Thursday, October 29, 2009

Utah's Bleak Finances Are Even Worse Than Previously Thought

What is a state government to do when it is facing revenues that are sixteen percent less than they had projected three months ago- and those projections supposedly factored in the Great Recession we are enduring?

Consider the words from this article:

Salt Lake County's mayor is now asking for a $13.4 million property tax increase, despite nixing a similar proposal from the county council months ago.

Peter Corroon said the county simply can't cut anymore after trimming jobs, wages, 401(k) contributions, open days at county outdoor pools and Sundays at 10 county recreation centers.

"At some point you have to say there are things we won't sacrifice," Corroon told KSL Newsradio in an interview Wednesday. "I said I won't sacrifice public safety and I won't sacrifice programs for our seniors and our children, so that's where we drew the line."

The 2010 budget would provide for the operation of the newly reopened Oxbow Jail and the Salt Lake County Fair.

Corroon said Salt lake County is now "in the eye of the storm" when it comes to the economic downturn. The 2009 county budget was $801 million. The proposed 2010 budget stands at $638 million.

If you were expecting some new bicycle facilities to be built for you in Salt Lake County, do you think they would've survived the one hundred sixty three million dollar budget cut? Yeah, I don't either.

More locally:

Texans continue to spend and buy less, as the state reported a 12.5 percent drop in sales tax revenue in September.
The decrease matches August’s decline, the largest this year.
The state comptroller’s office announced Friday (October 9, 2009) that it collected $1.47 billion in sales tax in September, compared with $1.68 billion in September 2008. The collections are for sales made in August.

Note, Texans enjoy being relieved of any state income tax.

One theme I have noticed in all of the news is a continued mantra that the bottom is in, we will be up and out next year. I believe this is wishful thinking in the face of contrary evidence.

It was reported today that last week alone, there were more than half a million folks who lost their jobs. The four week average of new job losses is more than five hundred thousand pink slips handed out each week.

The government hands out a report today that trumpets the economy grew last quarter, but the internal data shows that disposable personal income decreased in real terms quarter over quarter by 7.4%! That is an enormous swing in purchasing power and not in the right direction.

Other claims of new housing starts and exports in the report seem to be false as corroborating data (Sales at Home Depot and Lowe's, and truck/train freight and port activity show no corresponding improvement.) cannot be found. Swings of twenty percent quarter over quarter seem implausible as well.
The American consumer is in hibernation, and I do not yet see any sign of spring. There is way too much of everything in the economy except for debt.

This elected officials are hearing the siren song of the headlines and subsequently engaging in hopeful denial. They hope that if they can hunker down the revenue stream will improve and they can avoid the painful choices that must be faced. The truth is, they will not be able to to put it off any longer.

Houston is bankrupt. That city is broke. They will never be able to pay all of their obligations. They now have no alternative to bankruptcy court to unload them. Each Houston citizen owes five thousand three hundred thirty eight dollars. For comparison, each California resident owes two thousand five hundred twenty eight dollars each. (Their financial peril is somewhat different, as states have no recourse to bankruptcy court.)

In fact, municipal budgets throughout this country are so strained by pension obligations alone, they may not even be able to fund infrastructure maintenance projects like filling potholes. (Not that anyone would notice a decrease in service!)

So if painting lines on the streets, painting sharrows in the door zone or paving long narrow recreational playgrounds is what you are advocating for, how can you do to remain relevant in this environment?

May I make a few suggestions? Work to make traffic laws equitable for all vehicles on the public way. Get rid of far-to-right laws and discriminatory mandatory bike lane laws. Either repeal mandatory helmet laws or make them mandatory for all who operate any kind of vehicle on the road.

Demand that the laws that already exist be enforced. In Texas, the due care clause of the maximum speed statute. (Sec. 545.351) Enforcement of illegal lane position by motor vehicles. (Sec. 545.060) The safe passing law already on the books. (Sec. 545.053[a][2]) Demand accountability from our police, district attorneys and judges for failing to perform their sworn duty to uphold these laws. And yes, demand enforcement of scofflaw cycling behavior. [*]

In these difficult times, can we do nothing about the daily carnage on our streets? Can we not form coalitions with interested parties to change the general incivility on the roadway? What civic group is so callous as to not be a part of such a movement? What insurance company likes paying so many claims? What medical or religious group would back away from such an effort that would benefit everyone in out community? Don't lobby the legislators, start a media campaign!

Bribe the new cyclists on the streets with gifts like lights or helmets for attending bicycle skills seminars. A skilled newbie is more likely to enjoy cycling and stick with it. More butts on bikes and all that.

Or maybe you have even better ideas! Good, because the old way of asking for special treatment and infrastructure won't advance anything for a while.

* I find it astonishing that so-called advocates think that asking for crackdowns on the most dangerous behaviors on public street by cyclists is bad form. I thought you were the ones who really cared about your constituents well being!


  1. Taking back the existing roads for PEOPLE costs nothing. We don't need new infrastructure, just a new mindset.

    Civility is free and it makes your community a better place to live. A better place to live will thrive economically.

  2. Golly, and I would have been happy if these skills seminars were held even without bribes!

  3. Eliot! I inadvertently deleted your comment! Please re-comment.

    Damn! Where is my coffee...

  4. Eliot here... ChipSeal rocks! OK, it's not Eliot, but you still rock. Lots of good points there, man.

    Does gov't stimulus $$$ make it to the Municipal level in most states? Or is it just that there is precious little of it? We're seeing a number of infrastructure projects happen here in London Ontario...

  5. OK, I dug out Eliot's comment from the trash folder in my e-mail account. He wrote:

    Fantastic post.

    One more note on economy: I agree, I believe it is wishful thinking that it will be better any time soon. Listen to Peter Schiff much?

    I would love a professional civility campaign.

    I have removed all of his negative remarks. If he wants those published here, he'll have to post again.

    I read Bill McBride at, Mish Shedlock over at and the rantings and ravings of Karl Denninger at the

    I avoid all of the major news distribution outlets, and I am a happier fellow because of that!

  6. I would never delete one of dear Rantwick's posts because he always provides an adequate amount of fawning praise!

    One of the distressing outcomes of three stimulus bills passed in less than a year, the vast majority that has been distributed so far is that it has gone to state and more local governments and been mainly used to prop up severely under-funded defined benefit pension plans. In essence, a bail-out for civil servant unions.

    Further, the most recent stimulus has been largely undistributed. The congress, in it's crafty way, has restricted disbursement until next year. They seem to think spending the seven hundred billion dollars of pork has a better chance of improving their re-election chances if it is spent in a election year.

    The stimulus packages stand as gigantic monuments to what big government does best: Mismanage everything they are in control of.

    (Oh please take over our health care and make it better!)

    The larger and more powerful the government becomes, the smaller the individual becomes and he has less and less liberty.

    Ideas have consequences. Elections have consequences. Even to those who do not wrestle with the ideas or attend the elections.

  7. Hey, I don't want to hear no ChipSeal badmouth disrespecting trash talk about defined benefit pension plans! Come Monday, the FIRST thing I plan to do when I get home is to RUN to the computer and check to see if my very first defined benefit pension payment has been direct deposited!

    Of course, it isn't a govt plan, but I like the notion anyway.