Friday, August 19, 2011

"We run government like a ranch"

The NYTimes today surprised everyone by giving OpEd page space to Texas Governor and GOP primary candidate Rick Perry, who bragged about how he's been able to slice, dice, cut taxes, raise revenues, and make everyone happy during the recession. It might be a bit too good to be true, but the conservative principles are unmistakable:
For six years [Texas] has been one of the only states in America with a budget surplus: this year it is a record $433 million, proportionally equivalent to a federal surplus of $858 billion. Thus we've been able to cut taxes, invest in education and infrastructure and keep essential services intact. We recently got our first bond rating upgrade in 26 years. And we're not simply riding the Western energy boom, [which accounts] for only 9 percent of our budget surplus.

How do we accomplish what most states and the federal government cannot? I like to say we run government like a ranch. In ranching — my old job — you either pinch pennies or go belly-up. We do the same in government. Perhaps Washington can try it.

For one thing, we challenge every expense. If it isn't absolutely necessary, we eliminate it. When the recession came we found $80 million in savings, which helped us avert a budget crisis. Little things added up: we renegotiated state contracts, cut our energy consumption by 20 percent, auctioned off state vehicles and canceled building projects and computer upgrades.

This type of penny-pinching rarely occurs in Washington. As a small example, I was recently at a military base where a private firm ran security. Why, with the toughest soldiers on earth, would the federal government spend extra cash to rent security guards rather than let troops take turns guarding the fort?

Finally, we don't spend money until we've found the lowest price. Around here, government contracts aren’t a way to take care of friends. Quite the opposite: we use our purchasing power to get the lowest possible rate. When the real estate market softened, we told commercial landlords who rented space to the state that if we didn’t see rent reductions, we'd move to cheaper premises when our leases were up. Most complied, saving the state almost $4 million.

How does the federal government negotiate? Consider Medicare drug purchases, one of the largest federal budget items. We are often told the cost of entitlements can be brought down only by cutting services. Nonsense. In 2003, in one of the greatest sweetheart giveaways ever dreamed up by the White House and Congress, they agreed to pay retail rates for Medicare drugs, even when everyone knew they could negotiate lower, bulk prices. The cost to taxpayers? An estimated $600 billion a decade.
Except, that wasn't written by Rick Perry. It was actually written by Governor Brian Schweitzer (D-Montana) about his own state. But could you really tell the difference?

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