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Jan 29 / thomas.krafft

Caltrain budget deficit…

About a year ago, I wrote about how Caltrain approved a plan to spend $1.8 million to install a GPS system that would notify riders when the trains are delayed – even though only 6% of their trains ever ran late, and in spite of the fact that we were exactly in the middle of the absolute worst financial crisis America has seen since the Great Depression.

In September, I read Caltrain proposed a fare increase, to fill a $2.3 million budget deficit which – not so ironically – is almost exactly the same amount as what they spent on the GPS system they didn’t need.

Add to that, Caltrain expects this year’s budget shortfall to top $30 million. All they do is run trains. How is it possible to create such a huge deficit in just 1 year, when their ridership only dropped for the first time last year, and that drop was just 6%.

Like most government agencies though, the budgetary problems stem from the lack of any spending restraints, oversight or discipline – a problem that has been allowed to grow for decades or longer. As Caltrain’s ridership increased over 40% in the past 6 years – and more than 70% since 1992 – they were allowed to spend the money and make those increasing revenue figures part of their forecast for spending allocations.

As you’ll hear me say quite often, it’s a bad idea to trust any government agency with their own purse-strings, without any meaningful oversight or restriction. Government will spend what government can – and when they spend all they have, they’ll borrow to spend more.

Now, before anyone mistakes me for a Tea Party loon, let’s be clear: I’m not. I am a left-of-center social liberal, and right-of-center fiscal conservative. In accordance with my faith and patriotism, I believe  government are the most viable and secure means by which public interests may be promoted and served – particularly in areas where there’s no business interest or profit motive, such as mass transportation, education, healthcare, retirement, and so forth. But I absolutely have no faith in bureaucrats to be fiscally responsible.

Even the programs and agencies that are doing good things, could absolutely benefit from the belt-tightening and common sense cuts – not of teachers or “do-ers”, but in pet projects like Caltrain late-train notification systems that no one needs, paying millions of dollars to build  basic websites (a job I used to do for less than $5000 per), or paying for more than one principal, one secretary, and one janitor to handle the operational functions of any grade school in America – where most schools today have multiple principals, admins, secretaries, janitor and facilities staff, and all of which take money away from hiring and paying for good teachers. And these are just a few examples.

The topic of “waste” deserves far more attention today. When revenues are up, agencies spend it – when revenues are down, agencies immediately increase fees or cut vital services, so that they can keep spending at the levels they had during good times, and of course so that management of those agencies may continue to spend on their own pet projects, and keep their cushy jobs nice and secure.

It’s ridiculous. And I’ll just leave it at that for today.

By the way, I apologize I’ve been too busy to attend to my own blog for so long. I’m making an effort to contribute more, and more frequently. I’d also like to expand on some earlier thoughts about the purpose of this site, and spend more time simply commenting on the news items of today. I’ve been thinking the future of this site will be strongly influenced by people’s perception of me personally – my thoughts and attitudes. Although I don’t plan to be part of the larger discussions which I hope to eventually host here in the long term, I’m becoming more aware of the short term needs people have in hearing from me. So, I’ll give it a shot, and try to talk about my personal views more often.

And we’ll see what happens from there…