September 3, 2008

A little can go a long way

A Few Simple Changes Could Save Taxpayers Millions

We’ve all heard the advice: save a dollar a day and invest it in an interest bearing account, and over the course of your lifetime you’ll have more than $1 million saved up.

There are many ways to save a dollar a day—cut a coupon before going to the grocery store, set the idle on your car lower to save gas, skip that trip to Starbucks and make coffee at home, etc.

In the same way that a person can save a small amount of money each day and have it add up to a fortune over time, the government can easily find ways to save small amounts of money daily as well.

One simple way to save taxpayer dollars would be to limit the petty cash given to politicians and bureaucrats. While state officials get just $500 in petty cash, Reno city council members get $10,000 every year, Clark County commissioners get $15,000, and Las Vegas City Council Members top the charts at $35,000. Thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent through these slush funds on items such as beach balls or pencils with council members’ names on them, and even a performance by the 1970s band Super Freak. Curtailing these slush funds could save the taxpayers millions over the coming years.

Another simple way to save money for taxpayers would be to cut some of the spending wasted on Homeland Security. While combating terrorism should be a priority, DHS is being used for pork that must be curtailed. For instance, Esmeralda County received a Homeland Security grant of $30,938, but that county has no political, economic, natural, or strategic targets for terrorists to attack. And according to the Census it has the second lowest population density of any county in the contiguous United States — at a rounded zero people per square mile.

While this is a federal issue and thus is beyond NPRI’s normal subject matter, taxpayers should be aware of the waste in this department so that they may contact their congressional members (who probably demanded the Esmeralda DHS dollars) and complain.

Another wasteful practice occurs when the government taxes hardworking citizens only to donate their money to favored charities. Washoe County alone spent $40,200 on unnamed donations last year (and the fact that the donations were unnamed is problematic in itself), Clark County officials sent $24,575 to subsidize fundraisers for several politically favored nonprofits, and the City of Reno donated a total of $21,500 to frivolous causes such as restoring antique fire trucks for display.

While private donations to charity are admirable, taxpayers should be able to decide which charities they would like to support and donate their money accordingly rather than having politicians decide for them.

Yet another area of waste, contractors routinely get additional money out of the state, given the latter’s long-standing policy allowing 10 percent margins of increase on contracts. Thus, vendors can go to the state and ask for an extra 10 percent to be added to general expenses. Generally, such contracts will be increased with no questions asked.

That kind of 10 percent margin, however, is rather steep, and any such requests for additional money on an already-signed contract should be subjected to more review and public notice. Such requests should no longer be essentially granted no-questions-asked.

The State of Nevada is facing a budget shortfall that some estimate will be close to one billion dollars, and the state already has several billion more in public debt. Even worse, the cost to taxpayers to pay that debt, it is estimated, will be hundreds of millions more.

The changes recommended above will not save taxpayers huge sums of money immediately, but they require very little effort. And the money saved will add up to a fortune in the long-term.

Finally, a clear and well-implemented transparency policy coming out of the Nevada Legislature next year can produce real progress on many of these waste issues, and with little political pain.

Politicians, bureaucrats and vendors will be much less likely to waste taxpayer money if they know that taxpayers will see this on an easily accessed, user-friendly state website or on TransparentNevada.com.

It’s simple: If you’re a politician, a government official, or a vendor, and everyone’s going to see you naked, you’ll want to look like Michelangelo’s David, not like Jabba the Hut.