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Past the Tipping Point

With the summer more than half over, things have not been going as well as America had hoped. I would imagine that this observation is shared by many readers and has the potential to recast earlier feelings of optimism. To be truthful, these are troubled times. While exacerbated by Washington’s political gridlock, the greater fear is that they portend a future governed by small-minded powerbrokers who fail to grasp the complex needs of a great and growing nation. Decision-making should never be about power, influence and insuring one’s financial future after politics. It must be about serving the common good…the common interest. This has not been the case in Washington.

 At the state level, governors Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Jerry Brown (D-CA) have repeatedly and strongly stated that their states must begin to make very tough decisions. They believe that society must live within its means and that every service to which we’ve become accustomed must no longer be an entitlement. Both have also said that they would do what is right even if unpopular and the citizens could agree to a new level of fiscal restraint or vote them out of office. Leaders at the city and county level are leaning the same way- making the best possible choices to preserve their communities.

 Watching the wags and nincompoops who blather on talk and ‘news’ shows, it is clear to those paying attention that political guests and their advisors spend most allotted air time bashing the other political party. Blaming, deflection and outright lying have reached a level not seen in US history. And, there is no sign of abatement. At the federal, state and local level, common business sense must become the rule. It is always difficult to reel in emotional and fiscal entitlements. The longer they continue, the more vital they become to the recipient; and, the more they will be defended with anger and irrational exuberance.

 For rational people, it is clear that you can’t spend what you don’t have. While credit is available, too much too often leads to a deep, dark hole. The rule is simple: If the American people want a service cornucopia, it comes with a cost; government cannot keep borrowing to maintain programs and services (even those held dear) if revenue can’t support predicted need as the population grows. At some point (now), the country must decide what is important and what it can afford at current revenue levels, then ask society what else it is willing to contribute. It must not be about political control; it must be about a properly envisioned and managed government.

 Intelligent budget decisions need to be made now. Even though Congress has raised the debt ceiling 11 times in the past 10 years with no ill effect, the recent posturing associated with such classic housekeeping was unconscionable. Predictably, it has ignited a serious stock market decline – one that could erode many of the gains made since 2009. In terms of debt reduction, cutting small, targeted programs will not impact the nation’s debt. A broad and prudent plan is required – similar to the Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Commission Report that published thoughtful but tough recommendations in December 2010 (similar recommendations were presented by the Debt Reduction Task Force of the Bipartisan Policy Center, in the Domenici-Rivlin Report, November 2010). Or, if you want a rush from good but frightening data, read Peter Coy’s analysis in the August 1-7 edition of Bloomberg Businessweek. Talk about a well-document dose of reality!

 This is not a time for party politics, nor a time to support officials who are not fully dedicated to the long-term common interest of all citizens. This is a time to determine what this society deems important enough to pay for and what constitutes a practical vision that preserves American ideals and the opportunity to build a sustainable economic future. There are many paths forward; isn’t it time we chose one?

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). His new book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Public Administrators and Community Leaders, was released in October 2010. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

One Response

  1. Has the need for great leaders (people doing the right thing for the right reason in the face of opposition) ever been more apparent? The bickering among elected officials has become more than annoying; political children have created a wave of negativity and cynicism towards big government that permeates this country. Don’t we have better people to elect–people whose love of country supersedes their love of power and position?

    Hard decisions will have to be made regarding our economic state. Leaders with vision are needed to guide us through the sacrifices we will have to make to correct our current course.

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