Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lollyscramble Economics

A lollyscramble is a down-under word for a festive search for candies. It's a portmanteau of "lollipop" and "scramble." However, it might as well describe the grant-craving economic madness of our County. Like a sweet-craving child, our County government just can't stop thinking about (or chasing) grants, and it has become frequent justification for bad policy. In fact, back in 1990, our Board of County Commissioners originally decided to fully opt into the GMA because of the promise of grants.

And ever since then, we've been chasing after those money-sweetened grant lollies regardless of the unintended consequences. Several current councillors have said that we needed to pass the CAOs because we were missing out on "millions" in grants and loans. Never mind that $1.6 billion in citizen equity was just wiped out because of our latest tax assessment. It is more important to our councillors that we pass draconian, unnecessary environmental restrictions so that our County government can become theoretically eligible for a few million in phantom grants. Ex-Administrator Pete Rose was among the most enthusiastic of Lollyscramblers. As far as Council members go, perhaps no one is a stronger advocate for Lollyscramble economics than Jamie Stephens. Stephens sees "missing millions" like some people see Sasquatch. They're everywhere.

Chasing grant lollies. Is this the economic policy of our County?
The problem with the claim of "missing millions" is that there is precious little to substantiate it. In fact, looking at the available evidence, it seems like a fanciful bout of wishful thinking to believe in "missing millions." Below are three slides of financial data from the County Auditor which were part of a traveling presentation given by some Charter Review Commission (CRC) members. The slides show that our County's total expenditures and the general fund expenditures have grown tremendously. Where is the missing money? Total expenditures have approximately doubled since 2000. The growth in the General Fund has far outstripped inflation. Since the CRC presented these figures, the County has provided updated numbers for 2012 expenditures, and our County government spent more in 2012 than in any other year except 2006 ... the second highest on record. Bubbles may have burst in high tech and the property market, but our County spending just keeps going and going. And the voters approved a new safety tax in 2012 to help out our poor County.

On top of all that spending, the Lollyscramblers hunger for more. Even if we give the Lollyscramblers the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is possible to get millions more, should we take it? Do they think our expenditures should be $100 million per year instead of $50 million? The Lollyscramblers are often the same people who talk about (the specious) rampant population growth here, but the County budget has grown much more explosively than population. As we saw with the solid waste debacle, every revenue solution can be blown to smithereens when there is no authentic desire to control costs. The Lollyscramblers almost always focus on getting more revenue, instead of cost control. In fact, the only thing Lollyscramblers seem hell bent on controlling are the land use practices of we citizens.

The Council passed the CAOs, and they have no idea what the economic impacts are. None.

Updated figures in the 2013 budget document (not reflected in the above graph) show 2012 expenditures north of $50 million for only the second time on record.


  1. Dear TrojanHeron,

    Filing for the new SJC Councilor positions is next week. I think it is time to set out our requirements for our new Councilors. Here is my starter list. Your other readers please add to it.


    1. Must have the skills and experience to manage the County organization and budget.

    2. Must recognize that our status as free Americans is being eroded.

    3. Must believe that our property rights are a keystone of our American tradition.

    4. Must provide for reasonable measures to protect the beautiful environment of the San Juans, and accept that private owners are better caretakers than the government. .

    5. Must believe that County Government exists to serve the citizens of the county. This means listening to our citizens first, and outside voices second.

    6. Must be willing to question why our cost of government per capita is so much higher than our other peer counties.

    7. Must be willing to listen to others, compromise when appropriate, and move ahead in the best interests of the citizenry.

    8. Must respect our county employees and be willing to provide good working conditions and appropriate salaries.

    9. Must be willing to represent SJC effectively and honorably in Olympia and on the required outside boards and commissions.

    10. Must be willing to stand up to pressures from outside agencies such as the DOE, DNR, US Dept.of Interior, FOSJ, and political parties.

  2. That seems like a fine list. The Trojan Heron is thinking of ranking each of the candidates on various dimensions. For example, we might have a "lollyscramble" ranking ... one to four lollypops ... with 4 lollypops being a bug-eyed, grant-addicted slave to outside interests. We might also have a pseudo-science ranking too. The ranking for that might be courtesy appointment certificates to a County nitrogen academy ... or something along those lines. We're mulling it over.

  3. I think the TH needs to assign a "who yanks their chain" dimension ... for example, if Dr. Fralick promoted a certain candidate, does that mean that Dr. Fralick and his backers have no interest in what that incoming council critter does? Uh. Don't think so. We need to know primary associations and connections to interests.

    Oh, and another thing. Lovell would sometimes advocate keeping somekind of looney tune langauge in the CAO that created an open ended cost issue by insisting that there would be new revenues.


    So a really important question for new candidates is what is their understanding of the term 'new revenue' and what is their position?

    Another question: "What is your plan to budget and cover all CAO related costs going forward?"

    All costs. If they say I don't know, then ask them "Why don't you know?"

  4. Thank you, on the list, those are the most basic of requirements to provide the citizens with what they pay for, and what they have a right to expect.,

  5. The enslavement of those who seek and accept "grants" is so obvious, I can't understand how any thinking person would want such money with strings on every dollar, much less want to rely on such funds.

    "Grants" are control. If it is the government then the "grants" are used to push you into doing things you would not normally agree to. Government discovered the control they could have without consent of the voters and it is one sweet deal. Taxes are collected, but instead of funding needed projects those taxes are used more and more in "grants" that control the very people that put up the cash in the first place.

    Then you have the special interest groups and deep pocketed self interested people who also fund "grants." These especially pernicious groups and individuals are the ones who give us an Amy Trainer, or FOSJ.

    (Why the quotes on "grants"? Because they ain't.)

  6. Excellent list and proposed rating system for the candidates.

    Even with a presidential election thrown in, giving you lots of what we used to call "pull a lever" people, I'm reluctant to castigate the new guy from Orcas. He did so well it must be he got many of the pull the lever types AND the people who vote in every election.

    Pretty impressive.

  7. Talk is cheap, some people are simply to weak to hold the line. Especially in the face of pier pressure. Comes down to simple innadequacy in the face of our current essential needs.

  8. You know why public officials don't bitch about grants? I'll tell you why. Because they cover their asses. No one talks about the $350 THOUSAND dollars worth of damage to the Sheriff's Boat when it hit the rock at 17 kts. WHY? Because homeland security will buy them a new one, that is why. It takes away all the downside risk to being an elected official. It is pretty simple and elegant actually.

  9. The gentleman from Orcas is a special case. He has not been clear on very important positions that he will need to become real clear on real soon. Is there a problem?

    That Fralick rolled out the carpet for him doesn't necessarily mean he'll yank his chain but you know what the old Congresscritters used to say: "Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya."

    Finally, we are looking down the barrel at a 3-3 potential deadlock on important issues depending how how this new council person stands on some pretty important issues.

    Will he stand with the Friends, or the Department of Ecology or with the citizens of San Juan County?

    As far as the apparently large majority, consider the competition at the time. All politics is local and in Eastsound, personal.

    In any event, there's time to clarify positions but positions will need to be taken, and there are somethings that can't be sidestepped any longer with a "I'll study the issues and promise to make informed and sometimes difficult decisions but it too early to weigh in one side or the other without more information."

    That won't win you a place in Heaven any more.

  10. What do you do when you are loosing/ eliminate the non essentials and kick butt with your balance. Conservative controlled balanced action. We need only the best.

  11. Well, I here that the outgoing council is already planning a RETREAT with the incoming members to prioritize the agenda so that they will know what is important when they take over. But!! Everything else on the plate will be rammed through as rapidly as possible before then. This from the EPRC meeting today.

    Such fun, From the Lame Ducks that remain.

    Best of Luck with the coming Jihad.

  12. I thought these "retreats" were banned in the last election? Talk about back room deals!

  13. Is that another pie I smell?