Alabama would prosper, the audience was repeatedly told by members of the Bentley administration, the governor himself and Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia, if it were run more like a business.
To emphasize the point while speaking at the Public of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama’s annual meeting, Perdue praised the Southern Co., corporate parent of Alabama Power, and Waffle House, that 24-hour-a-day supplier of coffee, eggs, waffles and grease-infused hash browns. They were models for how he wanted state government in Georgia operated. He even went so far as to say the Bush administration’s post-Iraq invasion crisis would have been alleviated had those two institutions been in charge
To a point it makes sense. We all tend to take the power company for granted until the lights go out. Its workers’ ability to quickly respond says a lot about the need for preparation and planning. The need for waffles is less urgent, excepting for the late-night party crowd, but these establishments with the distinctive yellow signs have a reputation for offering customers what they want when they want it.
And if we’re listing business models, those two are far better than Lehman Brothers, the ex-Wall Street giant run into the ground by following its executives’ version of business principles.
(Want a twist? Alabama’s pre-paid college tuition fund bottomed out partly because of the 2008 financial collapse brought to us by Lehman and other financial-sector giants who played fast and loose with cash.)
Alabama, panelists repeatedly told the PARCA audience, has had its fill of slipshod management that damages its stockholders, us. The evidence is before us. Proration, what we call mid-year budget cuts, has been necessary five out of the past 10 years. Hit with a lasting financial decline, Alabama’s state coffers are even more scarce than usual. David Perry, state finance director, expects the 2012 budgets to be reduced by approximately 20 percent. “Much more significant cuts are likely ahead in the next couple of years,” Perry said.
The Bentley administration has found a villain in old stereotypes. “Government,” Gov. Robert Bentley said, “is wrought with inertia. What’s in place, stays in place.”
That sounds good in the abstract, but government workers aren’t abstractions. Among the so-called bureaucratic bad apples are top-notch public school teachers, state troopers and welfare caseworkers. We can hope that neither their ideas for doing their jobs better nor their value to Alabama is overlooked in this headlong rush to turn the state into a super-efficient fast-food franchise
In her book, "The Shock Doctrine," Naomi Klein credits Milton Friedman, the late conservative economist, with promoting the notion that the best time to install tough medicine — in Friedman’s ideal, a smaller government — is during times of serious crisis. Klein cited free-market plans for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and Asia after the financial crash in the late 1990s.
Klein has said, “[T]he shock doctrine, like all doctrines, is a philosophy of power. It’s a philosophy about how to achieve your political and economic goals.”
It’s clear Bentley sees Alabama’s financial crisis as a time to fix its fundamental problems. “We have become addicted to one-time stimulus money,” he said. The only solution offered Friday was cutting. The idea of raising revenue is apparently off the governor’s table.
Bentley recently called for the creation of the Alabama Commission on Improving State Government. The mission, Bentley said, was to create a more efficient, customer-oriented state government.
Perdue, who left office earlier this year, accomplished something similar during his two terms. For this work, Perdue was praised by Governing magazine for using “his business-savvy leadership skills to turn Georgia into one of the best managed states in the country.”
No one knows what happens next in Alabama. Less spending in a state already infamous for stingy budgets may lead us back to an unpleasant time, especially for the poorest in Alabama. It may lead to a more efficient state government that treats residents like valued customers. Regardless, it’s probable that just like at any successful Waffle House, a few eggs will get cracked along the way.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at (256) 235-3540 or email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.