Scene in Passing: Government lacks option to fold cards

People continually talk about running government like a business, but it just isn’t in the cards.

When the going gets tough, businesses raise prices or capital, cut costs, or lose money until they hemorrhage so much they close. Government doesn’t have three options. It’s raise taxes and/or cut costs. Closing isn’t in the cards. So let’s focus again on Carson City’s street-maintenance needs, including those involving finance and taxation, which were laid out in a Nevada Appeal article last Sunday.

Transportation Manager Patrick Pittenger uttered a truth when he said the gasoline tax isn’t what it used to be at any level of government. He talked road deterioration, which is inevitable without repairs.

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood was quoted as uttering a future truth when he figured more of us will drive hybrid or electric cars in a dozen years. That will depress gas tax revenues going forward.

Yet neither Pittenger nor Lahood mentioned the Internet, mobile apps, etc., as they talked about the situation.

An Atlantic Cities article Tuesday that popped into my email inbox, however, did. Its headline ballyhooed the article’s conclusions: “What the Rise of Technology Has to Do With the Decline of Driving.” But who needs the facts in the article? Suffice to say, it was immediate research at my technological fingertips rather than something at the library more than a mile away.

Now multiply that millions of times (our shopping, banking, texting, etc.). We all save millions of miles and scads of windshield time.

So Pittenger wasn’t blowing smoke when he raised the spectre — though without using these exact words — that citizens must pay for street repairs soon or experience the shock of paying for new shock absorbers and front-end realignments sooner than they expect. Consequently, the city’s Board of Supervisors faces a dilemma going forward.

None of the above means government observers Maurice White and Bruce Kittes were wrong in their views. White said inadequate planning and the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality can result from a world of competing priorities, which is where government exists. Kittes edged into those priorities, noting government is labor-intensive (roughly 80 percent salary and benefits), and politicians basically spend money when they get it.

“It isn’t in the cards for politicians ever to have a reserve,” he said.

Nor, in fact, is it in the cards to run government like a business.

Just look at the feds. They shut down partially Tuesday but will keep hemorrhaging federal reserve notes and can’t close permanently.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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