Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Lights went out

The lights went out yesterday. An orchestra of beeps, honks and bleeps echoed throughout the house. Was the bill paid? Phew. A few minutes later I venture outside. It’s the middle of a bright, sunny Southern Californian day. No extreme heat sucking up all of the electricity. Others in the neighborhood have the same issue. Call Department of Water and Power. Mr. Automation replies: “There is a power outage in your area.” No kidding. Estimated repair time: 8 hours. (Actual time: 4 ½.)  Whatever the cause of the outage, I’m sure the result will be increased rates.

The DWP has increased rates twice per year for the past several years. They claim it’s to cover the cost of repairs of an aging infrastructure. It’s true that the Los Angeles DWP system, one of the largest in the nation, is beset by equipment that is older than I am. The problem is that we’ve paid for the upgrade a few times already.

Built into the rate structure are funds to cover the eventual replacement of the equipment. But that money is now gone so the only way to raise the needed dollars is to continually increase rates.


The fund is raided by the City Council every year. LADWP is a municipally owned utility and when it’s had a surplus the City has dipped into its coffers, the very dollars that were supposed to be for the repairs.

Last year the City and DWP got into a huge fight – with the Mayor threatening that if the LADWP didn’t make the payment then the City of Los Angeles would go bankrupt. They sorted it out.

Residents are frustrated having to paying for something we’ve already paid for. It applies towards other issues as well.

Last week Congress failed to re-authorize the FAA, resulting in a lapse in the fees and taxes that are collected for the Federal government. Instead of passing the approx. $65 per ticket savings to consumers, airlines increased their base fares so that the cost per passenger stayed the same but the profit went to the company. Clever on the part of the business community, but infuriating to the public. The unintended message is clear that paying fees/taxes provides little direct benefit to those who pay them.

The result of all of this chicanery is that Americans feel tricked and taken advantage of. The longer term impact is more severe: a lack of trust and faith in our leaders and our institutions. This loss of belief has been slowly dimming. Like bipartisanship, compromise and the spirit of being one nation – it’s done and over. Rebuilding trust is extremely hard to do, and in some instances, impossible.

I’m a smaller government guy. No news flash there. In a country of approx. 300 million people we have a budget of approx. $4.5 trillion – or about $15,000 per man, woman and child. That seems excessive. Are you getting your $15K worth of services? Maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it.

The late, great Harry Browne, Libertarian Presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. He asked a great Reaganesque question: Name one Government program that works well or better than a private enterprise could. The most popular answer over the years? The National Weather Service. Even that's debatable. There are government programs that do work. But they are few and far between. Having faith in our public institutions starts when results are delivered. 

When a President says that a stimulus plan and taxes on the top 2% of wage earners is going to save jobs and grow the economy – we all want to believe and see it happen. When a President says that tax cuts are going to save jobs and grow the economy – we all want to believe it and see it happen. When jobs are not saved and the economy isn’t on a strong growth pattern we lose faith that any of them know what they’re talking about.

Pox on all their houses. Time for results. Maybe that means getting government out of the way. Not to the point of anarchy, but something less than what we have today. Republicans and Democrats have each delivered a growing government for decades, regardless of the rhetoric.  Why not look at one area of government and try something different instead of a total overhaul? Produce a result. Build confidence. Move on.

Power was restored. A result was achieved. Maybe this can be replicated.

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