Friday, April 16, 2010

Pay Now Or Pay Even More Later

A few days ago, JSOnline posted a short editorial from one of its Reader Advisory Committee members regarding fiscal responsibility:
To use a Milwaukee County transit bus, people will need to be wise by paying the weekly or monthly pass upfront. Stella, a senior citizen, in a tight squeeze with her Social Security monthly pension, who several times a week visits her friend across town will have to pay two fares to ride the buses needed. Our County leaders want to save now. What they do not see is that maybe Stella will visit her friend less, or not at all. Maybe Stella or her friend might develop what long ago was call “melancholy” which fully developed will debilitate their health. Maybe in this saving process we the county residents will end up paying more because the end result might be that Stella, or her friend will end up using medical services they will not be able to pay. The same can be said for not spending in children’ art, music, sports programs in our school resulting in the residents of Milwaukee County having to spend more for jails.
I was disappointed to see that my friend, Nick Schweitzer, left a rather rude and wildly tasteless comment which was made only worse because he couldn't be any further off base from the truth:
Maybe by eating that extra Twinkie as you type out a weird post, you will
increase your cholesterol and extra point, causing a heart attack in a few
years which will increase the insurance premiums the rest of us pay.

Maybe by flapping its wings, a butterfly will disturb the air in Africa enough
to cause a devastating hurricane in Florida which will cost millions of dollars
in property damage.

Its bad enough when we try to make public policy based off of bad statistics that are politically motived. Do we also have to make public policy
based off of a Rube Goldberg litany of things which might link together to
create some ill effect later down the line?
Sadly, Nick and the other detractors are missing the real point, which is often it is smarter and more fiscally responsible to spend a little money now to address a problem then to wait until it gets really bad it and soaks up more of your money.

The classic analogy to exemplify this is the car maintenance versus car repair argument. It is clearly more fiscally responsible to pay the $25 for an oil change four or five times a year than it is to pay thousands for a new engine block or tens of thousands of dollars for a new car.

There have been many real life examples of this locally.

The whole thing with the zoo interchange is one example. It would obviously have been more advisable to replace the bridges before they got to the point where tax payers now have to pay for emergency temporary bridges until they can replace the old ones.

Another example is the maintenance that has been put off by Scott Walker regarding the county's roads, parks or infrastructure. It would have been much cheaper to perform proper maintenance of these assets than it will be now that we have to repair, if not completely replace, the things that are breaking down.

But to his credit, Walker did get it right on one occasion. He was able to recognize that it was cheaper to spend a few thousand dollars now and putting troubled adolescents in a first offenders type of program, like Wraparound, instead of spending tens, if not hundreds, of thousands on the same kids by putting them in Wales or Lincoln Hills.

So, you see, Nick, it's not some kind of Goldberg type of complex theorem. It is a financially sound idea to spend a little now on the necessary services than to spend millions and billions of dollars later on something that was more likely than not to be completely avoidable.

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