States throughout the West now struggle with massive budget deficits, the result of years of overspending. Nowhere is the problem worse than in California, which has a $26 billion deficit.
State employees have been furloughed, taxes and fees have been raised, and all sorts of schemes have been suggested. The financial woes seem to defy any easy solutions.
So there were more than a couple of snickers when just a day into office California Gov. Jerry Brown announced his first initiative would be to take state-issued cell phones away from 48,000 employees. Brown was rightfully shocked to find that the state was paying for 96,000 phones -- one for every five state employees.
State employee unions, sure that taxpayer-funded cell phones are vital to the mission of its members, were quick to note that the savings from Brown's order would hardly make a dent in the state's deficit. Brown readily admitted that he expected to save no more than $20 million a year. But, he said, it's a start.
For years, cops in New York City struggled to get a handle on the city's rampant crime problem. Nothing they did seemed to work. The police turned a blind eye to most petty crimes to focus their efforts on felonies. But the more they concentrated their effort, the more crime there seemed to be, and the more run down the city became.
Then it came to a new police commissioner that rather than focusing all of its attention on major crimes, the department needed to get back to the basics. The broken window theory holds that if you let someone get away with breaking a window, you get a lot more broken windows and the level of lawlessness increases. So the cops started arresting vandals, subway fare jumpers, scofflaws and other minor offenders, and started to enforce building and zoning ordinances. In the process they found suspects in bigger crimes. Serious crime went down, and the city became a lot more livable.
State budgets are filled with broken windows crying out to be fixed. If you don't address the small things you'll never make a dent in the bigger things. Brown's order cuts the deficit only by a tenth of a percent, but it's a tangible first step.