Fishy budget

Sitting at the Sakura sushi bar, doodling “AS loves CB-O’Q” inside a big heart on a paper table mat as I await my lunchtime spider roll, I can’t help but overhear a fellow sitting a couple of chairs over. I don’t want him to know I’m listening, so I don’t look that way. But from the gist of his conversation, he works under My Main Man—not in the sense that I’d gladly work under My Main Man, silly, but as an underling in an administration department. I don’t want to burn this chap, seeing as how I haven’t introduced myself or let him know I am a member of the press or informed him I have switched from doodling to taking copious notes on my paper table mat, so let’s just say he toils for a department that protects state-owned nature. He’s droning on and on about how his job has been reduced to “these goddamn budget exercises” he’s had to conduct for his department since joining the governor’s staff, exercises that apparently have nothing to do with the vast knowledge of nature that won him his appointment in the first place. Basically, all he does all day, every day, is work with other members of his staff to identify ways to cut his department budget by 10 percent. That information is then forwarded to finance, where who knows what becomes of the exercise results.

But then his department has to do the exercise again, locating new opportunities for cutbacks, and then again and again, forwarding all results to the finance black hole. (Or in our state, more like a $14.5 billion in-the-red hole.) Now, of course, that number crunching is all the rage. Through finance, Governor Sugar Thighs has introduced a 2008-09 budget that cuts spending by 10 percent across the board, including a checkerboard of slashed funding based on Mr. Sashimi Special’s inter-departmental exercises. So he should be happy, right? Wrongsky.

Now the bureaucrat’s crazed, because before his cutbacks suffer their inevitable Ginzu’ing by legislators, industry lobbyists and special-interest groups, the nonpartisan state budget analyst is blasting the budget for—you guessed it—simply cutting spending 10 percent in every state agency and program, like some kind of soulless, robotic, ’round-the-clock exercise. Elizabeth G. Hill warned that Arnie’s scheme to close the $14.5 billion gap uses skivvy accounting methods, fails to prioritize how state money should be spent and hammers schools and community colleges particularly hard. “I didn’t accept my appointment just to crunch numbers all day,” the bureaucrat says, his voice now rising. “And now my hard labor is being called a sham anyway. Meanwhile, the work I came here to do is not getting done, and the knowledge I brought is dying on the vine.”

As this is backhanded criticism of My Poopsie, I finally turn toward the fellow and shoot him darts with my eyes. It is then I discover the most disturbing thing of all: The bureaucrat’s sitting there all alone.