Op/Ed by Tom Davis: No Free Lunch in the county budget

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” is a line made famous by the portly character, ‘Wimpy,’ in the comic strip, ‘Popeye.’ But the funny part is not that payment be deferred, but the understanding that payment will never be forthcoming.

This is not unlike Mason County Commissioners, who apparently think the county operates on a free lunch basis. But the real problem is as simple as the solution is painful: expenses outpace revenues by two to one, and with no feasible plan to address shortfalls, it’s more politically advantageous to make the budget look better than it is to take the unpopular steps needed to actually make it better. So, much like Mr. Wimpy, costs are kicked down the road for others to worry about.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Consider the following: In 2018, a group of five fiscally conservative citizens signed up to serve on the Mason County Citizen Advisory Budget Committee to learn about local government operations, funding options, and to make recommendations to the commissioners. At the end of five months, the committee unanimously recommended the county place a sales tax increase proposal on the ballot to generate additional revenue. I attended some of those meetings, and I can tell you without reservation, I thought there was a better chance my dead grandmother would take up skydiving than for these five fiscally conservative citizens voting to raise taxes, but there you go. All of which proves that people are reasonable when they know all the facts.

Of course, if these same folks had known that the county was going to waste money on fish culverts where there’s no fish, buy old buildings that need costly renovations and favor special interest groups at the expense of ordinary taxpayers, they might not have been so reasonable.

So, next time you hear a commissioner say, “The trouble with government is it needs to live within its means” while at the same time hemorrhaging public money on wasteful projects, think of our old friend Mr. Wimpy, because sooner than later someone is going to have to pay for all those free lunches.

Tom Davis, Shelton