Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stop Counting On Government

HARBESON: You should stop counting on government

A perplexing pattern popped out at me recently as I analyzed some recent news reports which really has me worried about the government’s ability to count.

As far as I can tell, officials ran out of fingers to count on long ago and have been hoping no one would notice. How bad is it? Let me count the ways.

Actually, I will only count a few ways because there are far too many, one could even say countless, examples to fit within my limited word count. Besides, if any government officials are reading this, I wouldn’t want to confuse them with too high a number. So I’m going to share three, one example from each layer of government: federal, state and local.

The first example concerns the recent news that Indiana is in trouble with the feds because the state has somehow grossly miscounted the number of billboards lining the highways. This is a problem because the federal government bureaucrats have the authority to withhold money based on a provision in the Highway Beautification Act.

For those who don’t know, the federal government uses this law to limit and control the number of billboards you are allowed to read while traveling on the government highways. See, a few decades ago, a president’s wife decided billboards were ugly and took away from the beauty of miles and miles of federally funded concrete and asphalt.

Now, state government has no real problem with this federal law because they get to help control something, which means they get to increase their funds by selling permits. Both layers of government do not care to eliminate billboards totally because having a government-approved number to count and track keeps a lot of people busy.

To better understand this logic, think of the Statler Brothers song “Counting Flowers on the Wall,” particularly the lyric, “So don’t tell me, I’ve nothing to do.”

Anyway, now the state is trying to correct their failure to maintain an accurate inventory of these billboards so they don’t lose any federal money. But guess what? Yep, they need money to correct this problem. Two million dollars has been suggested. What will they do with it? Train their workers to count. Insert another Statler brothers refrain here.

OK, let’s move down to a state level counting requirement. Did you know that for a long time Indiana’s government schools claimed that one-half is equal to one? In the past, when school was in session for a half-day, it was counted as a whole day.

But then, the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, decided they better use the same math most of us use in the real world so he changed the rule. I’m not sure it really makes much difference though. The number of days of compulsory attendance required tells us nothing about whether a child is actually learning anything, besides counting down the days to the end of the year.

Finally, thanks to local citizen and soon-to-be forced Jeffersonville resident Bruce Herdt, we have a local example. He discovered the possibility of a huge mistake in the count of homes involved in Jeffersonville’s annexation.

The mistake could number in the thousands, which I find amazing. After all, a house is a pretty hard object to miss when counting. Most preschoolers with just a few hours of Sesame Street under their elastic waist should be able to count something as big as houses without messing up too bad.

I don’t know, maybe someone can do something to help these people get better at performing such elementary tasks. But I’m not counting on it.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson has at least two things in common with preschoolers — a love of counting and elastic waist pants.


  1. Government: It would be funny if it weren't SO harmful!

  2. Excellent column, Debbie.

    You know, for $2M, I believe I could promise our state gummint a guaranteed-accurate count of the billboards directed at every single mile of interstate highway in this fine state. I could offer a complete eyes-on recount on a monthly basis, for a period of, say, ten years. Just $2M, one time; no additional billing for gas money or any other expenses, either.

    O my glorious Stupidvisors, what a deal I have for you!

  3. Hey Jim, you might be too late. Some friends and I are already working on this. Our plan includes borrowing Mitch's RV so we can party while were out counting. If you want to join us you can, but sorry we've already spent the money we're planning to get so there will be none left for you.

  4. Woooooo - hooooo! PAR-TAY!!!

    When're y'all leaving? I am completely there!