Magic is the art of illusion. Something will mysteriously appear or disappear right before your eyes, much in the same way our impact fee is allocated and spent. Politicians conjure up a recipe of sugar and spice and everything nice, describing how they manage to avoid tax increases, while dancing around the question of inflation with chagrin.
The cost of inflation is real. Something around three percent for COLA (cost of living allowance) and much higher are the rates of inflation from the rising costs of healthcare insurance and pensions.
In addition, the substantial costs of unfunded mandates and infrastructure improvements are skyrocketing. It becomes glaringly obvious that it costs more every year to achieve the same results.
That's not late-breaking news for anyone. Many municipalities have been treading water for years. So how is it possible to believe that costs go up every year to maintain our government, yet no additional money is being spent?
Magic, of course. They wave their magic wand, exclaim
"Abracadabra!" and voila, money appears.
These Houdinis are often a trio; some good, some bad and some in between. But their tricks are all the same. They create a distraction to draw your eye and retrieve a treasure from a secret compartment, the illusion complete.
These slights of hand are documented in the budget, if you can decipher it -- pages and pages of numbers in funds with un-intuitive names. Without knowledge of the accounts, definitions of terms or descriptions of purpose, these accounts and documents appear "Greek" to the typical citizen. But not to worry because elected officials do it all with transparency, right before your eyes.
The definition of transparent is, "Allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen."
The way transparency is applied to government actions is quite amusing. The term is often used to create a perception of doing something right: "We were transparent in our decision making." Being transparent doesn't imply that you have made the right decision or even a good decision, but only that you made a decision; one that was heard or written down, effectively witnessed in some manner.
In government, magic is pulling money from one fund to pay for another and hoping nobody catches you with your hand in the cookie jar. The old saying is "Robbing Peter to pay Paul."
If someone cries foul, seeing the hand in the jar: "You took my cookies when I wasn't looking," you'll hear "It's okay, the jar has been on the counter in plain view." Nothing is illegal with that process or outcome. It's just not the right thing to do.
We must make sure our leaders spend money according to the original, established intent of the funding source!
The Act 13 Impact Fee is Lycoming County's current "bunny in the hat" trick. Once upon a time "the bunny" was the general fund reserve, until it was tapped dry. The unloading of landfill surplus leveled the gaps for a spell. But those days are gone and gas money fuels the current magicians.
If it were up to me, we would
use this money as it was intended -- to cover the local impacts of drilling. I propose we mitigate the impacts to our forest and our recreational resources. Next we shall invest in our critical infrastructure -- rebuilding our bridges and roads, modernizing our transportation system and repairing and expanding our water and sewer lines, all at once, every year until we have built a solid foundation for the next generation to build upon.
A solid foundation could replace our current "house of cards" structure, cloaked in an illusion of transparency.
As we move forward pulling the bunnies out of the rabbit hole, we must also remember to keep our eyes on the cookie jar.