Dec 2, 2019

State’s Tech Program

By Ed Goldman

A billion dollars in 2019 money is, like, a billion dollars.

I mention this because 13 years from now, you’re likely to see a sentence like this: “Back in 2019, the budget for California’s planned accounting technology improvement program went past $1 billion—which would be approximately $358 billion in 2032 money.”

I may be exaggerating. We may not have to wait that long for the cost to climb as exponentially as that.

After all, it’s been 15 years since the state began its initiative to overhaul its accounting tech, a main goal being to replace all of its “legacy” programs and, I imagine, its computers. This is one of the many areas in which government jargon can be misleading, since a “legacy” usually means a gift you’re thrilled to inherit, unless it’s Grandma’s varicose veins at age 10 or Grandpa’s Dumbo ears at birth. In this case, however, “legacy” means something antiquated, obsolete and possibly even foul smelling, like that science experiment in your refrigerator which started out as a 2008 fiesta salad from Trader Joe’s.

Now let me clear that I’m hardly an appropriate spokesman for updating technology. Until a few weeks ago, I worked at a Mac that was already used and refurbished when I bought it. How old was it? My keyboard, if you could even distinguish the individual keys, consisted of hieroglyphics.

I still use a paper appointment calendar—two, in fact: a small one I can carry with me (but rarely do) and its big brother, an 81/2 x 111/4 “ spiral-bound desk version. Keeping two calendars enables me to miss an appointment entirely because I’ve entered it in one or the other booklet but generally not the one I consult the day of said appointment. At least I have a 50/50 chance of finding it.

My keyboard, if you could even distinguish the individual keys, consisted of hieroglyphics. 

Even so, this is The Goldman State, not The Golden State. I don’t have the world’s fifth largest economy ($2.747 trillion). Nor do I have 235,714 employees as of this past September, according to figures from the State Controller’s Office. (Pop quiz: Until you read that, did you think anyone really controlled California? The answer appears below, upside down as a Snapchat, so hurry. The lifespan is roughly 10 seconds.)

My point is that when my electronic calculator goes on the fritz, I repair or replace it, often within 10 to 15 working months. You’d expect that with California’s resources—that aforementioned $2.747 trillion, the fact that it’s home to tech geniuses in the Silicon valley and the basements of formerly empty-nesters, and it has a reputation for leading the country in areas such as environmental protection, quinoa and kale consumption and corporate exoduses to states with lower taxes and fewer regulations—it could upgrade its accounting systems in under 15 years.
Maybe I should just switch to QuickBooks. I’ve been giving some thought to doing this for my own accounting needs, meager though they are (my ledger the past eight months has had just one category: Outgo). In fact, I’m going to make a note to do that very thing tomorrow. I’ll jot down a reminder on my paper calendar. Maybe even both.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).