Jan 31, 2022

Glad We Could Save Your Life. Here’s My Invoice

Double-paying for needed services can tax one’s mind

By Ed Goldman
Some police and fire departments in Northern California are billing citizens for saving their lives, which they’d sworn to protect—a service I greatly appreciate (my old man was a firefighter, as I might have mentioned several dozens of times).

But I could swear this was covered by the taxes I pay.

Edgy Cartoon

Fire Sale? 

Evidently not. To quote “My Fair Lady”‘s Eliza Doolittle,  “What a fool I was, what an addlepated fool!”

It’s a little like when you buy a new home, and the seller says, “Oh, you wanted doors, windows and a roof? They’re extra.”

Apparently, no one in local, state or federal government knows how to prepare for anything beyond the day-to-day. This is why you don’t want any of them planning your household budget:

YOU: I think I’m going to buy a brand-new Toyota RAV-4 this year.

LOCAL/STATE/FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: Great idea! Better put aside, like, two or three hundred dollars. It’s always better to pay cash. 

YOU: Um, no offense but I don’t think you’re quite up to speed on auto pricing.

LOCAL/STATE/FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: No? Okay. We’ll have staff prepare a report. 

YOU (Suppressing a laugh): And when may I expect to see that?

LOCAL/STATE/FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: Should be ready by the time next year’s models come out—

YOU: Swell.


I’m sure people who crunch numbers for government will react to the above scenario and sniff that I’m hopelessly naive. (I don’t mind the accusation but must they sniff?) And I can understand why it’s hard to budget accurately to battle fires in this increasingly incendiary state.

But after years of these fires, climate change in full roar and no immediate cessation of our yearly inferno in sight, don’t you think there’s an accountant somewhere who’s thinking that maybe more money should be budgeted for wildfire prevention and combat? 

Green Bean Kitchen Cleaners

Even Roy Scheider (as the Amity Island police chief) in “Jaws” had the foresight to say to Robert Shaw (as the seafaring hunter) after encountering the great-white shark playing the title role, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

I think what we really need are saner priorities—along with people who can not only add but also explain their calculations to city councils, boards of supervisors, state agencies, both houses of Congress, alarmist news media outlets, and people like you and me.

Let’s look at Exhibits A and B:

A. Cal Fire (the brand name of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) said it cost about $1.3 billion to wage war against wildfires in the previous fiscal year;

B. Meanwhile, the state approved $3.73 million for its emergency fund. If your calculator batteries need changing, let me help: That’s a budget shortfall of, oh, $900 million.

Those figures come from the state’s Legislative Analyst, which is nonpartisan (for real).

The same inexactness occurs at every level of government, where, unlike in the private sector, there’s zero motivation to show a profit at the end of the year. In fact—and I learned this first-hand in my years of consulting with government—that if you want to get your budget approved for the next fiscal year, you’d damn well better spend every cent of the current year’s. While I’m sure many of you have long suspected that, I don’t know how many taxpayers know this is a verifiable fact.

Ratchet this down to consumer level and try to imagine this conversation:

DOMESTIC PARTNER #1: Hey, Babe, we’re gonna have a few thousand bucks left in our checking account after Christmas.

DOMESTIC PARTNER #2: Oh my God! We have to spend it!

DOMESTIC PARTNER #1: But we don’t need anything. We bought everyone gifts, paid off our mortgage and paid cash for our brand-new Toyota RAV-4. We’re sitting pretty!

DOMESTIC PARTNER #2: Are you nuts?! Don’t you know what this means?! If we don’t spend every cent we made this year we won’t earn any more next year.

DOMESTIC PARTNER #1: Where on earth did you hear that?

DOMESTIC PARTNER #2: I dunno. Some addlepated fool.

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).