Friday, September 25, 2009
Governmental accounting (GA) has long been laughable. Since governments do not use the price system to allocate resources, in a sense, there is no such thing as GA. Here are two examples of how governments "save" taxpayers money.
1. The IRS encourages taxpayers to e-file 1040s. Who does this help? Uncle Sam released some statistics in 2008. Unc said the IRS could save $40 million more a year if 80% of taxpayers e-filed. Good. Unc also said it cost the IRS $0.32 to process an e-filed 1040 and $2.69 to process one by mail. Now let's do some "cost" accounting to see if the IRS claim makes sense. $2.69 - $0.32 = $2.37, the IRS's e-filing "marginal savings". Wait. To e-file a return requires entering more data than one not e-filed. Ask your tax preparer what is your marginal e-filing cost. If he says less than $50, laugh. Would the IRS "cost" a taxpayer $50 to save $2.37? Would Pope Benedict like to see 1.4 billion Moslems adopt Catholicism?
2. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) houses 156,000 inmates. Currently 91,000; 58% are parole or mandatory supervision eligible. Most TDCJ inmates can be released tomorrow? Yes. What's going on? About 15 years ago the Texas Bureau of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) "got tough" on crime, with our legislature's approval, of course. It reduced parole rates from 80% to 30%. Now, except for specified 3(g) crimes, a prisoner is released after completing about 65% of his sentence, up from about 25%. Result: an explosion in the number of Texas prisoners. Does the TDCJ "aid and abet" the BPP in getting "tough on crime"? You betcha. The TDCJ's 37-page 2005 book, Disciplinary Rules And Procedures For Offenders (DRFO) is much of what I expected: deciding to discipline inmates, disciplinary hearing mechanics, what are infractions and the existence of "major" and "minor" cases. That attempted escapes and assaults on officers or other inmates are serious is no surprise. I applaud the TDCJ's keeping safe facilities. What I question is the potential penalties for various offense "levels" and that the DRFO has little guidance as to what cases are "major" and "minor", a minor case cannot cost an inmate good time. Assaulting an officer with a weapon causing injury is a Level 1 offense and can lead to revoking all "good time credits". Such assault is a first degree felony, which can lead a 5-99 year sentence. The TDCJ's Level 2 and 3 offenses amaze me. Some make sense, others are so vague, no court could sustain a conviction for violating them, under the concept of "void for vagueness". Others are like killing flies with sledgehammers. Here's one: a TDCJ inmate can lose up to two years of good time for sending as little as $20 to another inmate. Texas taxpayers can spend $45,000 to incarcerate an inmate for this. Does the TDCJ care we pay 2,250X the amount involved? Does it care enforcing petty rules diverts effort from say teaching more inmates to read? Or does the TDCJ do this to increase the number of jobs for prison guards and the need for more prisons?