Children love surprises, because youth is naturally a time for optimism and because most of their limited experience tells them to expect something good. As you grow older, of course, the balance of experience tends to shift.
Surprises more often equate to the sudden discovery that your transmission is shot or that you’re about to be socked with the unexpected penalties of the alternative minimum tax. In the long-run, you might adopt a blended perspective–approaching surprises hopefully but with caution, suspending snap judgments, adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
Such circumspection is probably in order right now–especially in light of what some state officials are calling the “April surprise.”
In case you missed it, here’s this spring’s unexpected development, as reported by Arturo Perez, a budget analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures: “Nearly every state is at or above what they expected to get in revenues.”
The first inklings of this trend surfaced sometime back. State revenue collections in fiscal 2004 exceeded 2003 levels by 7.2 percent, according to USA Today: In 2004, tax collections rose to a record $600 billion.
But that’s not all. “The money is rolling in even faster this year,” the newspaper said, “as many states report double-digit revenue increases through April.” According to Perez, as quoted in USA Today, many states were stunned by the unexpectedly large tax collections this spring.
That’s a big deal, because the revenues arriving in April have a significant impact on what states can spend in the succeeding months. In fact, some of the budget impact of the “April surprise” should be reaching schools and colleges soon. Most states unveil their new budgets right about now.
Here’s where that mature, blended reaction to surprises comes in. First, let’s remember that the revenues that bloomed in April followed a long, bleak fiscal winter. The good news comes hard on the heels of what the National Association of State Budget Officers calls the “most severe fiscal downturn in 60 years.”
Revenues are up sharply, yes. But such increases can be deceptive. Increases over the worst financial situation since World War II are no cause for irrational exuberance. And furthermore, revenues are just one side of the story. Expenses–most miserably the relentless increases in state Medicaid costs–are on the upswing, too.
Remember, the economic gloom that drifted over the states in 2000 is just now beginning to brighten. Worthy causes, orphaned in the states for five years, are now queuing up on the doorsteps of the state capitols. In line for fiscal restoration are college tuition aid programs, programs for first responders, road repairs, homeland security projects, general education programs–and, of course, proposals for education technology–to name just a few (and tax cuts are popular, too).
Talk all you want about the April Surprise, but at the end of the queue, you’ll need more than a worthy cause to get the funding you need. Political intrigue notwithstanding, an imaginative, fiscally prudent plan just might carry the day.
Politicians don’t like being forced to decide between funding a computer network for the fire department or one for the school district. Our Front Page story on the approach being forged in Monterey Bay, Calif., offers local leaders ideas on how to avoid presenting state legislators and policy makers with that kind of unpalatable Sophie’s Choice.
Sharing infrastructure so that more agencies can have greater access to vital technology at greatly reduced costs is feasible. As Monterey Bay clearly demonstrates, the barriers to this kind of cooperation are not mainly technological.
If local leaders would set aside narrow concerns about turf, learn to work together for the good of the whole community, and present their technology programs to legislators and policy makers as a unified whole, the chances might be greater of attracting a larger share of state funding.
Now, wouldn’t that be a lovely surprise?
On the other hand, if my grandmother had wheels, she might be a Greyhound Bus.