The tyranny of separate budgets

The NC State Alumni Office asked me to be a guest speaker at a reception for DC area alumni hosted by the Chancellor on an upcoming Thursday evening.  Apparently they were willing to fly me to DC (totally unnecessary in my book), put me up for the night in a nice DC hotel, but they could not give me a dime in honorarium.  Number 1, my time is actually worth something.  More importantly, there was no way I was going to leave Kim to deal with the kids on a weekday without at least hiring a babysitter to take Alex to speech therapy and help out with some of the other routine demands of a Thursday afternoon/evening.    In other words, money out of my pocket.  So, here’s the thing.  I was going to drive to DC and stay with my dad.  Mileage reimbursement, you’re looking at about $160.  Throw in $100 for an honorarium and lets make it a grand total of $260.  Cost for a flight and hotel room?  Easily over $500.  But they “don’t have the budget” to offer me an honorarium.  Thus the NCSU alumni association will almost surely be out more money total paying for the travel of a different speaker, who presumably will at least be spending the evening in a hotel room for more than $100.

Of course, I’ve been teaching about public policy and dealing with university budgets for long enough that I cannot exactly say I’m surprised, but it still is damn annoying.  On a seemingly unrelated note, Kevin Drum had a nice post on how policy-wise, universal pre-K is surely one of the very best things we could do.   On a pragmatic level, though, where does the money come from?

But as near as I can tell, taking, say, $100 billion out of K-12 education and redirecting it to pre-K would almost certainly be a pure win. That might not be the best way to fund it, but if political realities prevent us from raising more money in the near future, shifting spending would be a second-best alternative. Given the almost endless procession of educational reforms that turn out to have no measurable effect once you scale them up or study them for more than a couple of years, I doubt that decreasing funding for K-12 would have anywhere near as big an effect as increasing funding for pre-K. There are too many interest groups dedicated to K-12 funding to make this kind of funding shift easy, but it’s something worth pushing for anyway.

Of course, in reality, the benefits of universal pre-K might largely accrue to the criminal justice system 10-20 years down the future, but good luck getting the money from that budget.  I certainly understand why we need to have all these separate budgets, but a little more flexibility now and then might really be worthwhile.  Then again, the whole problem is that an honest and fair bureaucracy keeps itself that way, in part, by not allowing flexibility.  Damn paradoxes.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to The tyranny of separate budgets

  1. itchy says:

    Exactly. Flexibility creates opportunity to exploit the system. So, yes, a paradox. Impossible to solve perfectly, but some point along the spectrum must be optimal.

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