If the private sector could tighten the belt and reinvent itself, can the government? It’s a fair question, but an admittedly faulty one. Business operates to make a profit for its owners or its shareholders, while government exists to protect and serve its citizens.
“I know the government is not like business,” said Debra Perry, mayor of Milton, Wash., a town of about 7,000 near Tacoma. “I used to be one of those who used to say, ‘Why can’t government be more like business?’ And now that I’m in government, there is still part of me that says government can be more like business. Because, in your everyday business, there are certain things that are non-negotiable or you are not going to be in business, and those are the things you do.”
Perry suffered through the economic downturn in ways both personal and professional. She was forced to close her antiques business, because “it was not a good time for teacups.” And when her husband tumbled off the roof and was seriously injured, family finances took a big hit.
“So we did the same thing – the house payment first, cable is not important,” she said of setting priorities and cutting other spending.
As mayor, Perry’s most recent budget was $1 million below the final 2011 budget of her predecessor. She sees no reason that the federal government can’t set priorities and determine what it can do without.
“We all have plans that are really great ideas, but is now the time? So you do more with less, same thing with priorities, you go back to those priorities. Then you have to make really tough decisions,” she said, pointing to government promotion of “green” technologies as desirable but not necessary. “Green is great when you can afford it. I know for the city of Milton, if you would have forced me to buy a green vehicle when I needed one for my utility department, (then) that might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Having suffered through the tough times of 2008 and 2009, many in the private sector think it’s time that government take some of the same bitter medicine and get smaller.
“That’s a tough deal, but you have to do what you have to,” said Dunkelberg of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Unless you’re in Washington – then you don’t have to do what you have to do.”