Not Living Up to Expectations Can Hurt the Taxpayer … and Frustrate the Sports Fan

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

In public affairs and on the sporting fields you don’t always get what you expect. Miscalculations can undermine policy plans with costly results. Look at recent stories dealing with Orange County toll roads, which could hold a lesson for high-speed rail. Then there are the examples of state employee spending and even the success of sports teams, which have fallen below expectations, and could be a lesson to others.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy recently got a lot of ink over his objection to federal dollars for the high-speed rail. He questions if the projected ridership will materialize to help properly fund the rail. He plays off the movie quote from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” He wonders if the project is built, if enough riders will use it.

McCarthy may be on to something. He has an example, of sorts, to look at. Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times headlined, that the Orange County toll roads, opened in the 1990s, are being reviewed by the state. Most telling was the subhead: “With ridership and revenue falling short of projections, some are questioning their long term viability.”

The story said that far fewer people are using the toll roads, producing far less revenue needed to retire the road’s debt.

The Orange County toll roads situation could be a warning sign for high-speed rail. The high-speed rail ridership numbers were always suspect. Now we find in practice, as well as theory, transportation use may not be what planners hope it to be.

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Bloomberg.com is running a six-part series titled, “America’s Great Payroll Giveaway.” The focus is on the tab for public employees. Initial articles had a strong focus on California, but the series covers the entire country. Expectations are that public sector pay will be fair and reasonable, but the Bloomberg series certainly questions that premise in the Golden State.

In Part 1 of the series, California was tabbed as leading the way in state worker pay “giveaway.” According to the article, “Payroll data compiled by Bloomberg on 1.4 million public employees in the 12 most populous states show that California has set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs.”

The article said the problem is nationwide. While governments are forced to cut back on services and cut education funding, current budgets must deal with pay and pension promises made by politicians, many of whom are no longer in office. Former Governor Gray Davis was specifically cited.

Part Two in the series spoke of a bidding war for psychiatrists in the California state prison system that allowed one psychiatrist to bring home $822,302 last year. As the article pointed out, that state salary is five times what the governor makes.

A Yale School of Management professor criticized California’s arrangement as a payroll system run amok.

Today’s article in the series deals with public officials who run government pension funds, and Texas is highlighted. The series concludes with reports on Retirement Bonanza, Top Paid Cops and Poorer Schools, Richer Pay.

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Expectations also play into the world of sports, especially when a team spends a lot in the off-season to bring in top talent. That’s going on in Los Angeles now, with the new owners of the Dodgers shelling out big bucks to sign top line pitchers like former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and South Korean, Hyun-Jin Ryu.

But, will it work?

The Dodgers brass might take a peek down the hill at the Staples Center and the struggling Los Angeles Lakers. A team that captured some of the biggest names in the game over the summer, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, has a losing record right now.

The Lakers still have time to turn around their season. But here in California, it seems, we better learn to temper our expectations a bit.

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