When You Find Yourself in a Hole Stop Digging
It was suggested that I could strengthen the logic of my last article, “To Record or Not to Record; Is that the Question?”, by building on the principle that greater transparency helps to ensure accountability. The reason? It is in the individual’s self-interest to have more information about issues that are relevant to them and serves the common good to have more people who are better informed. A great suggestion hence this article which serves as a critical example.
Truth in Accounting (www.truthinaccounting.org), a 501(c)(3) committed to educating citizens with transparent government financial information, agrees that to be knowledgeable participants in their government and its budget process, citizens need truthful and transparent financial information. Unless you live under a rock, you know that the U.S. Government owes more than it owns, and it worsens by the day regardless of who is in power. According to a Truth in Accounting report as of March 2022, the US Government had a $133.38 trillion financial hole when including unfunded Social Security and Medicare promises. To fill it, each taxpayer would have to send $836,000 to the federal government.
Montana also owes more than it owns. According to a state-specific report from Truth in Accounting from September 2021, Montana had a $1.1 billion financial sink hole of its own. To fill it, each Montana taxpayer would have to send $3,200 to the state. Montana's reported net financial position was overstated by approximately $414 million, largely because the state delays admitting the losses it incurred when the state’s net pension liability increased. It is worth noting that the state's financial report was released 206 days after its fiscal year end, which is considered untimely according to the 180-day standard. Accountability matters, but will it if the people of Montana know nothing and/or do nothing?
And what about Jefferson County? Please indulge me as I once again turn to yet another Truth in Accounting financial report from July 2022 that shows that the county has a debt burden of $1.9 million which equates to approximately $500 for every taxpayer in the county. This financial problem stems mostly from unfunded retirement obligations that have been accumulating over the years. This data is taken straight out of the Jefferson County 2021 audited Annual Financial Report.
How is this relevant? How does it serve the common good for it to be more transparent? If retirement benefits and/or other costs are not reduced, then county taxpayers will more than likely pay additional future taxes without receiving any related services or benefits. Read that last sentence again. Even if this financial football continues to be punted to the next generations, there seems to be an overspending trend that has been occurring at all levels of our government. While it is important to address all these debt levels, it is more productive to focus on those things that are within our control. Sadly, there is absolutely nothing we can do at this time to halt or reverse the financial damage that our federal government continues to do to this country, but it is within our means to do something about the hole that our county finds itself in. May I suggest that we stop digging as a place to start?
By the time you read this, the county will have more than likely cast its final votes on the 2022-2023 budget. The budget had just been made available for public review the week of August 30 until the final budget meeting on September 6th. If you didn’t participate in the review process this year, then you can always strive to do better next year. If enough of us are not happy with the financial direction of our county, then it is up to us to remove the shovels from the hands of those who are doing the digging.
Let’s prepare starting now. Leave a comment to this article about the county budget to help direct future discussions and decisions. What changes need to be considered between now and next June when the county budget process starts all over again? Also, if you would like a copy of the “Financial State of Jefferson County MT” report from Truth in Accounting referenced in this article, then please mention that in a comment and I will email you one. You will need to subscribe to the free newsletter so I know where to send it.